Kristine Altwies Nicholson

Executive director, Hawaii International Child

Photo by Alex Viarnes

For the past 17 years, Kristine Altwies Nicholson has headed Hawaii International Child, the state’s only independent, locally based adoption agency. She’s helped find families for more than a thousand kids from countries like China, Vietnam and Russia. 

But Angelina and Madonna notwithstanding, international adoption is becoming more difficult, she says. The recent implementation of the Hague Convention means that the nonprofit’s costs have soared, and China, once the field’s mainstay, has seen a mysterious slowdown. Wait times that were once about a year can now stretch into three or four.

Altwies Nicholson knows firsthand how challenging the process can be for parents, too. She and two longtime friends, newscaster Jodi Leong and Maya Soetoro-Ng, half-sister of presidential candidate Barack Obama, have applied to adopt girls from China.

What made the three of you decide to adopt at the same time?  
A: We all made the decision to adopt independently, but we’re excited about going through the process together. [For the girls], having calabash sisters from the same background can provide a sense of comfort.

Q: In a nutshell, what does Hawaii International Child do?
A: Our job is to constantly scan the globe for new opportunities for children and families. It’s always set up through personal contacts we can make, then we find out what their requirements are, and present ourselves to the foreign government.

Q: What do you say to prospective parents who come to you?
A:If you want to be a parent and you believe adoption is [the best] option, I would urge you to do it immediately. We’ve had so many folks come back year after year, and then when they do finally do decide, it’s too late. They’re either too old, or something’s happened—the [international] program they wanted is no longer open. There’s no perfect time to be a parent.

Q: Has the cost of adopting also risen for families?
A: Not to match our costs. Typically an adoption will cost [a family] anywhere between $20,000 and $40,000. But one fertility treatment can cost $20,000 once you’ve used up your insurance.

Q: Do you have to be married to adopt?
A: Since the beginning of my career, I’ve seen a lot of single women. With international adoption, we saw for the first time this whole demographic of professional single women who really always wanted to be parents and now had an option. Before the mid-’90s, this group of people would never have been able to be parents.

 For more information about Hawaii International Child, call 589-2367 or visit