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Rosenblum: Adoption agencies' new hard-to-place worry? Boys

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM
  • Star Tribune
  • March 24, 2012 - 9:21 PM

At Children's Home Society & Family Services, Molly Rochon and her team of adoption professionals remain steadfast in their resolve to find loving families for all their waiting children.

But Rochon is baffled by a new group sharing longer waits to be adopted, along with older children, siblings and children with chronic health conditions: boys.

"When it comes to families, we just have more boys [waiting] than girls," said Rochon, senior country relations manager at the St. Paul agency. "We place more girls. It's just what families want."

How many more? In 2006, families expressing a gender preference chose girls over boys 391 to 166. In 2009, the split was 213 girls and 88 boys; in 2010, 121 and 38. Last year, it was 78 girls and 31 boys.

The drive for daughters, Rochon said, cuts across the agency's international and domestic programs and is noted regardless of the child's age; families frequently express interest in a girl "as young as possible."

Could it be that there simply are fewer adoptable boys in general? Nope. Boys are more commonly eligible for adoption than girls. Said Rochon: "It's just unexplainable."

U.S. Department of State figures support her contention. From 1999 to 2011, the department's Office of Children's Issues tracked nearly 234,000 adoptions worldwide: 141,000 girls and 83,000 boys, with the rest unspecified.

Rochon wouldn't be less concerned were the phenomenon reversed. "It troubles us that people who want to have a family limit themselves in ways that result in many children waiting longer for families," she said.

The trend may surprise many who have long believed the opposite is true, which it is in some parts of the world. China's one-child rule, for example, has created extreme ratios favoring boys.

Worse are tragic consequences of gender preference, such as a 22-year-old woman in Afghanistan killed in January by her husband and mother-in-law after delivering her third girl (no matter that the male primarily determines the baby's gender).

And yet, adoption experts say a quiet shift to girls has been taking place for quite some time. "I wasn't the least bit surprised," said Joe Kroll, executive director of the St. Paul-based North American Council on Adoptable Children. His agency finds homes for foster children, many of them older, which makes placement harder regardless of gender.

Kroll adopted a daughter in 1975 from Korea, when "people kept boys and let girls go." Now girls are placed more than boys by a "ballpark" of 52 to 48 percent, he said.

In 2010, 64 percent of waiting children with AdoptUSKids were male, said spokeswoman Kathy Ledesma.

While Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota doesn't allow gender requests, the issue has come up. "There is some thought that it's due to the way the landscape of adoption has gone -- the kids are older, with some behavior challenges," said spokeswoman Rachel Walstad. "There may be a perception that those behaviors manifest more aggressively in boys."

Conversely, some parents may see daughters as future caregivers. "There's a perception that girls will take care of you when you're older," said Amy Brendmoen, a Children's Home Society spokeswoman.

Dan and Jane Kramer once believed that a girl would make their family complete. The Kramers, formerly of Minneapolis, live in East Lansing, Mich., where Dan, 43, teaches at Michigan State University and Jane, 42, is a photographer. Jane was adopted through LSS. They married in their mid-20s.

After the couple struggled with infertility, Dan brought up the idea of adopting an infant girl from China. While he was eager to experience that special father-daughter relationship, "I wasn't there yet," Jane said. "I tried to convince myself that we didn't need a family, we didn't need kids."

After her father died suddenly in 2004, Jane reconsidered. By then, wait times for infants were up to three years, so they looked at older children of both genders. But the girl dream remained strong. "In our hearts, we still envisioned a girl," Jane said. "We had a name." Their nursery was decorated in floral.

After saying no to a healthy older boy, Jane called her father-in-law and asked, "Why do I feel so awful?"

"When you first tried to get pregnant, you just wanted to be parents," he said. "What's changed?"

Suddenly, everything in the nursery "was so insignificant," Jane said. "We just wanted to have a child." They adopted Eli, now 8, on her 39th birthday through Children's Home Society. Joyful doesn't begin to express their life with him. Eli plays soccer and baseball, studies Mandarin, "and has really brought us out of our shells," Jane said.

"At some point, you have to let that dream evolve."

gail.rosenblum@startribune.com • 612-673-7350

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