Tough times, longer waits lead to lower international adoption rates in America

Last year 12,753 U.S. families adopted children from around the world.  That number may sound high, but it actually represents an alarming drop in international adoptions. Photo: Andrea Poe

EASTON, Md. — Last year, 12,753 U.S. families adopted children from around the world.  That number may sound high, but it actually represents an alarming drop in international adoptions. For the previous four years, adopted children arriving annually to the United States averaged 21,449.

The decline is not due to decreasing number of Americans interested in international adoption.  Instead, external factors are playing a major role.

In some ways, international adoption has become a victim of it own success.  From Madonna to Angelina Jolie, high-profile international adoption cases glamorized this route to parenthood.  And, mostly, that was a good thing, drawing attention to orphans around the world.

Organizations and adoption agencies blossomed to meet the new demand.  The numbers of orphans in many countries began to decline as parents in wealthier Western nations chose international adoption as a route to complete their families.

International adoptions, many of which require large sums of money to complete (some as much as $50,000), became a lucrative business.  Unscrupulous practices, shoddy vetting and accusations of child trafficking became more common.   Increasing scrutiny and a few highly publicized scandals began to cast a dark shadow over international adoption.

Governments around the world responded strongly by  imposing stricter regulations and tighter governmental oversight, which had the effect of slowing down the adoption process and sending adoption numbers tumbling.

The tragedy of this is that in the wake of these developments thousands of orphans are left behind, many of whom will “age out” of adoption opportunities soon, since most families elect to adopt children under two years old.  Older children are often fated to stay behind to languish in orphanages.

New and often confusing rules have frustrated many parents, who were previously eligible to adopt are now being told they no longer conform to the new regulatory guidelines which often specify age and even weight of prospective parents.

Countries that have had historically strong adoption programs have tapered off. 

Take China, which is in the process of rethinking it’s pro-Western adoption program and the one-child birth policy that precipitated the country’s huge number of orphans.  While the Chinese have not ended foreign adoptions, they have greatly slowed the process and decreased the number of children available for adoption.

Russian and Romania have suspended American adoptions, thanks to recent scandals such as the travesty in Tennessee, where a boy’s mother put him on a plane, returning him to Russia. 

          Guatemala, which had long known as one of the best systems thanks to its in-home foster care programs, fell victim to accusations of baby brokering, which led to a moratorium on American adoptions.

Other countries that have halted adoptions because of civil unrest or war include Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Nepal, Guatemala, Swaziland and Sierra Leone.

Further, the increasingly widespread acceptance of the Hague Adoption Convention (81 countries and America have signed the treaty), which was intended to make adoption a transparent process around the globe, has inadvertently contributed to plummeting adoption numbers since most of the countries that American adopt from (in fact 7 out of 10) are not party to the Hague.

Although it is not required that Americans adopt from countries that have signed the Hague Convention, it is now strongly recommended they do as it ensures a safer and more stream-lined process.

Below is a chart showing the most popular countries for Americans to adopt from and the number of children adopted last year.  Only China, India and Guatemala have signed the Hague Convention.

Top 10 Most Popular Countries for International Adoption

Country

Number of Adoptions to the US

1. China

3,001

2. Ethiopia

2,277

3. Russia

1,586

4. South Korea

1,080

5. Guatemala

756

6. Ukraine

601

7. Vietnam

481

8. Haiti

330

9. India

297

10. Kazakhstan

295

There’s no doubt about it.  Right now is a challenging time for families hoping to adopt internationally.  The landscape is constantly shifting, wait times are extending, and requirements are tightening. 

But as so many prospective parents know, this is when the tough get going. Patience, flexibility and above all faith are what pull parents through. 

 Just ask all those parents who last year were told to abandon their hopes for adopting from Guatemala.  This summer, the country suddenly reversed its decision and has agreed to open adoptions once again on a limited basis.  Parents who stuck it out, at least some of them, appear to be inching ever closer to completing their families. 


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Andrea Poe

Andrea Poe is a veteran journalist, whose work has appeared in thousands of publications, including Town & Country, Marie Claire and Entrepreneur.  She is the author of several books and her work has appeared in many others, including anthologies and college textbooks. 

Andrea serves as editor of the Travel & Food section at The Washington Times Communities.  Her love of travel has led her to cover everything from remote villages in the Andes to her hometown of New York, from Paris to Pittsburgh, from Beijing to the Bahamas.  No matter where she travels, she likes to uncover the unusual and share with readers those often-overlooked aspects of a place and its people.  She dubs her column Raven’s Eye as a nod to her illustrious (and, yes, infamous) relative, Edgar Allan Poe, a writer who knew more than a little something about the quirky and unique.  

Andrea is also mother to Maxine, who was adopted from Vietnam in 2006, and is the inspiration for The Red Thread column on adoption at The Washington Times Communities.   Andrea is currently at work on a book on international adoption.

In addition to her work as mother, writer and traveler, she is the founder and president of Media Branding International, a consulting firm that helps individuals and organizations craft and promote their image in media outlets around the globe.

Find Andrea at andpoe@Twitter, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Contact Andrea Poe

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