In recent years, the work we have been doing in China has continued to change and grow. Working alongside Chinese welfare agencies, we are making substantial improvements and progress together. In the earlier part of my career, China’s One Child Policy had only just been implemented and it has experienced several iterations since then. Quickly, an unintended consequence of the policy started to emerge – children entering orphan care, primarily girls, were being “placed” there (left by families) simply because they were not male. Many of these girls have been adopted through international adoption in countries including the US. However, the “exiting” of young women in this way has resulted in some social consequences including skewed gender ratios among the present day 20-somethings of China. To counteract the trend of girls entering orphan care, Beijing developed a series of campaigns designed to reconstruct the value of girls as a family’s only child. As a result of this effort and significant improvement in the quality of life for many families in China, it has become increasingly acceptable to have a daughter as an only child. While the success of this movement was initially experienced in more cosmopolitan (and affluent) areas like Beijing and Shanghai, there is evidence that this social change is also penetrating into China’s more rural provinces. This is one of the reasons for increasingly long adoption waits for families who are adopting younger girls.
While this trend has changed and fewer children are entering orphan care because of their gender, this does not mean that China’s Child Welfare Institutes are empty. In fact, they are just as full as they have ever been, if not more so. The children who are now in orphan care in China are overwhelmingly those with disabilities making up as much as 95% of the children in institutional orphan care by some estimates. While the numbers and needs of these children are daunting, there is also hope. More and more children who were once considered by China’s adoption authorities as being “unadoptable” are now being reconsidered. One such example is the Ruzhov Jingeng Rehabilitation Hospital in China, where I had the chance to visit in 2010. In part, this change is due to the number of adoptive families who are willing to parent children with identified “special needs.”
I had the chance to meet several key members of the China Center for Child Welfare and Adoption (CCCWA) when they visited Bethany last October. Bethany hosted a dinner for the CCCWA contingent and several adoptive families of children with significant “special needs”/disabilities. The CCCWA representatives, with incredible grace and surprising emotion, expressed their amazement and hopefulness about the future of these children and their families.
Together, we can make a difference. The willingness of the Chinese welfare agencies, in-country partners, and partners here in the US that we have been blessed to work alongside give me hope -- every child can be in a loving family.