The State Department’s latest report on intercountry adoptions by Americans showed another significant decline, and adoption advocates say the trend will continue without change in the U.S. government.
The March 23 report revealed Americans adopted 4,714 foreign-born children during the 2016-17 fiscal year, a 12 percent decrease from the previous year. The total reflected a 79 percent fall from the all-time high of 22,991 intercountry adoptions in 2004. The latest total is the lowest since 1973, according to the National Council for Adoption (NCFA).
The new statistics follow State Department policy changes in February that drew criticism from adoption supporters and predictions that an end to intercountry adoptions by Americans could be in sight.
NCFA President Chuck Johnson said the continued decline in intercountry adoptions “is heartbreaking” for Americans seeking to adopt, but “the real tragedy is for the many orphaned and abandoned children in need of the love, protection and care of a family.”
“The unfortunate reality is that, while millions of children in need of parents continue to wait, the options for those children to find families are shrinking,” Johnson said in a written statement.
Southern Baptist ethicist and adoption advocate Russell Moore said the church would continue to serve orphans despite the challenges.
“My hope is that both the slowing of international adoptions and the shutdowns which in many cases led to that slowing will change soon,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “In the meantime, Christians are not ignoring our responsibility to care for orphans, no matter what the difficulties in international adoption. Christians minister to orphans overseas with food, shelter, nurture and efforts to keep families together.
“Domestically, Christians are energizing to care for our vulnerable foster care population and other children and families in need,” said Moore, whose five sons include two adopted from a foreign country, in written comments for Baptist Press (BP). “That’s a good sign. Wherever the orphan crisis is, the body of Christ will be there.”
State Department policies that have elicited opposition from adoption service providers (ASPs) and adoption advocates include, according to a WORLD Digital article republished March 6 by the Biblical Recorder:
- New rules and fees instituted Feb. 15 that include a $500 monitoring and oversight charge for adoptive families and a hike in the accreditation cost for ASPs;
- A new accrediting organization, the Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity (IAAME), that is charged with stricter monitoring and investigations of ASPs out of alleged concern corruption is widespread in intercountry adoption;
- Proposed regulations from the State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) that would be more stringent on intercountry adoption.
The OCI proposed the stiffer rules in September 2016, but they were withdrawn last year. Save Adoptions – a coalition of 87 adoption agencies – expects the rules to be submitted again this year and has started a petition to urge President Donald Trump to solve the crisis.
“Relations between the Office of Children’s Issues and the adoption community are at an all-time low,” said Johnson, a father by adoption.
The State Department intercountry adoption report indicates it has “focused on improving communication with stakeholders, despite the purposeful limitation of stakeholder engagement, and the clear deterioration of their relationship with the adoption community,” he said.
The NCFA is urging Congress to pass the Vulnerable Children and Families Act, which it says would enhance efforts on behalf of children “through international diplomacy and U.S. foreign policy” inside the State Department.
Rick Morton, vice president for engagement of Lifeline Children’s Services, encouraged Christians not to respond with hysteria, to speak up for orphans and the vulnerable, and to pray.
Writing for Lifeline in a piece republished March 29 by the ERLC, Morton – a Southern Baptist and father of three children adopted from other countries – said, “We must resist the urge to ply the tools of politics or personal attack in how we respond to the State Department even when we vehemently disagree with their policies. God wants us to turn to Him when we face opposition or attack. … Let’s be persistent in both working to see lonely children placed in families through international adoption and to leverage every opportunity, including this one, to show the world Jesus, in all of His glory.”
In its report, the State Department attributed the drop of 658 intercountry adoptions largely to changes in China and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). China still far outpaced all other countries in children adopted by Americans at 1,905.
The decline in China is based primarily on changes in the country’s laws that have had a negative impact on partnerships between ASPs and certain Chinese provinces designed to aid children with special needs, according to the State Department. Ninety-eight percent of intercountry adoptions from China are of children with special needs, the State Department reported. In addition, an increasing middle class in China has resulted in more domestic adoptions.
The Congo no longer provides exit permits to its children who are trying to leave the country with adoptive parents, according to the State Department.
Suzanne Lawrence, special advisor for children’s issues at the State Department, said American families “consistently provide homes to 50 percent” of the children who are adopted internationally. “The United States actually receives the most special needs children, the most sibling groups and the most children over age 9, and that’s worldwide,” she told reporters in a March 23 news conference.
The most common barrier to intercountry adoption is “we do continue to hear from families who are harmed by illicit and illegal practices in intercountry adoption,” Lawrence said.
Johnson contended, however, corruption and abuse are rare, according to WORLD Digital.
The State Department’s latest reporting period was October 2016 through September 2017.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)