UAB International Adoption Clinic eases medical needs for kids and parents

The clinic has met the emotional, developmental and medical needs of adoptive families for 10 years; a pilot project aims to improve the adoption process.

Many families who’ve adopted children will say the same thing — it’s a long process.

“I tell them it takes a while, but it’s completely worth it. Stick with it,” says Tessa Easterling, who adopted daughter Katie in 2005.

The Easterling family worked with the University of Alabama at Birmingham International Adoption Clinic at Children’s South before bringing their baby home from China.

“We divide our services into pre-adoption and post-adoption assistance. Prior to adoption, we provide seminars to help parents understand international adoption,” says Jennifer Chambers, M.D., founder of the 10-year-old UAB IAC and assistant professor of Pediatrics.

After a family receives a child’s file, clinic staff can then help them review it and better understand medical terms or special needs. Chambers says international adoptees from all countries may have emotional or development special needs, while 90 percent of children adopted from China are also considered to have medical special needs.

“This can mean anything from a burn on the toe, club feet, a heart defect, cleft lip or palate or just birth marks,” says Chambers.

The doctors at the IAC clinic also help parents plan to manage any special needs. Eddie and Robyn Kwon, for example, were recently matched with a 14-month-old baby from China who will arrive in the spring. The Kwon’s daughter, Mamie, has a leg shorter than the other, and they’ve been directed to a specialist at the clinic to care for her.

When the Kwons return from China with Mamie, they will bring her to the IAC clinic for evaluation and care for any other medical, emotional or developmental needs.

“In the past 10 years we’ve seen more than 3,000 children from 44 countries. We have 400 clinic visits per year. We see any ages from 6 months to our oldest is 16 this year,” says Chambers, who adopted twin girls from China.

“It was good to come here because the people have years of experience with adopted children. It is great to have someone to call if you had a problem or a question,” Easterling says.

The clinic’s success has not gone unnoticed. Recently, delegates from the China Center for Child Welfare and Adoption visited the clinic during a tour in the United States.

“The CCCWA have been adopting kids to U.S. citizens for more than a decade and never have seen an international adoption clinic. This was their first, and that is an honor. We showed them the children are being well cared for,” says Chambers.

Typically, the CCCWA provides a list of eligible children, and prospective parents make their choices using little information provided. But the Chinese recently launched a pilot program that may improve relations. Chambers is participating through a partnership with Lifeline Children’s Services, a Birmingham-area adoption agency.

“They allowed me to visit one orphanage during the summer and meet with the children; I was able to learn more about them,” says Chambers. “That helps parents make a more informed decision about adopting a particular child.”

Chambers says she was happy to demonstrate 10 years of hard work to the Chinese officials who traveled here.

“For me it is huge — not just professionally, but also personally. These are the people who gave me my daughters — half my family is Asian because they allowed me to adopt — and I will be forever grateful for that.”