ASHEVILLE, N.C. (BP) — The number of children adopted internationally by Americans fell 12 percent last year to the lowest number since 1981, according to new U.S. State Department figures.
Americans adopted 5,648 children during fiscal year 2015, down from an all-time high of 22,884 in 2004. Since 2004, intercountry adoptions to the United States have fallen every year.
Adoption advocates say the drop is the result of a web of factors, including both internal U.S. policies and external factors that have closed or slowed adoptions in other countries. In 2008, the U.S. adopted the Hague Convention, an international agreement on standards and practices for intercountry adoption. The convention’s goal is to establish guidelines that prevent the abduction, sale, or trafficking of children. But the strict standards have forced some countries to slow or stop their adoption processes due to lack of resources to implement the new practices.
Some see the temporary drop as a necessary step to guarantee safety for children. Others see the drop as the result of a bureaucratic process standing in the way of children finding new families.
The steep decline is “an unnecessary trend,” Chuck Johnson, chief executive of the National Council for Adoption told The Wall Street Journal. “I don’t see a decline in Americans or citizens from Western countries wishing to adopt.” Johnson, a critic of U.S. State Department adoption policy, argues the U.S. should work harder to equip impoverished countries so they can improve their systems and meet U.S. requirements.
Countries “are begging the U.S. for help establishing intercountry adoption programs — and the U.S. has been slow to respond,” Johnson said.
Safety of children is a priority, said Becky Weichhand, executive director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. The goal is “not intercountry adoption at all cost,” she said.
She acknowledged the tragic plight of many children: “There is absolutely a sense of urgency. Too often we aren’t aware of and don’t realize how long children who need a family are languishing in an institution.”
Weichhand noted that sociological research is finding that the longer a child stays in an institution, the more difficult it will be for that child to thrive down the road.
“At the same time, it’s really important to make sure processes and systems are in place so placement can be done with the confidence that the child needed a new family,” she said.
A number of factors led to the drop, Weichhand said, including the U.S.’s adopting the Hague Convention and other countries’ slowing their processes until they could become convention compliant. But she also said some countries hounded by fraud or corruption completely shut down their own systems instead of focusing on rooting out the fraud. Some countries also shut down adoptions to the U.S. for political reasons.
China accounted for nearly half of the children adopted in 2015. The number of Chinese children adopted rose to 2,354 in 2015, up 15 percent from 2014. Other countries high on the list in 2014 saw drops, including Ethiopia, Ukraine and Haiti. There were no adoptions from Russia, a country that previously had high numbers. Nearly 80 percent of the drop since the peak in 2004 can be attributed to reductions in China, Russia and Guatemala, according to the State Department report.
Weichhand said the numbers might continue to decline in the short term. Many countries lack the social workforce to effectively investigate adoption cases and help support family preservation. Her organization has been involved in conversations with members of Congress to come up with ideas to “bring resources and support systems to partner with these countries to help change these numbers.”