USA (MNN) — While there are no firm numbers tracking the trend, there is anecdotal evidence showing that the number of U.S. parents undertaking HIV adoptions, or seriously considering them, is growing.
Five years ago, that number was just a trickle; but this year, there are several hundred families in queue. Most involve orphans from foreign countries where they would face stigma, neglect, and the risk of early death.
Some of that change is due to the fact that the strict U.S. immigration policies in place that limited entry for anyone with the disease ended in January 2010.
Others believe that education is also a factor. In spite of education campaigns and a familiarity with the terms, ignorance and bias related to HIV are still found the United States. However, the stigma is steadily decreasing, especially compared to many of the other countries that are home to an estimated 2.5 million children with the disease.
It comes with the concerted effort by adoption agencies to educate and raise awareness for families and communities considering being part of a healing community.
Bethany Christian Services has introduced an HIV toolkit that covers a lot of the most basic questions, but it also answers some of the more technical and medical ones. Bethany's Sara Ruiter explains, "We worked with experts from around the country. We have an overview webinar, which is about an hour long…which is really just a great place to sort of dip your big toe in, in terms of educating yourself, and becoming aware of the needs of kids around the world living with HIV."
Two other webinars have also been made available. One deals with the medical needs of HIV-positive kids, and another is a psycho-social webinar discussing what challenges these kids will face growing up, especially in adolescence.
The tools go beyond these webinars, though. There's also an e-book "which asks some really great questions about motivation, and preparation, and local community resources; there are fact sheets; there's a sample disclosure letter," says Ruiter. "It's just a very holistic package to make sure that families are really informed."
Bethany hopes that more than those thinking about adopting an HIV-positive child would peruse the package. "Bethany's desire is that we would be placing kids into informed communities: not just that their adoptive family is informed, but that their schools are informed, their churches are informed, their local doctor is informed. That overview webinar really dispels a lot of myths."
To many in the West, explains Ruiter, HIV-positive kids are the "modern untouchables" or "modern lepers." Bethany hopes this material will debunk these stigmas so that believers can better reach out to these children of God in whatever capacity they can.
It's easy to get involved, especially now. "In celebration of National Adoption Month, which is in November, we're offering the overview webinar for free," says Ruiter. To be a part of the free webinar, to explore the two other webinars, or to gain access to some of the other resources, visit www.bethany.org/hivtoolkit.
Inform yourself about these kids who can be difficult to place, and who are truly "the least of these." As you learn more, you can more intentionally be Christ to HIV-positive kids around you, or even provide provide new life and a new hope through adoption.