The long road home

For many of 50 kids up for adoption in Israel, chances of finding loving home grow slimmer by the day.

child with hat 88 248 (photo credit: Collin Elliot)
child with hat 88 248
(photo credit: Collin Elliot)
The numbers are small but the stories are big. There are currently 50 children in Israel - most over two years old and many with special needs - waiting to be adopted. And all of them are in desperate need of homes. There is, for example, the case of two brothers, four and seven, who have been waiting for more than four months to be adopted. (The average waiting time for children is usually shorter.) The older brother, Alon (all names and identifying details have been changed for this article), is developmentally slow and is, according to Avigail Segal, Development Officer for the Adoption Services branch of the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, a "nice boy who needs attention." He has language difficulties but is slowly learning to read. His younger brother, aged four, might be affected by fetal alcohol syndrome but has yet to be diagnosed. "I haven't yet found a family who isn't afraid to love these boys," Segal tells The Jerusalem Post. "We want to give these children a chance." Segal says that the number of children who can be legally adopted remains relatively low because the court system usually does everything in its power to keep children with their biological parents, preferring temporary solutions such as placing children at risk in boarding schools or foster homes. Only when the parents are completely unable to take care of their children do the minors become adoptable. "Adoption is the last resort," Segal says. And then a family must be found. Orna and her husband, Ziv, decided they wanted to adopt a child soon after her father died. She says that while she is not religious, his death "brought up a lot of questions" about the meaning of life. She and Ziv are both busy with careers and three other older children, but they nevertheless decided to adopt. She asked for papers from the ministry, but they sat on her desk for three months before she filled them out. Three more months went by until she and her husband began the adoption process. At first, she said, the decision was reversible, and more like a passing thought. Then she and Ziv began meeting with social workers and other potential adoptive parents. At this point, she had to "really think about the answer to the question of why we wanted to adopt a child." She knew she wanted an older child, one who was "past the age where people without kids would want them." Then a six-year-old boy became available for adoption. He had been waiting for two years (he has two younger siblings and since no family was willing to adopt all three, they were separated). A social worker showed Orna and Ziv the boy's photograph and told them about his history. They thought about it for a while and then decided to adopt him. "Giving birth is a powerful moment," Orna explained. "But it was just as powerful for me to walk into the orphanage and see this child. I saw the hole inside him. I saw that the sense of unconditional love that gives us the power and ability to function in this world was missing in him. I saw that look in his eyes." She said that she had been told that the child - her new son - had behavioral difficulties, but they "disappeared within two months of his living in our house." The boy has been with the family for a year and he "fits right in like a hand in a glove." But part of the challenge of adopting older children who, as one parent put it, have "seen things that children shouldn't see," is their fear of abandonment. As Segal explains, "these children want a connection, but they are also very scared of being disappointed." Orna and Ziv's son retains his fear of abandonment and has difficulty falling asleep at night. Orna says that his fears are much greater than other children's because of what he has suffered. "But I don't regret our decision for one moment," Orna says. "It takes a lot of energy to raise a child, but he gives so much to our family." She and Ziv are both in their early 50s. Many of her friends have grown children and thought that they were "nuts." "This was something we knew we wanted to do," Orna stresses. She was also supported in her decision by a social worker who told her that "there is no such thing as an ideal family." At first, her son had difficulty even saying the words "Mommy" and "Daddy." The words just weren't natural to him, but she says, now they are. Certain aspects of his behaviors continue to surprise her. Once, she was with him in a crowd of people and he turned to strangers and then pointed to her and said, "She's my mother." Her biological children never pointed her out or showed her off in such a proud way. He knows that he is different, especially when his teacher asked his class to have their parents write about the story of their birth. Orna and her husband wrote a story about that first time they saw him in the orphanage. While Orna said that the agency and social workers were helpful, she still had to petition for financial aid for psychological counseling. Segal tells The Jerusalem Post that families do receive financial help, at least for the first year, and that the agency sometimes provides financial subsidies according to a specific family's economic needs. "My son arrived at my house with absolutely nothing," Orna said. "Just the clothes he was wearing. But our friends and neighbors all gave him a lot of clothes." The process Orna and Ziv went through is typical for adoptive parents. Segal says that there is a committee in the Welfare and Social Services Ministry that matches children with appropriate families. They have a file on which families are willing to adopt older children and special-needs children, and another on children in need of homes. She and her associates serve as matchmakers of sorts, trying to match children with potential families. She notes that the agency prefers that couples adopt children, but she has also placed children with single parents, both male and female. Families can specify whether they'd like a boy or a girl, if they'd have difficulty dealing with a child who's suffered sexual abuse, for example, or a child with physical disabilities. Muslim children are given to Muslim families. Sometimes, foreign workers' children are given up for adoption and the birth mother requests that the child be converted and raised by a religious Jewish family. According to Segal, the mothers often say they want their children to be raised Jewish to have a better life. Once committee members feel they have found a suitable family for a given child, they meet with the parents and tell them about him or her. The family are then given time to make up their mind. Couples go through training courses with other potential adoptive parents during which they meet with social workers, discuss potential problems and how to handle them, and also meet with parents who have already adopted children and can offer knowledge gained from hands-on experience. Children who are not yet adopted live in a transitional home in Jerusalem. Orna says that her son received "incredibly good care there," and attributes his success in her family in part to his treatment in the facility. There are currently 21 children there, but that number fluctuates. "We're always looking for people with patience, with room in their home, and who have a lot of love to give," Segal explains. While there is a long list of people ready to adopt healthy babies - the wait can be anywhere from a year to two years - there is a shortage of families willing to take in older children. People worry about the difficulties of bringing up a child with one mentally ill biological parent, for fear that the same mental illness might strike the child. There are also babies whose cases are not clear-cut. Their files have yet to be duly processed in the legal system. There is often a chance that a child who an adoptive parent thinks is one's own will - due to a judge's decision - be returned to the biological parent. Baruch, who resides in the center of the country, says that he and his wife chose to adopt children after having several of their own. He said that because of the world's overpopulation, he felt it was imperative to give "a home to a child who needs one," rather than having more biological children. He and his wife have recently adopted a premature baby who was born with complicated health issues. They already have another adopted child, but as no other family wanted to adopt the baby - he was a few months old - they volunteered. "I'm not going to preach about why people should adopt children," Baruch says. "I've heard about success stories and some failures. I tell people about our good experiences and hope they'll decide for themselves." Rivka, another parent of one adopted child, knows she will face her son's questions down the road. "I already feel that there's a very deep hole inside him that can never be filled," she said. "Since I'm religious, though, I try to look at it as an act of fate and faith. I say, 'God wanted you to be our son, so another woman gave birth to you and then I brought you home.'" Rivka points out that people often have problems raising children, issues of adoption aside, and adds that she has to field questions - not necessarily insensitive but sometimes intrusive. Some people ask her, "Which child is yours?" and she'll say, "They both are. One came to me one way; one child came to me another way." She is aware that as her son gets older, there will be harder questions to answer. "There's a mystery in his life and that puts him on a different level," she said. "The questions will become harder and harder and we'll need to face them." Some children become legally adoptable through the foster care system. There are presently 1,900 children in foster homes and specialized boarding schools. According to Segal, there are more foster children than adoptable children because parents are often unwilling to relinquish their legal rights and the courts prefer to keep children with their biological families. Some foster children do become legally available for adoption. One foster father who legally adopted his foster child tells Metro that he was disappointed in the lack of financial help from government agencies. "We received money when our child was in the foster care system," David explains. "But the moment he became our adopted child, it became much more difficult for us financially." He describes the bureaucracy and the court procedures as worthy of a story by Kafka, but says "our child is still worth all the trouble." Moran is raising two adopted girls along with her biological children. On the question of loving a child who is not your own, she replies, "People think they can't love them the same way, but it's the most natural thing in the world to love them. I never heard of an adoptive parent who didn't love her adopted children." She says that raising her biological children is special but "raising these two other children makes me feel like I did something with my life."