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A handful of Elon University students share a similar past — it’s not a common history, but rather the lack of any known history. These students were all adopted without any information regarding their birth parents or biological ancestry, leaving a gap between them and “who they really are.”

Each adopted student has his or her own unique story of becoming a part of a “new” family, but each story is filled with an gratitude for being adopted. 

Miki Salamon, a freshman adopted from China at 11 months old, has returned to China twice since her adoption to get a better understanding of her native country.

While other adopted children on her trip were adamant on finding more information about their adopted families to learn “why” they were adopted, Salamon finds it a little intimidating.

“A lot of students want to know why they were adopted,” Salamon said. “To me, it scares me a little bit because I have a loving family here and I know I was given such a great opportunity. I would maybe not even be alive if I hadn’t [been adopted].” 

A ‘scary’ process

The chances of being adopted do seem — to Salamon — “scary.” Across the globe, roughly 18 million orphans are homeless or living in foster care, according to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. 

Even women interested in adopting a child rarely follow through with the process. The 2011 to 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Survey of Family Growth reported that 2 million women have taken steps to adopt a child, but fewer than a quarter of them actually follow through by adopting a child.

If a child is adopted, the chances of him or her being adopted by a family living in the United States is becoming increasingly rare. A majority of Elon’s small pool of adopted children come from outside the United States, now.

This trend can be attributed to a number of societal influences. Since the 1970s, the  Center for Disease Control and Prevention has found that the number of teen pregnancies has decreased from 68 to 42 births per thousand women in 2006. In addition, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 made increasing efforts to preserve family ties by keeping children with their birth parents.

Bob Martin, an abuse neglect attorney, works closely with parents and the Department of Social Services to uphold this act and keep children with their biological parents. Martin is constantly amazed at the number of people working together to better a child’s quality of life.

“It’s a pretty impressive thing that there are so many people that focus their attention on trying to do right by a child by trying to get the kid back to the parent and trying to get the parent back in shape to care for the child,” Martin said.

Coming to the U.S.

While the U.S. Department of State’s “Intercountry Adoption” statistics show adoptions within the United States have decreased by 50 percent since 2000, international adoptions have increased — particularly in times of social and political turmoil. This is how sophomore Ben Driscoll, who was adopted from Romania at the age of 2.5 years old, came to the United States.

After the 1989 overthrow of Communist President Nicolae Ceausescu, thousands of overcrowded Romanian orphanages were broadcast internationally for the public to see first-hand. Romanian adoptions peaked in the years after and reached a height of 1,119 in 2000, according to the U.S. Department of State’s “Intercountry Adoptions.” 

Prior to joining the crowd of adopted children, Driscoll was plopped into an orphanage without any identification and given very little nourishment for the first years of his life. When he finally made it to the United States, the adjustment was not easy.

“Everything scared me — even the grass made me cry,” Driscoll said.

Given time, Driscoll adapted to his new U.S. life. Since the adoptions from Romania have lowered to only five in 2013.

While Romanian adoptions have decreased in prevalence in the past few years, the country with the largest number of international adoptions has held steady over the years: China. In 2005, China had an all-time high of just fewer than 8,000 adoptions to the United States. 

The Chinese government also played a large role. The one-child policy prevented families from having more than one child in a household, and as a result many babies were abandoned. For these children adopted from China, the idea of a birthday and a birth certificate is a fantasy.

“For all I know, my birthday could be today,” said freshman Molly Herman-Gallow, who was adopted from China. 

Like Salamon and Driscoll, she was dropped at an orphanage and did not see a male face until her journey to the United States a year later.

But even China is seeing a decrease in the number of outgoing adoptions. Out of the 6,441 international adoptions reported by the U.S. Department of State, only 2,306 were Chinese babies in 2014.

If China is tightening its rein on adoption, the international adoption era may be coming to an end. This possibility worries many parents seeking a child to adopt. But if history is any indicator, other countries will need the adoption aid as they undergo political and social changes.