Sun, Apr 01, 2007 - Page 17 News List

Home sweet home

With high costs and long assessment periods, the adoption of local children by foreign families can be a lengthy and stressful experience

By Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Joyce (her name has been changed to protect her identity) never liked to stay at home. She first ran away from home when she was in grade four and would often cut classes. By 15, she was addicted to amphetamines and when she didn't have enough money to satisfy her habit she sniffed glue. Joyce's mother had disappeared from her life and her grandmother refused to have anything to do with her. By 18, she was married with a child but divorced three years later. She became pregnant again, and the father disappeared.

Like Joyce, Polly (her name has been changed to protect her identity) ran away from home when she was in her mid teens. Hating school and constantly fighting with her father and stepmother, Polly took refuge with some friends she made at a KTV and the drugs they introduced her to. She was then busted for possession and sent to a detention center and faces the prospect of jail time.

With over 200,000 abortions in Taiwan every year, it's surprising that — with a history of drug use and chaotic lifestyles — Polly and Joyce are planning to carry their children full term and give them up for adoption.

"There are very sad social histories involved in almost all of these cases," said Agnes Yang (楊東蓉), a supervisor at Christian Salvation Services (CSS), a non-profit social welfare organization that was established in Taipei in 1983, referring to women like Polly.

CSS is hoping to change Polly's "sad social" history by teaching her to better manage her life, providing her with drug rehabilitation treatment and schooling and helping to her find a suitable parent for her child, a child Polly knows that she is not in a position to take care of.

Though negative attitudes to adoption are changing in Taiwan, this doesn't hold true for children born to parents like Polly and Joyce. Polly was referred to CSS by local social workers because they know that it is unlikely a Taiwanese family will be interested in adopting her child because of the mother's high-risk lifestyle.

Additionally, children born to parents like Polly and Joyce, who have a history of substance abuse, are more likely to suffer from physical and mental problems, which make them less likely to be adopted.

According to statistics from the recently formed Child and Juvenile Adoption Information Center (兒童及少年收養資訊中心), an agency that keeps detailed records of adoptions in Taiwan, of the 3,500 children abandoned in Taipei City and Taipei County in 2004, 587 were adopted by local families and 258 by foreign families. The lack of countrywide statistics suggests that tracking adoption in Taiwan is still in its infancy.

Falling through the net

Up until the 1990s, the stigma surrounding unmarried pregnancy was an important factor in determining whether a mother would give up her child for adoption. Compounding the difficulty for young unmarried pregnant women was a lack of labor or medical insurance, so having a child out of wedlock was a costly venture, especially if the mother's family snubbed her.

But much has changed.

"It's a pretty smooth system," said Paula Voightmann, founder and executive director of CSS. "It's getting better all the time because the professionalism in the social affairs bureaus and regulations have increased so much. When I first arrived there was little being done, but now there is a lot being done. So we are looking for a crisis in a system that is already working fine. People who slip through the cracks."

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