Adopting a child is an extremely rewarding experience for many families. If you're
considering adoption, here are some things to know about the health and medical care
of an adopted child, before, during, and after the adoption.
If you have an open or semi-open adoption — one in which
you meet the mother and sometimes the father — you should be able to get substantial
health information. In an open adoption, you may help arrange the birth mother's prenatal care,
go with her to doctor visits, and be present for the birth. You can also request health
records through the agency or attorney who is arranging the adoption.
With an older child who is already living in the United States, you can get a sense
of the child's general health by spending time with him or her before the adoption
or by serving as a foster parent first.
Before you adopt, try to have as much medical information as possible, including:
age, ethnic background, education, occupation, height, weight, and medical conditions
of the birth parents
diseases or medical conditions that run in the child's family
the health of any siblings
information about whether the birth mother:
drank alcohol, smoked, or used drugs during pregnancy
used any prescription or over-the-counter medications during pregnancy
had any sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that might affect the child's health
had any problems during pregnancy, labor, or delivery
the child's weight, length, and head circumference measurements at and since birth
any medical problems the child has had
the results of any medical tests the child has had
the child's development in relation to standard age milestones, such as sitting
up, walking, or talking
a description of personality and relationships with others
information about the child's care since birth
any physical, sexual, or emotional abuse of the child
If you adopt through an agency, you might be able to choose the age of the child
you want to adopt and what medical conditions you feel able to accept. Discussing
these issues can help you clarify your feelings and priorities.
With international adoptions, you're likely to receive photographs of the child,
but reliable, complete health and family information may not be available. If possible,
consider making a trip to meet the child before deciding to adopt. You can find out
about restrictions that different countries may have from the U.S. Department of State.
After gathering the available health information, your adoption agency (if you
have one) might be able to help you evaluate whether, given any medical issues, this
child and these circumstances are a good fit for you.
Also try to get a doctor to help you interpret the child's medical
record. You may want to consult a doctor who has experience with adopted children
from the same background as the one you may adopt. This is especially true if you
are adopting internationally. A Russian medical record, for instance, might use terms
that are unfamiliar to many U.S. doctors but known to specialists or doctors with
more experience with patients from that area.
Easing the Transition
Once you've decided to adopt or provide foster care, try to learn as much as you
can about the child's daily schedule, abilities, and likes and dislikes. Maintaining
a schedule and serving foods that are familiar to the child can help ease the transition
into your home.
You may also want to arrange for the child to bring along some personal belongings.
The touch and smell of a favorite toy or an old piece of clothing can help kids adjust.
What Else Do I Need to Know?
When you pick up your child, it may be your only chance to get answers to questions
Which foods does he like or dislike? When does he eat and how much? Is he allergic
When does she sleep and for how long? Does she have a bedtime routine? Is there
anything that helps her sleep?
Try to get a copy of your child's medical record or photograph it.
If you are not in touch with the birth mother, try to arrange some way you could
contact her if a medical crisis arises.
Kids With Special Needs
The term "special needs" is applied to any condition that may make it harder for
a child to be adopted. Kids with special needs may have a mental, physical, or psychological
problem, or can be older (perhaps 5 or older) or have siblings who must be adopted
with them. The definition of "special needs" varies from state to state.
If you're thinking about adopting a child with special needs, you may be required
by the state or an agency to take courses or get family counseling to prepare for
the adoption. Try to learn as much as you can about the child's condition and the
special care that's likely to be needed before you make a final decision on adoption.
Parents of other children with similar conditions can be a valuable resource both
before and after the adoption.
Health Care When Your Child Comes Home
Soon after coming home, your child should visit your doctor or a doctor who specializes
in caring for adopted children for a checkup, which will let you address any known
or previously undetected medical issues.
If you adopt a child who was in foster care, the agency may be able to tell you
where the child has been getting health care so you can either use the same providers
or get the records sent to the doctor you choose. This can help your child avoid unnecessary
tests. Especially if your child was born in another country, the doctor may want to
Potential Health Problems
Adopted children are usually screened for a number of conditions when they're placed
in permanent care. Depending on a child's risk factors and the completeness of the
medical records, the doctor may want to look for:
It can be common for adopted kids, particularly those who lived in poverty, to
get colds, minor infections, upset stomachs, and diarrhea shortly after arriving in
their new homes. This often happens as the kids are exposed to new types of germs
and a new diet. These sicknesses usually ease up as a child adjusts to the new environment.
But if they last, call your doctor.
Internationally adopted children can have other immediate medical problems. These
may include infections like scabies,
lice, latent tuberculosis,
and intestinal parasites; rickets and other forms of malnutrition; and lead
It's also common for adopted kids to have emotional problems related to feeding
as they adjust to their new homes. These may include hoarding food and eating to the
point of vomiting (both signs of past food deprivation). These problems usually clear
up with time and appropriate medical care, although some kids might need counseling.
Talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns about any health or care
issues. The more you learn about your child's health, the better you'll be able to
make informed decisions about medical care and ease the transition into family life.