Born In USA; Adopted In Canada

<B>Lesley Stahl</B> Reports On Controversial New Trend In Adoptions

The conventional wisdom is that if you are looking to adopt that perfect baby, a healthy infant, you will wait years and pay tens of thousands of dollars. You may have to go to Eastern Europe, Latin America or China.

But what if you were told there are hundreds of healthy newborns that private adoption agencies are struggling to find homes for, right here in the United States, who are available within a few weeks of being born.

They're black or mixed-race infants. With an estimated 2 million American families looking to adopt, it may surprise you where these babies are ending up. Correspondent Lesley Stahl reports.
British Columbia, in Northwest Canada, is best known for its vast wilderness, where blacks are point .65 percent of the population. And some of that minority are children adopted from the United States.

Dave and Juanita Alexander adopted Elias two years ago. They got Keiran last summer. The Alexanders, both teachers, live in Langley, a community 30 miles outside Vancouver.

After trying unsuccessfully to adopt a child in Canada, they contacted The Open Door, a Christian adoption agency in Thomasville, Ga., that has placed more than 200 children in British Columbia.

The Alexanders dug deep to come up with the fee of $10,000. No sooner had they sent in the paperwork, than the phone rang about Elias. "That was fast," recalls Dave Alexander. "I wasn't expecting that at all. … Two weeks." With Keiran, it was longer -- just three weeks.

There are now at least 300 families with African-American children in British Columbia. The parents there have organized a monthly gathering so their kids can get to know each other. It's a kind of support group where the parents get help from each other.

It's not just Canadian families adopting African-American babies. You can find them all across Europe, from Italy to Norway, even in Peru. One Florida adoption agency sent more than half its black infants out of the country last year. No one keeps count, but 60 Minutes was told it could involve as many as 500 children a year. Many adoption professionals we talked to were shocked when they heard that the United States was, as they put it, "exporting" black babies.

Walter Gilbert, CEO of The Open Door, views these adoptions as a "win-win" situation for the children, and he has strong opinions about why. "Especially in Canada, people are just color blind," says Gilbert. "That's been our experience. We would tend to tell them [birth mothers] that our experience has been there's less prejudice. They know what they experience here."

But the Alexanders say Canada is not as colorblind as Gilbert thinks.

"The first time we walked into school with Elias, and the comment that was made was, 'Your basketball program just got a big shot in the arm,'" says Juanita Alexander.

"Or the assumption that he's got rhythm and he's a great musician," adds Juanita's husband, Dave.

"Do you take all of those comments as racist, or how do you accept those things," asks Stahl.

"We can't necessarily always blame them for the comments, and the curiosity that they have, because, you know, families like ours aren't that terribly common here," says Juanita Alexander.

The Open Door also places black babies in the United States, but mainly with white families. Gilbert says blacks tend to adopt directly from relatives or from foster care, often because there's no fee. He adds that they "never have enough black families."

But even if they did, it might not make that much of a difference. Today, it's the biological parent who gets to choose who adopts their child, and at The Open Door, only 10 percent of them insist on a black family.

Mark Dedrick and Shante Easterling already had a 4-year-old daughter, and a son with costly health problems, when they found out Shante was pregnant again. After combing through a stack of applications, they decided the best place for their child, Keiran, was with the Alexanders in Canada.

Mark and Shante chose the Alexanders over a well-off American black family.

"It wasn't money, it wasn't color, it was more who could raise my child and do the best job," says Mark Dedrick.

Another issue for Mark and Shante was keeping the connection. The black family didn't want to do that. "They weren't willing to send photos or be, you know, in our life, like Dave and Juanita are," says Shante.

The Alexanders have Mark and Shante's picture hanging in Keiran's bedroom, and they send letters and photos every month, reporting on Keiran's progress.

Michelle Johnson, a sociologist in Minneapolis, counsels people who want to adopt. She knows firsthand what Elias and Keiran will face as they get older. She was one of two black children adopted by a family in the lily-white suburbs of Minneapolis in the '70s.

"[It was] very lonely. Very alienating and confusing at times," says Johnson, who remembers her mother seething when strangers would come up to her and her brother in the supermarket. "Touching us. Asking inappropriate questions. … The hair, a big thing. Or skin."

She adds, "I don't think the hurt truly came until I entered school."

It was the first day of kindergarten and a classmate called her the "N-word." Most white families who adopt a black child, she says, don't handle situations like that well because they're not prepared for the telltale signs.

"Denying that racism exists. Thinking that love is enough," says Johnson. "Not being able to contemplate what happens when Bobby is 10 and grandma gives gifts to the birth kids who are white and not to your child who is brown? What are you gonna do about that?"

And she says it happens all the time.

From what 60 Minutes saw, the Canadian parents are aware of the pitfalls, and so they invite in black adults to be mentors, send their children to all-black summer camp, and organize seminars to educate themselves.

But what about when the kids get older? "In the teen years, when you're dealing with 'Who am I,' 'Where do I belong,' those questions take on a whole new meaning when you're doing a balancing act between two cultures," says Johnson.

Isaac Birch, 11, was one of the first black American babies to be adopted in Canada. He says he's already felt the sting of racism: "I was actually on the school bus, and I was bickering with another kid. And he called me a black freak. So that kind of made me a little upset."

"I can't even begin to understand what it's like to be black," says Isaac's mother, Brenda.

Brenda and her husband, Gary Birch, who is paralyzed from a car accident, realized from the start they would need help raising Isaac.

"We wanted to actually meet the birth mother before the child was born and develop a relationship," says Brenda.

What they wanted is called an "open" adoption, which was rare 11 years ago when Brenda Birch met Isaac's birth mother, Sonya Norsworthy, a single mom from Houston who wanted to go to college.

"I figured I'd do the best that I could for both of us," says Norsworthy, who thought that doing the best for Isaac would mean giving him up for good. Instead, she ended up with a couple willing to push "open adoption" to the limit.

Sonya and her daughter, Lily, visit Isaac in Canada every year, and Isaac comes to Houston to visit them. "It allows him to know all of himself. His mom and his dad who raise him," says Norsworthy. "And then it also allows him to know his family that's here in the United States. … He doesn't have to search for 'Who am I,' 'Where did I come from?'"

Gary Birch says he wanted the open adoption: "But the more I realized what that really meant, I started to get scared. And, Brenda said, 'You know, you can never have too many people that love him.'"

"That doesn't mean there weren't times, particularly early on, where I wondered, 'What would I do if she said really, 'Actually, I changed my mind and I want to raise Isaac,'" adds Brenda Birch. "What if I have to give him up? And that was really important for me to face."

"So few people know about these transnational adoptions," says Stahl to Johnson. "Really, we've talked to people in your business who didn't know about it."

"I think that it's an embarrassment that Americans, with all of the wealth and all of the things that are going on here, that we cannot place our own children," says Johnson, who believes that adoption agencies should work harder to find American families for these children, and especially black American families.

"We're in all the Yellow Pages in all the state," says Gilbert.

But he admits that he hasn't visited black churches, or promoted The Open Door in black publications and media.

"Is it possible that black families then just don't know about you," asks Stahl.

"It's possible," says Gilbert. "That would be an area that we could focus on, you're right."

But before he does that, Dave and Juanita Alexander hope to adopt more black children from the United States.

As for Norsworthy, she did go to college and went on to get a master's degree -- and she has a relationship with her son.

Is he having the kind of life she hoped he was going to have?

"I get teary-eyed. He told me, two nights ago, that he loves the way he lives," says Norsworthy. "And his two families. He's having a wonderful life. He's having a terrific life."



  • Rebecca Leung

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