Overseas is the focus for those with special needs
It is invariably able-bodied youngsters who find a home with a local family, adoption agencies say.
Those with special needs often languish in the adoption pool, and grow up in institutional homes.
Children with severe disabilities can remain in the system for 10 years without interest from prospective parents, Anita Ng Yuen-han, director of adoption with International Social Service in Hong Kong, says. 'Local people will not adopt children with special needs,' she says.
Of the 112 children awaiting adoption at the end of last year, 81 suffer from ill health or have disabilities, Social Welfare Department figures show. Only a small number end up with families abroad - there were 11 overseas adoptions last year, compared with 16 in 2008.
A department spokesman says the adoption policy is to give preference to local parents, 'as we believe that children should be able to grow up in their own country'.
'We allow overseas couples to adopt only those who have been passed over by local parents. That's why the children who go overseas are mostly special needs or older children. For older children, they end up with us at six or seven years of age, after their parents give them up or die in accidents,' Ng says.
A spokesman with Po Leung Kuk adoption services unit says the charity works with accredited adoption services in Australia and the US to identify families that can provide homes for children with special needs from Hong Kong.
'Most of our local adoption cases are normal, healthy children aged below one,' he says. 'To adopt from overseas, applicants must first be passed eligible by the accredited adoption service provider in their country of residence.'
At Mother's Choice, adoption services supervisor Connie Wat Hong-ying says the charity focuses on finding US families to adopt special-needs children.
That process stops when the youngsters turn 16 because at that age they would be considered to be adults in the US.
However, the cut-off age for adoption varies with the country.
The age limit for adoption in Australia is 18. If youngsters have not found adoptive parents when they reach the age limit, the local government will help them attain independence, Ng says.
For children lucky enough to be adopted, relocating to join a new family in a strange country can be hugely disorienting, Wat says.
'I knew a boy who was 14 when he left for the US. He struggled a lot over whether he should leave Hong Kong, as he did very well in his studies and had lots of friends here.
'But he eventually chose to leave because he wanted to have a family.'