But the Twietmeyers and other like-minded large families in Illinois face an obstacle to their mission of adopting from countries where the orphan crises are especially dire. In order to adopt children from countries such as Uganda, India and the Philippines, parents must be licensed by the state as foster care families. That's a problem for the Twietmeyers and other families who far exceed the standard licensing limit.So what do you think? Is Illinois right to impose a limit on family size? Is 8 enough? Does a large family seem more like a group home? At what point does a large family become a group home?
It's also a problem for Jojo, Carolyn Twietmeyer's nickname for Jonathan, a 3-year-old child with Down syndrome and HIV, who lives in a Ugandan orphanage. Twietmeyer dreams of the day she can bring him home and call him her son.
But social workers at the Twietmeyers' adoption agency say they have been told the family won't be licensed for more children, a necessary step to adopt from Uganda, where adoptions are not finalized until after children reach the U.S.
The conflict pits the families' desire to live out their religious mission of caring for orphans against the state's mission to protect children.
Kendall Marlowe, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, said enough adoption agencies have abused their authority that it would be irresponsible to allow private adoption agencies to operate without public oversight. Five other states — Alabama, Colorado, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina — have similar guidelines, Marlowe said.
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While the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has to approve a home study for every international adoption, the state also must issue a foster care license to parents adopting from certain countries such as Uganda and the Philippines where adoptions can't be finalized outside the U.S.
Families who apply can be licensed for up to eight children, more with a waiver. Children with special needs count twice, reducing the total number of children that families can have in their home.
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As the Twietmeyers' children took turns one recent afternoon cradling their youngest sibling — Sofia, who has Down syndrome and who came to the family through a domestic adoption — they showered her with kisses. The couple pointed out that a large family is ideal for a child with special needs because there is no shortage of affection and helping hands.
But child welfare experts often see a fine line between a large family and a group home and worry that parents can rely too much on older siblings to serve as housekeepers, cooks and caregivers.
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