Local families looking to adopt children from outside the United States received information on the particular challenges of this process in a seminar organized by the Yale International Adoption Clinic on Thursday.

About 35 community members attended the presentation, which took place at the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital. Presenters addressed the risks involved with international adoption and provided information regarding the review of medical records and the differences in adoption standards between countries.

Betsy Groth, a doctor at the clinic, said international adoptions doubled between 1992 and 1998. In 2003, she said, more than 20,000 foreign children were adopted in the United States. Groth displayed a chart listing China as the country most families choose to adopt from, followed by Russia and Guatemala.

Carol Cohen Weitzman, director of the clinic, said that after the Korean War, South Korea was the top source for adoption, but she said that has since changed.

“Russia and China have totally eclipsed [Korea],” she said. “There are just more kids there.”

Weitzman said Vietnam had been closed for adoption until recently due to a high volume of alleged human rights abuses.

“There were accusations of baby-selling, taking kids — there’s a lot of money involved,” she said.

Groth began her presentation by giving the audience her “two points” for beginning the adoption process. She stressed the importance of talking to other parents who are adopting, and advised families to consult research on the subject.

“Some people actually still do buy books.” she joked. “There are many really useful primers.”

Groth said she has a “bias” towards using agencies in order to find a child to adopt. She said good agencies can be identified by several characteristics, including written brochures and a focus on providing parents with orientation to the adoption experience. She recommended that parents look elsewhere if the agency appears to be slow in responding or gives them shoddy information.

“If you ask them about their program in Guatemala, and there’s a big long pause, and they seem befuddled, then that’s a red flag,” Groth said.

The presenters stressed that unique benefits and risks are associated with adoption from each country. Michael Cappello, co-medical director at the clinic, displayed a chart listing Russia as the country with the most contagious infectious diseases, ranging from HIV to parasites. Russia was also dubbed the “Wild West” of medical records by Weitzman, who said complete medical records are a rarity there.

Conversely, Cappello said South Korea is only risky for one infectious disease, and Weitzman labeled its health record the “Cadillac” of such records. Groth said Korean families overwhelmingly plan in advance to put their child up for adoption, as opposed to China, where children are frequently abandoned at birth.

Weitzman said Russians provide video of children more frequently than most countries, allowing foster parents to gain some insight into the potential child’s behavior, while Groth praised the Chinese government’s close watch over its orphanages and foster centers.

Sandra Bishop-Josef and Bob Josef, who were among the couples in the audience, both said they had chosen to adopt a child from Guatemala.

“We had more of an affinity for a country in the Western Hemisphere,” Bob Josef said. “We knew we could get a younger kid.”

Josef said the seemingly lower risk involved in adopting a child from Guatemala had not been a factor.

“There’s a risk in everything with this process,” he said.

Weitzman said warning parents that adopting a child from a certain country may be relatively more risky is not appropriate given her role in the process.

“I let people be in tune with what they want,” she said.

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