I had the opportunity to ask numerous questions of employees at a Japanese adoption agency, Bare Hope. They talked a lot about both adoption and its closely related issue, abortion. Here are some of the facts of adoption in Japan; I will present Japanese abortion in the next post. If there are mistakes or misinformation in either post, the fault is mine.
The Hague Convention (1993) set certain standards for international adoptions. However, although about 90 countries signed on to the Hague Convention (including the U.S.), many have not (including Japan). It’s not illegal for parents from a Hague country to adopt from a non-Hague country. However, according to another interviewee who recently adopted from Japan, U.S. law specifically prohibits it. In other words, it is allegedly no longer possible for a U.S. resident to adopt from Japan. However, when I attempted to verify this online, I found this page on the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website regarding the process for adopting from a non-Hague country; nowhere does it say it is prohibited.
Japanese law used to require adoptive parents to live in Japan for a certain length of time before adopting, but no longer does. In other words, should a couple who are U.S. residents wish to adopt a Japanese child, they could technically begin the adoption process immediately without first moving to Japan. However, it still takes about 2 years to get a visa approval. In other words, a U.S. citizen may travel to Japan, adopt a child in Japan, and apply for the child to get U.S. citizenship, but it will generally take 2 years for the citizenship to be approved, during which time you have to stay in Japan. So while technically you don’t have to wait to adopt, you do have to wait to bring your adopted child home. Nevertheless, Japanese law requires Japanese adoption agencies to give preference to Japanese potential parents (resident or non-resident, but preferably resident) for adoptions.
Japan has various means of caring for orphans. Of the two primary means, one is baby- or child-institution and the other is foster care. Japanese law requires children in foster care to be adopted within 6 months in order to encourage workers to ensure these children get adopted. Unfortunately, the law says nothing about institutions. Similarly to how it works in the U.S. with foster caseworkers*, Japanese institutions get paid according to the number of children they care for and are not given any incentive whatsoever to get the kids adopted. Naturally, they usually make the truly economical choice: not to place their children for adoption. For example, last year, out of thousands of children in dozens of baby- and child-institutions in Tokyo, only two were adopted. Once a child enters an institution, it’s virtually impossible to get them out. Organizations like Bare Hope are trying very hard to get the law changed in this area. Bare Hope also tries to get to potential adoptive parents before the state does, because the state will convince the family that the best place for the baby or child is in a baby- or child-institution–where, of course, the child stays until majority age because adoption out of institutions is so rare–whereas Bare Hope and other adoption agencies will try to get the child adopted as quickly as possible.
The exception to most of the rules on Japanese adoption is Down Syndrome. Bare Hope employees told me that people will much more readily adopt a child with severe physical health issues than a baby with Down Syndrome**, so the country will basically approve the adoption of a Down Syndrome baby to non-Japanese foreign residents as soon as you can put the paperwork in front of them to sign. The employees I spoke with asked whether I knew of any U.S. adoption agencies that specialize in Down Syndrome adoptions and I promised I’d ask. So far, I’ve gotten only one response (the same which incorrectly stated that it’s impossible due to an alleged U.S. ban on non-Hague adoptions), so I’m still looking for Down Syndrome adoption agencies. If you have any information, please oblige.
*Note that I’m not talking about foster parents, who generally have absolutely no control over whether a child in their care is adopted. When the foster parents are the potential adoptive parents, they may have some tiny amount of influence, but that’s it. Most of the influence is held by caseworkers, which is why organizations like Fatherheart (Texas) will occasionally hire a lawyer to act on behalf of the child and take the case to court to approve an adoption without requiring the caseworker to actually do any work on the adoption process. Note also that I’m not saying all caseworkers are evil. Far from it. They fill a very important and desperately needed role. But when there is no incentive to work harder than you are currently working, few people will. As a result, in spite of huge waiting lists and so many people desperate to adopt, kids in foster care most often are not adopted, except by their foster parents.
**This is because Down Syndrome can be so unpredictable. If you adopt a child with a genetic disorder, the doctors can tell you exactly what sort of complications to expect, what the child’s life expectancy is, etc. However, with Down Syndrome, the child may be anywhere from so functional you almost can’t tell they have Down Syndrome to so severely handicapped that the farthest they ever progress is to the intelligence-equivalent of a 4-year-old. Furthermore, many Down Syndrome children have health issues as well and their life expectancy varies considerably depending on their health issues. Many adoptive parents will opt for the child whose future they can somewhat anticipate over the child whose future is so uncertain. Unfortunately, this means it’s virtually impossible to get Down Syndrome babies or children adopted, especially in Japan. The interviewee told me several very sad stories of parents calling in a panic saying, “Our baby was just born today and he has Down Syndrome. We already told our family he died. Can you get him adopted today?”