International adoptions plummeted to a 30-year low for U.S. citizens last year, with further declines expected. But some see the trend as an opportunity to help children remain in their home countries.
The U.S. State Department released its Annual Report on Intercountry Adoptions in March. Between October 2013 and September 2014, officials granted 6,441 immigrant visas to children adopted abroad, the lowest level since 1984. A tidal wave of international adoptions started in the late 1990s and reached its peak in 2004, with almost 23,000 children adopted internationally that year. After a slow decline, adoptions began plummeting in 2009 and are expected to continue to fall due to other countries’ fluctuating policies toward intercountry adoption. Political and social change can halt adoptions – sometimes overnight – that have been in process for years.
China, Russia and Ethiopia are the top three countries Americans have adopted from during the last six years.
Adoptions from China totaled 2,040 last year, down 96 percent from a peak of almost 14,500 children in 2005. The decline is mostly attributed to the Chinese government promoting domestic adoption over the last few years, the report said. Nationalist sentiment has also fed the trend. Today, Americans can expect to stand in line for at least eight years to be matched with a healthy baby, according to a representative from Chinese Children Adoption International. The wait is so long, the organization has stopped taking applications for healthy children and instead focuses on placing special-needs children.
On Jan. 1, 2013, Russia abruptly instituted a federal law banning the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens. The policy change left in legal limbo hundreds of children already in the adoption process, including many who had already met their new parents. Officials granted only two immigrant visas to Russian children adopted by Americans in 2014, down from about 9,400 in 2004. Russia’s move was widely reported to be retaliation for a law U.S. President Barack Obama signed a few weeks earlier, imposing travel and financial restrictions on human rights abusers in Russia.
Fifty-six percent of the Russian public supported the ban, Russia’s RIA-Novosti news agency told CNN at the time. Russian officials claimed a few well-publicized stories of Russian adoptees abused or abandoned by their new American parents, as well as the alleged deaths of 19 adopted Russian children since the 1990s, turned public sentiment against the idea of having foreigners adopt their orphans.
Ethiopian adoptions peaked more recently in 2010, with 2,511 children finding new homes in America. But adoptions have declined steadily, with only 716 last year, a 72 percent decrease over the last five years. U.S. officials reported the decline was due in part to the Ethiopian government’s tightening control of the intercountry adoption process. But Ethiopian officials also want to reduce the overall number of children in institutionalized care by strengthening the country’s child welfare system. They recently reached out to the international community, asking for assistance creating systems that help preserve families, promote family reunification, train foster parents and encourage domestic adoption.
Show Hope, a Christian non-profit that offers adoption grants to Americans, has awarded about 5,000 grants over the last decade to help families pay for fees accrued while adopting internationally or domestically. But this year, Show Hope initiated a new strategy to help other nations develop better in-country child welfare systems, Executive Director Mike Hamilton told me. The pilot program provides financial assistance for local child welfare staff development by partnering with reputable organizations, including Buckner International in Kenya and Bethany Christian Services in Ethiopia.
Historically, Hamilton said, Americans have thought about adoption in the context of adopting international children into American families: “But the first hope is that children who are orphaned can stay in their family of origin. If that’s not an option, then that they can stay in their country of birth.”
International adoption should be the final option, Hamilton said, when no domestic family is available. With the new program, donors can help fund development of in-country adoption systems.
“This just makes sense due to declining rates,” Hamilton said of international adoption. “And it meets the overall goal, which is to help children find forever families.”