Rare partnership with China gives adoptive families an advantage

A team from UAB’s International Adoption Clinic meets kids in China, providing priceless medical and emotional information to prospective parents.

Waiting to adopt a child internationally can be an exciting time for an expectant family, and it can also be laced with apprehension.

“As you wait for your child to come home you wonder — Are they sick? Do they have any issues we don’t know about?” explains Birmingham native Tiffany Hailston, who along with her husband was matched with 2-year-old Ayla from China in early 2012.

A partnership among the University of Alabama at Birmingham International Adoption Clinic at Children’s South, Lifeline Children’s Services and the Chinese government helped answer many of Hailston’s questions. Only a handful of adoption agencies in the United States have this type of agreement with China.

Jennifer Chambers, M.D., founder of the UAB IAC and assistant professor of pediatrics, met Ayla during a trip to China in July 2011. The Chinese government invited Chambers and her team, through Lifeline, to the Maoming orphanage to evaluate the children medically, developmentally and emotionally. They saw 66 children in four days, and their evaluations were provided to Lifeline to share with prospective parents.

“Learning more than a child’s typical file provides makes you feel like you’re getting to know them better before you ever meet them, and it’s a huge relief to know they’ve been looked after medically,” Hailston says.

Personal meetings with the children who have medical special needs can help improve their chances at adoption.

“You really can’t tell on a piece of paper what a child’s personality is like and whether or not they will be a good fit for a particular family,” explains Chambers, an adoptive parent herself. “Much of the information we gather cannot be gleaned from a typical Chinese medical file.”

When the Hailston’s first met Ayla in China she appeared to be very shy, quiet. But Chambers had learned that Ayla was actually a bundle of energy.

“It was nice to know someone had seen that personality before we went because we knew it was in there somewhere even though it wasn’t coming out at first,” says Hailston. “That first day was the only time we’ve seen her quiet,” Hailston adds with a smile.

Chambers says international adoptees from all countries may have emotional or development special needs, while 90 percent of children adopted from China also are considered to have medical special needs. Personal meetings with the children who have medical special needs can help improve their chances at adoption, Chambers says.

“A great example of that are Down’s Syndrome children, because you just have to meet them and see their fun personalities,” Chambers explains. “Parents want to know more information; the lack of information is the scary part. Once they have it they feel they can make a better, more informed decision, and more appropriate matches are made between a family and a special-needs child,” says Chambers.

Of the children Chambers and her team met with during their first trip to China, 75 percent already have been placed. Another trip was made in April 2012; this time a larger team from the clinic went and more than 280 children were evaluated.

For Kelly Curry, a program coordinator and family therapist at the UAB IAC who made the second trip to China, the experience was priceless.

“Having been adopted from South Korea, it was neat seeing the other end of adoptions. As an adoptee I’ve seen that portion, and I’ve seen kids in clinic after they’ve come home, but I’ve never seen kids in an orphanage in that type of environment, and it was amazing to witness,” says Curry.

Tara Bremer, who hopes to soon be matched with one of the children the team met on its most recent trip to China, says she is fortunate to be undergoing the adoption process in Birmingham.

“Being able to talk to a person about any challenges we’ll have and know Dr. Chambers potentially could have had her hands on a baby for us — you can’t put a dollar amount on that,” Bremer says.

“Through this endeavor, there will be lots of Chinese babies coming home to the Birmingham area and all over nation, and they are going to come through our clinic. I can’t wait to be able to see them when they come home,” Curry says.

Chambers says China has asked the team to visit as often as they can. Chambers hopes they can send someone from UAB every three months. Money will be their only challenge; it costs about $8,000 to send a team there.

“We are going to be limited only by the amount of funds that come in. So we’re going to be raising money for this from donations from people with a passion for adoption,” says Chambers.