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Amid Recession, Children With HIV Worldwide Are In Need Of Homes

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Published: Jul 15, 2010 3:03 pm
Amid Recession, Children With HIV Worldwide Are In Need Of Homes

Although few prospective parents consider adopting a child with HIV, there are many such children in need, and the experience of adopting HIV-positive children can change the lives of all of those involved. With the lifting of the HIV travel ban, bringing HIV-positive children to the United States from other countries has become easier, and there are also HIV-positive children in the U.S. waiting to be adopted.

By the end of this year, an estimated 25 million children around the world will have lost one or both parents to AIDS, including thousands of children in the U.S. At the end of 2008, nearly 2.1 million children were living with HIV worldwide. With the current economic recession, children affected by HIV now need more help than ever.

International Adoption Rates Are Dropping

Although there is little data available on adoption of HIV-positive children, comparisons of overall international adoption numbers suggest rates are dropping.

According to the U.S. Department of State, the number of international adoptions into the U.S. has been decreasing steadily since 2004, with a total of 12,753 adoptions occurring in 2009 compared to a high of 22,990 in 2004.

From 2005 to 2009, the top four countries from which children were adopted were China, Russia, Guatemala, and Ethiopia, three of which have relatively low adult prevalence rates for HIV/AIDS. Ethiopia’s prevalence rate, the highest of the four at 2 percent, is still fairly low compared to many African nations.

In India, recent reports have claimed that adoption centers were unable to find families willing to adopt HIV-positive children, and as a result, no HIV-positive children were adopted in India from 2008 to 2009.

In 2009, a Moscow orphanage specializing in children of HIV-positive parents reported that it adopted out 31 children, many of them HIV-positive. However, this was down from a high of 49 children in 2007.

In many African countries, the number of AIDS orphans comprises at least half of the total number of orphans in the country. Such a large number of orphans has taken a heavy toll on communities, where traditional family structures to take care of orphans have broken down.

A study in Zambia in 2002 found that 63 percent of households surveyed were caring for orphans or children who were considered high-risk due to a parent’s illness or poverty. More than half of orphans had been separated from their siblings.

Without parents and a stable home, studies have shown that these children are more likely to suffer long term emotional consequences, such as depression, anxiety, and anger.

In addition, lack of parents to provide an income may drive young children to skip out on education and search for work instead, making them more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

International Adoption Of HIV-Positive Children

When Margaret Fleming formed Chances By Choice in 2003 to help place children with HIV with adoptive parents, many were skeptical of the idea.

To date, however, the organization has placed over 60 HIV-positive children with families. Fleming herself has adopted three HIV-positive children, both domestically and internationally, and has no regrets about the process (see related Beacon news).

Children with HIV, she said, are often easier to care for than children with diabetes.

With the lifting of the HIV travel ban (see related Beacon news), bringing HIV-positive children into the U.S. has become easier. Additionally, HIV-positive children are often considered special needs, so countries may ease regulations to facilitate their adoption.

Nonetheless, international adoptions can be long, expensive, and difficult.

International adoptions must comply with three different sets of laws: U.S. federal laws, the state laws of the adopting family, and the laws of the child’s country of birth.

Many countries have regulations about an adoptive parent’s age, marital status, and marriage length.

In Ethiopia, for example, couples usually must be married for at least 5 years prior to adopting, and there can usually be no more than a 40-year age difference between the adopting parents and the child. Gay or lesbian parents are not allowed to adopt in Ethiopia.

Certain requirements may be relaxed, however, for couples wanting to adopt children with HIV/AIDS. In Ethiopia, for example, single women may be allowed to adopt HIV-positive children.

Children with two HIV-positive parents, or only one living HIV-positive parent, are routinely considered orphans by the government of Ethiopia, which then becomes their legal guardian. Orphans are eligible for adoption after living at an orphanage for three months.

According to the Department of State, as of January of this year, “HIV infection is no longer an inadmissible condition [for entry into the U.S.], and HIV testing is no longer required for medical examinations for visa purposes.”

Since a special waiver is no longer necessary to bring an HIV-positive child into the U.S., a family wishing to adopt an HIV-positive child can complete the adoption in the same manner as any other international adoption.

The entire process usually takes one to four years, though it can take longer. Those wishing to adopt internationally must travel to the country for a period of time, ranging from a few days to several weeks.

The cost of an international adoption varies greatly; adoption services can cost as much as $30,000 per case.

For HIV-positive children, however, financial assistance may be available. For example, Promise Child Grants are currently available to parents adopting HIV-positive children age 2 years or older from Ethiopia. The grants provide $6,000 of financial assistance to eligible families.

The U.S. government also offers a tax credit for adoption of children, internationally or domestically. The credit, up to $13,170 per child for tax years 2010 and 2011, covers eligible out-of-pocket expenses for the adoption. Families who adopt a special needs child can claim the entire credit, even if their out-of-pocket expenses were less than the full credit amount.

Adoption Of HIV-Positive Children In The U.S.

For some people, making a difference in the lives of children with HIV starts closer to home. An estimated 200 children are born with HIV in the U.S. each year, and many more children enter the foster care system after losing parents to the virus.

When foster mother Lisa Bushman first met Olivia, she was three years old and HIV positive. At first, Bushman was not bothered by the fact that Olivia had HIV.

“I did think about it later,” she said. “I had a 13 month old little boy living with me at the time as well, and admittedly the first night she was in my home I had doubts.”

After researching the disease, however, Bushman recalls feeling relieved and excited at the prospect of having Olivia in her home.

She adopted Olivia by the time she was six years old.

Now an eight year old, Olivia takes a “cocktail” of three HIV medications every 12 hours. She also takes additional pills every 12 hours to control a seizure disorder she developed in 2008.

Other than that, “Olivia is by far my healthiest child of my three,” said her mother. “She is rarely sick, with an occasional cold or sore throat. We rarely have to go to her local pediatrician at all. It is quite ironic!”

Initially, as Bushman went through the process of adopting her three children, she used her blog, Little Did I Know, as a way to keep friends and family up to date on her experiences. Over time, she developed a community of supporters who were going through the same things she was.

As a summer project, she allowed Olivia to begin writing her own blog as well.

“I really didn’t guide her at all with what she wanted to name her blog (HIV – Heroes Inspiring Vision) or what she wanted to talk about on her blog, but I did know that she has some wonderful views of people and the world and hoped that maybe some of that would come through her writing. I thought this could be a great way for others to see that people with HIV are living and working and playing and creating and thriving among ‘us,’” said Bushman.

“I think she has been pleasantly surprised that so many people are interested in reading her words and watching her journey,” she added.

When Olivia was still her foster child, Bushman was not able to disclose Olivia’s HIV status to others. After becoming her mother, however, Bushman was faced with the tough decision of whether to tell others.

According to Bushman, “It wasn’t much of a decision. I never want Olivia to question who she is because of three little letters. As she says on her blog, ‘I’m just like everyone else, just with different blood.’ On the day of her adoption, I sent many letters to friends and family, feeling that was the best way to let everyone ‘in on it’ at once. We have been extremely blessed to have thus far received no negative responses from my letter.”

Through her blog and experiences with adopting an HIV-positive child, Bushman feels that more people are becoming open to adopting children with HIV. Although many still remember HIV for what it was in the 80s, Bushman hopes “millions more open their eyes to the very real picture of HIV, that of a thriving, beautiful, non-threatening eight-year-old girl.”

Resources On Adopting HIV-Positive Children

Many organizations exist throughout the U.S. that help parents adopt HIV-positive children.

Adoption-Link, an adoption agency located in Chicago, hosts a program entitled Chances by Choice that facilitates the domestic and international adoption of HIV-positive children.

Positively Orphaned, an online blog, features children waiting to be adopted. In addition, the website provides stories from families who have adopted children with HIV as well as links to information regarding HIV and adoption.

The Children’s Place, another organization located in Chicago, aids families and children affected by HIV by helping them find shelter, providing education and daycare services to young children, and providing counseling services to families. In addition, the Children’s Place has a foster care program and also facilitates the domestic adoption of HIV-positive children.

Positively Blessed is a blog written by a mother of two girls, one of whom is HIV positive and was adopted internationally. The blog details her experiences with adoption, as well as everyday life raising a child with HIV.

For more information on adoptions, please see the U.S. Department of State website or the Adoptions.com website. For information on the adoption tax credit, please see the IRS website.

Photo by khym54 on Flickr – some rights reserved.
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