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New UCLA program offers help for international adoptions

The goal of the UCLA International Adoption and Travel Clinic program is to provide parents with a medical-based support system as they embark on their adoption journey
The goal of the UCLA International Adoption and Travel Clinic program is to provide parents with a medical-based support system as they embark on their adoption journey
Robin Wulffson, MD

The limited number of available adoptions in the US has resulted in many parents who wish to adopt a child to enter the international market. In addition to the red tape are physical and mental health problems that the child might possess. To address that situation, Dr. Yvonne Bryson and Dr. Nava Yeganeh, pediatric infectious disease specialists at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, have developed a new program: International Adoption and Travel Clinic.

The UCLA pediatricians note that thousands of internationally adopted children arrive in the US each year; thus, there is a growing demand for a specialized healthcare support system that helps adoptive parents and children navigate through the international adoption process. The goal of the program is to provide parents with a medical-based support system as they embark on their adoption journey.

“Children adopted internationally, many from developing countries, may have spent months to years in orphanages and other state-run institutions; their medical histories may be incomplete, and many need specific infectious disease–related attention,” explained Dr. Bryson, professor and chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Mattel. She added, “We also help families prepare for international travel, with guidance on recommended vaccines and other medical preparations.”

The Wilsons, residents of Bakersfield, California, have a firsthand experience with some of the challenges of completing the international adoption process on their own. The family includes three biological children, two brothers adopted from Ethiopia in 2011, and two boys adopted from China last year. The Wilsons were referred to the new UCLA clinic when their sons from China required evaluation by an infectious disease specialist because of possible tuberculosis exposure. The clinic is currently completing other missing tests so that the boys have a complete medical workup. “Having medical experts from a dedicated international adoption clinic can really help streamline things, whether it’s getting a timely review of the potential child’s health records or having a more comprehensive check list of necessary vaccines and specific tests that need to be performed once the child is home with us,” explained the boys’ mother, Brooke. She added, “We are starting another adoption in China, and this time, we plan on working with the clinic from the beginning of the process. Having a medical group available to help families before and after their journeys with their children is an incredible asset.”

After prospective parents have identified a child available for adoption, the doctors provide a pre-adoption screening by reviewing available medical records, photos, and videos of the child to evaluate his or her health. They examine several key factors, including growth parameters, developmental milestones, and evidence of abnormal behavioral or physical characteristics that may suggest problems such fetal alcohol syndrome.

Before the parents and any additional family members travel abroad to collect their child, the program will prepare them for international travel by providing vaccinations and any medical and practical supplies that they should bring with them. After the parents arrive in a foreign nation to collect their child, they are typically required to stay for weeks or months before the process is finalized. During this period, they spend time with their new child and will seek answers to many questions regarding the child’s health and development. Family members may also come down with travel-related illnesses. Doctors from the UCLA clinic are available throughout this time to communicate by e-mail with the parents; they will answer questions and offer medical expertise.

After the child is brought to his or her new home in the US, the program offers a post-adoption evaluation, including a complete medical exam, screenings for certain diseases. As well as evaluations for anemia, asthma, dental health, and development. If needed, they also provide referrals to a variety of pediatric specialists.

“Adoption is an emotional journey, and our goal is to provide the families with medical guidance and support during this life-changing event,” explained Dr. Yeganeh, a clinical instructor of pediatric infectious diseases at UCLA. She added, “We hope to make the process smoother and help ease some of the stress and uncertainty.”

The medical services of the International Adoption and Travel Clinic are also available to families adopting children domestically. Moreover, the clinic is available for any family planning to travel abroad on business or vacation; it offers vaccines, counseling, as well as antimicrobials and other pediatric-specific preventative care for children, who are most vulnerable to travel-related illness.

More information is available at this link.

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