International adoptions drop by half in 5 years in Pennsylvania
Natasha Herald knows her biological father only by a photograph.
Natasha, 16, a sophomore at Serra Catholic High School in McKeesport who plays flute in the marching band, has lived with her adoptive family — parents Linda and Patrick Halloran and sister Melanie — in Monroeville since age 7.
She came to them from a Russian orphanage, and the transition was hard.
“The people, the places — everything was different,” she said.
The number of international adoptions in Pennsylvania dropped in half the past five years because of rising costs, new restrictions and some countries closing adoption programs. Adoption agencies and advocates still want to help and, during November — National Adoption Month — are promoting their services.
“We look at adoption as a lifelong process. It doesn't end with the legalization of the adoption,” said JoAnn White, director of Family Hope Connection, a division of Jewish Family & Children's Service of Pittsburgh. “Whether you're adopted as a baby or you're 12 years old, whether you're from Russia or McKeesport, you have questions about who you are, where you fit in.”
The Statewide Adoption & Permanency Network offers free services, from support groups to heritage research.
Natasha's first few days in the United States were busy as she got to know her family, learned the language and started first grade.
“It was hard for her,” said Linda Halloran, who attended a Family Hope Connection support group. “She gave up her heritage, her country, her language.”
With the help of picture books and flashcards, Natasha picked up English quickly.
“It was OK in the beginning because it was a new adventure,” Halloran said. “Once that settled down, she began to think about her biological family and wanting to find her roots.”
More than a year ago, Natasha began trying to track down her relatives in Russia. Her mother died when Natasha was 3. The adoption agency provided an address for Natasha's paternal grandmother, so she sent a letter and waited. A year later, an aunt wrote that her grandmother had died.
Since then, Natasha has remained in contact with her aunt. She's hoping to return to Russia to find her father. Her adoptive family supports her efforts, she said.
“They are the best thing I could have ever asked for,” Natasha said.
Questions about heritage typically emerge during adolescence, White said.
Barb Karner of Butler knows her daughter Karolina, 6, adopted from Ukraine, could one day ask questions. Karolina joined the family last year. Karner and her husband, Tim, are parents to three boys: Josh, 10, Peyton, 7, and Tyler, 5.
Karolina has many friends, loves to dance and play with dolls, and occasionally mentions her home country, her mother said. She didn't like it there because of the lack of food but Karner does not want Karolina to shun her background.
“We have a lot of information about her parents and her brother” Miguel, who was adopted by a family in Spain, Karner said. “We plan on being very open about where she came from as it's age appropriate.”
Karolina and Miguel have three older siblings with their mother. The decision to give up the two youngest likely stemmed from poverty, Karner said. But she knows Karolina one day could want more detailed answers.
“That's where some social workers will come in,” Karner said.
“Asking for resources is a sign of strength,” White said. “Sometimes, adoptive parents think they have to be better than other parents. They're not better, not worse. Just different.”
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or firstname.lastname@example.org.