International Adoption Health: Wawa and Mr. and Mrs. Richard D. Wood Jr.

Parents adopting children internationally often seek counseling about medical, developmental and emotional issues common in these children, as well help with any specific issues their child has. 

In many cases, these children were previously living in orphanages or foster care. Their medical records may be incomplete, inaccurate or inconsistent.

The experience of a physician familiar with international adoption issues can help families understand these records and highlight any issues that will need to be addressed.

After the adoption, matters such as attachment, development, and the emotional and developmental effects of institutionalization or deprivation may be at the forefront of parents' minds, in addition to ensuring their children are getting care for any outstanding medical needs.

When dealing with any of these issues, the International Adoption Health Program at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is there to help.

Thanks to contributions from Wawa and Mr. and Mrs. Richard D. Wood Jr., the International Adoption Health Program team, made up of physicians and occupational therapists, now has a program coordinator.

Wawa's support has also enabled the team to see more families in more places — their services are available at the Main Campus and twice a month at the CHOP Specialty Care Center in King of Prussia — and they participate in community and adoption agency educational events throughout the region.

Advice from experts

Linda Halpin, a former Children's Hospital nurse, said the program has been an invaluable resource for her family. Her daughter, Grace, looks like a doll in a little pink dress and glasses that perfectly frame her eyes. She adores big brother Matthew, 5, and clings to her mom like any 20-month-old child.

Although having a little girl put all her trust in her mother and wonderfully engage with her brother may not seem like milestones, to parents of the nearly 23,000 children per year who are internationally adopted in the U.S., it is an accomplishment. To reach this point, Halpin and her husband, Brian, turned to The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia program for advice before and after bringing Grace home from Korea.

"Grace received good medical care, had a complete medical record from Korea and was well-loved by her Korean foster family," said Halpin. "But we still thought it was important to seek the program's advice."

Understanding the child's needs

The Halpins turned to Gail Farber, MD, medical director of the program. Farber, herself an adoptive and biological parent, has decades of adoptive counseling experience. She joined CHOP's team in 1990 and started the International Adoption Health Program in 2000.

"Parental understanding of their prospective children's needs, and sorting out whether they feel they can, or wish to, meet the referred child's needs; and understanding some of the issues of transition from foster and orphanage care to a whole new world — language, tastes, sounds, touch — is fundamental in facilitating a healthy transition, and developing a 'good fit,'" Farber said.

Farber also advises that sometimes internationally adopted children have medical issues, previously anticipated or otherwise, that need attention before there is full trust and understanding between the child and the new parent.

"It's detective work, intuition, knowledge," Farber said. "Partnering with the patients' primary pediatricians, we've been privileged to have the opportunity to develop the experience to pull all this together for the families."

In the Halpins' case, Grace had sleeping problems after her arrival. Linda was concerned that her daughter was grieving for her foster family and having trouble bonding with her new family in the U.S.

"Dr. Farber reassured me that Grace was showing all the good signs of attachment. She helped me focus on the symptoms of acid reflux that were the cause of her sleep problems, not attachment," Halpin said. "They really helped us. To have Grace look into my eyes and cling to me — it is wonderful. She does know that I am her mother."