Joleigh Little of National Right to Life addressed the 2013 NRLC Convention on Saturday with a talk entitled “The Myth of the Unwanted Child,” in which she challenged the misnomer “unwanted” in relation to children, and shared moving adoption stories and convicting anecdotes about the conditions that children waiting to be adopted endure, particularly children with special needs.
What are so-called “unwanted children”? Are there such things in the world as unwanted children, Little asks, or is it just that there are unfound families? Wantedness and perfection are in the eye of the beholder, she argued, sharing her personal testimony of adopting her daughter, Clara, from Eastern Europe. Although Clara lives with a physical disability, Little sees nothing but physical perfection in her daughter. She argues that this is the case for all children, but that the pro-life movement must work harder to help to connect children that the world views as imperfect with the parents who will see them for the beautiful blessings that they truly are.
Focusing on domestic special needs adoption, Little pointed out that domestic adoption is the answer that we as pro-lifers give to the problem of legalized abortion. These are babies who would otherwise be aborted. She stated that two million couples are waiting to adopt, and this means that for every single child who is aborted, there are thirty-six couples on a waiting list to adopt a baby.
Since upwards of 90% of babies diagnosed in utero with Down Syndrome are aborted, there is a growing belief that these babies are unwanted by anyone, when in fact there are many parents who are looking to specifically adopt children with the condition. Little pointed out that it is the attitudes of doctors towards unexpected prenatal diagnoses that needs to change, since parents are very susceptible to the demeanors of their physicians.
Little shared that adopting a foster child is probably the hardest way to adopt. “The system is broken,” she said. “Currently only 22% of the children in foster care system are available for adoption. Many are older, and have very troubled backgrounds. Many of them cannot be given to families who have small children or pets.” However, even these troubled children are wanted; Little says that the solution is simply to find the families who want these children, because they do exist.
Shifting the focus to international adoption, Little explained that, since the waiting list for international adoption is 2-5 years long, anyone who signs up to adopt today is probably going to be placed with a child who is not yet born. There are many sibling sets available internationally, she says. International adoption also includes children with special needs.
There are currently approximately 147 million orphans in the world. About 250,000 are adopted annual, but each year 14.5 million orphans age out of the system. Never being adopted, they have no family to belong to, and no place to call home. A startlingly high number of these children (10-15%) commit suicide before age 18. They end up on the streets, or living out their lives in some form of domestic servitude or prostitution. Little stated that even living in a single-parent or in any way less-than-ideal adoptive household would be better for some adopted children than to not be adopted at all.
Little shared harrowing stories of orphanage conditions, particularly among children with special needs. In Eastern Europe, less than 50% of the orphan population will live to see their 20th birthday. International special needs children have a high orphanage rate because of the attitude that institutionalization is the only answer for a child with special needs. As a result, even able parents institutionalize their children, some of whom have only minor special needs, such as having been born prematurely.
The audience was shocked to learn from Little that the conditions for children and adults with special needs in many countries are highly comparable to those of concentration camps. In one Eastern Europe orphanage she visited, Little witnessed a wing for children with special needs who were effectively abandoned by the orphanage workers. Workers starved these children, and might change their diapers only once a day. Little shared the story of one family she knew who adopted a four-year-old out of these circumstances who weighed only ten pounds due to the neglect of her orphanage.
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Adoption, Little says, is advocacy. It is pro-life advocacy. If you advocate for children who have medical or special needs, adoption plays a huge role. She urges pro-life individuals not to forget about the neglect individuals with special needs world-wide, saying that while our movement begins with tiny unborn humans and spans the spectrum to end-of-life issues, we cannot overlook the children and adults in-between who are suffering from neglect simply because they have special needs. “Simply because they are not perfect in the eyes of whoever is in charge,” she says, continuing: “Adoption gives children a hope and a future. Adoption makes families better.”
“Most importantly, adoption saves lives.” From the women who turn away from abortion at the realization that there are loving adoptive families who can care for their child, to the families who travel domestically and overseas seeking out their perfect (even if disabled) child, adoption saves lives. And families do not need wealth or perfect circumstances to adopt: they just need open hearts that are willing to stretch a bit further. Little suggests that individuals considering adoption visit RainbowKids.com to view a photo listing of adoptable children from all over the world.