New UCLA program offers parents medical guidance for international adoptions

UCLA Health article

The Wilsons of Bakersfield, Calif., whose family includes three biological children, two brothers adopted from Ethiopia in 2011 and two boys adopted from China 2013, have benefited from the expertise of UCLA's International Adoption and Travel Clinic.

With thousands of internationally adopted children arriving in the United States each year, there is a growing demand for a specialized health-care support system that helps adoptive parents and children navigate through the international adoption process.

Now, Dr. Yvonne Bryson and Dr. Nava Yeganeh, pediatric infectious disease specialists at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital, have created a new program to meet this need.

The goal of the hospital's new International Adoption and Travel Clinic 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," said Bryson, professor and chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Mattel. We also help families prepare for international travel, with guidance on recommended vaccines and other medical preparations."

The Wilsons of Bakersfield, Calif., have experienced firsthand some of the challenges of trying to piece together medical expertise 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 needed an infectious disease specialist because of possible tuberculosis exposure. The clinic is now 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," said the Wilson boys' mother, Brooke. "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."

When parents have identified a prospective child 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 look at several key factors, including growth parameters, developmental milestones and evidence of abnormal behavioral or physical characteristics that may signal conditions such fetal alcohol syndrome.

Prior to the parents and any additional family members going abroad to pick up their child, the program will prepare the them for international travel by providing vaccinations and any medical and practical supplies the they need to bring with them. 

Once parents arrive in a foreign country to pick up 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 invariably have questions about the child's health and development. Family members may also experience common travel-related illnesses. Physicians from the UCLA clinic are available throughout this time to communicate by e-mail with the parents to answer questions and offer medical expertise.

Once a child is brought to his or her new home in the United States, the program offers a post-adoption evaluation, including a complete checkup, screenings for certain diseases and evaluation for anemia, asthma, dental health and development. If necessary, 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," said Yeganeh, a clinical instructor of pediatric infectious diseases at UCLA. "We hope to make the process smoother and help ease some of the stress and uncertainty."

The clinic's medical services are also available to families adopting children domestically.

In addition, the international travel clinic is available for any family planning to travel abroad on business or vacation, offering vaccines, counseling and antimicrobials and other pediatric-specific preventative care for children, who are most vulnerable to travel-related illness.

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