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Americans Mull Adopting Tsunami Orphans

Families in the United States are asking about adopting children from areas devastated by the tsunami, but adoption officials say it's too early to consider bringing orphaned children into the country.

Aimee Klundt, executive director of Sunshine International Adoption Inc. (search), said Tuesday her agency had received about a dozen phone inquiries about adopting children affected by the disaster. She estimated it would probably be a year before any orphaned children become available for adoption.

"We are really telling parents to focus on disaster relief at this point," Klundt said. "This is where the basic human needs need to be met right now."

Many records needed for adoption — including birth certificates and proof that a child is an orphan — were lost in the disaster, Klundt said, and many countries will look for extended family members to take care of the children before they consider international adoption.

"This is the part of the world where kinship and family are most important," she said.

"The international standard in a crisis is to keep children close to surviving parents or family members," the U.S. State Department said on its Web site.

Countries also are taking steps to protect children from child trafficking. Indonesia is temporarily barring anyone from taking children in Aceh province out of the country.

Interest in adoption often increases after a disaster because people want to help, said Tammara LeMay, an adoption services planner with the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services (search).

But uprooting the children and sending them to another country could be devastating, LeMay said.

"Adoptions may not be the best way to help," she said.

However, Seth Pollak, associate professor of psychology, psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the most important thing is to get the children to permanent family care as soon as possible, whether that comes from their own country or a foreign one.

Pollak, who heads a project on international adoption, said the less time orphaned children spend in institutions, such as orphanages, the better off they are.

Also, there is so much going on in the disaster-stricken countries that it could be hard for them to provide the children with a sense of security, he said.

"It's really a question of whether there's going to be sources of support not only for the children, but for the families that take the children," he said.

In Washington, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (search) issued a statement Wednesday saying that those offering to adopt orphans from the disaster may be well- intentioned, but it is not the recommended solution, at least for right now.

The agency said it likely will be many months before the nations involved are able to identify children who actually are orphans, and decide if they should be made available for international adoption.