Why Aren’t We Adopting More Children Internationally?

Headline after headline shows that Americans are adopting fewer children internationally. Here are a few reasons why this might be.

Stephan Petryczka May 11, 2018
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Every week, I receive a Google Alert on all things adoption-related. In the past couple weeks, I’ve seen multiple headlines describe how the rate of international adoption in the United States has decreased. In 2017, previous inter-country adoption numbers dropped by 12%, resulting in a total of 4,714 international adoptions. I looked closer at the articles and learned that international adoption has been decreasing somewhat consistently in the U.S. for more than 13 years now.

I became upset and conducted some cursory research on the factors that might be driving the downward trend. After all, this is an important issue. The United States is home to about half of all placed children worldwide each year. I also analyzed data from the Department of State, namely the Department’s Annual Report on Intercountry Adoptions; a report has been compiled annually since the year 2000, with an overview of adoption data from the 2017 fiscal year. According to the report, there have been sharp decreases in adoptions from countries like China and Congo, where many American children have been adopted from in the past. The decrease has offset the notable increases from other countries, such as India, Colombia, and Nigeria.

Along the way, I identified a few themes that I believe could be driving down the number of American households taking in infants and children internationally. First, there are factors impacting international adoption here in the United States. There has been some transition in political leadership that certainly has an impact on the policies and costs that influence families’ decision of whether or not to adopt from abroad. Second, there are factors impacting international adoption abroad, taking place in provider countries. The international political landscape has been in flux, with several top-provider countries recently banning adoption of their children by outsiders.

International Dilemmas

What is going on in other countries? For one, the United States has been unable to adopt from Russia for a few years now because of political discord. Concerns about child trafficking and baby-selling have led to the United States barring adoptions from several places, including Nepal, Guatemala, and Cambodia. The U.S. has made similar claims about Romania. Additionally, domestic adoptions in other countries may be on the rise as economic development in the global south continues.

One central claim from other countries is that American adoption agencies and adoptive families have not complied with required post-adoption documentation. Post-adoption documents include periodic reports on the welfare of adopted children. Apparently, Kazakhstan has cut-off the U.S. from adopting their children because of the lack of post-adoption reporting by adoptive families.

American Adoption Process in Flux

Recently, the CEO of Adoption.com, Nathan Gwilliam, spoke with Republican political commentator Glenn Beck about how recent transitions in political leadership have changed the landscape of adoption in the United States. The conversation centered around one person: Suzanne Lawrence, Special Advisor for Children’s Issues in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. So, who is she and what has she done to earn criticism from adoption advocates?

Suzanne Lawrence spent more than 28 years working in the State Department. Lawrence is a career member of the U.S. Foreign Service, having previously worked a combination of roles overseas and domestically. As a spokesperson for the Bureau of Consular Affairs in the 1990s, she sometimes spoke about international adoption. Other than that, her role in adoption was limited to such discussions.

So, what has Lawrence done to influence the decline in foreign adoptions? Lawrence claims that the United States is not alone and that other traditional adoption-receiving countries are also witnessing declines in inter-country adoption.

In March of this year, Lawrence pointed to the growing middle class in China, where many adopted children have traditionally come from, that has become more able to close the gap in familial needs domestically. Additionally, Lawrence mentioned that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been making efforts to prevent foreigners from adopting children from DRC by refusing to issue exit permits on behalf of the children. Ethiopia, another major partner with international adoption, banned the practice earlier this year. Lawrence also credits slower adoption rates to the demographics of children that are eligible for inter-country adoption. Namely, Lawrence claimed that many of the children reflect the demographics of children in the foster care system in the United States: they are older, have sibling groups, and often have special needs.

Some adoption agencies claim that the State Department’s fees for inter-country adoption are too high and that the State Department is tone-deaf to agencies’ concerns about increasing costs. There has been a transition away from the former accrediting system for adoption agencies to one that has been characterized as more demanding, rigorous, and expensive. The former system, through the Council of Accreditation (COA), imposed a flat fee of $875 per year per agency. The newer Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity (IAAME) collects $500 per child, which almost certainly results in higher costs for adoption agencies. For news on intercountry adoption and the State Department, click here for the Department of State’s published newsfeed. Stephen Pennypacker of the Partnership for Strong Families (PSF) said that the reason for the increased cost of agency monitoring and oversight is the need to replace the former volunteer-based review structure, as this older system was inadequate and insufficient.

Meanwhile, there is currently a bill being reviewed in the state of Georgia that would grant adoption agencies the right to reject same-sex couples. The bill has recently stalled and is unlikely to become law this year, according to one report. However, this type of policy-making is a deterrent to prospective adoptive parents, same-sex or not. I am not alone when I speak on behalf of adoption advocates everywhere that this type of legislation is not what our country needs.

For more on international adoption, read more at Why International Adoption Still Matters and What is Going on with International Adoption?

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Stephan Petryczka

Stephan was born in Ukraine, adopted by an American family, and raised outside of New York City. After meeting with his biological family last summer, he has taken steps toward becoming involved in the greater adoptee and orphan service communities. Stephan recently began coordinating programs for the FRUA young adult group. He is currently studying for his Master's of Urban Planning at New York University.


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