Lately I’ve been thinking about the changes in international adoptions. I get this question

Changes in International Adoption
What is causing the changes in international adoption and what does the future hold?

from prospective adoptive parents a lot, and it’s been on my mind since I’ve been preparing for the June 18 “Creating a Family” radio show that will be on this topic.

This morning I printed off the international adoption statistics for the last 10 years from the US State Department and have been staring at them hoping for an answer to this question. I suppose what I’m really looking for is a pattern that would allow me to predict where we are heading. No “ah hah” moment hit me, sorry to say.

Headlines Only Tell Part of the Story

Undoubtedly international adoptions are going through a tumultuous time and the media is having a heyday. Sad prospective parents, parentless children, and allegations of baby trafficking make for good copy. Unfortunately, truth lurks behind the headlines.

Not to belabor the obvious, but Guatemala has closed down to new international adoption placements and the pipeline cases are progressing at a snail’s pace. Vietnam will close down at least temporarily in September. Who knows what will happen to the cases in process when this happens. China is still making steady placements, but the numbers have been declining since 2005, and the time has increased dramatically. The number of children internationally adopted by US families from Russia peaked in 2004, and the costs have escalated precariously. [If you aren’t already sick of hearing about this, you can read more in my Adoption in the News section under the Adoption tab.]

So, what’s up with international adoptions?

One theory that has been suggested is that international adoption placements in the last 10 years have concentrated in fewer placing countries. This isn’t exactly true since the number of countries placing less than 500 children for adoption to the US has remained relatively stable (16 in 1996, 12 in 2000, 14 in 2006, 12 in 2007). It is true, however, that the dramatic increases in inter-country adoptions have been in a very few countries, primarily China, Guatemala, and Russia. Any disruptions in these countries will greatly affect the numbers, and all three have placed fewer children with US families in recent years.

Another theory is that the decrease in international adoptions reflects less need for international adoptions due either to an increase in domestic adoptions in the sending countries or an increase in social services to support birth families. This should certainly be our goal, but I’m not convinced that this is happening.

What’s Up with Chinese International Adoptions

It’s hard to say what is happening in China. I’ve read all that I can find, and all I can say is that I’m not sure. (The Aug. 6 Creating a Family show will be on this topic.) There is some evidence that domestic adoptions have increased and that abandonment of healthy infant girls is down. But there is also evidence that only a small percentage of orphanages are open to international adoption and that there are still many many children being raised in institutions.

What’s Happening to the Parentless Kids in Guatemala Now

The termination of international adoptions from Guatemala has nothing to do with an increase in social services to poor families or an increase in domestic adoptions. It has everything to do with greed and politics.

And Then There is Russia

The decrease in international adoptions from Russia to the US is more complex, but is driven in part by the fear of health issues (attachment and fetal alcohol syndrome), the unpredictability of the process (regional variations and agency accreditation), and cost.

Are We Returning to Normal?

It could be that a strange mix of events led to an artificially high number of international adoptions for a few years and that we are simply returning to a more sustainable number. And yet, according to the UN, 143 million children in this world need parents. I view adoption as a key component of any country’s child welfare system, and when adoptive families can’t be found inside a country, they should be sought abroad. This is the only answer that is in the best interest of children.

Is the US Foster Care System a Good Model

I’m not blind to the problems in the US foster care system, and it’s particularly problematic to use the US as an example in any international issue given our reputation in the world as of late for unmitigated arrogance and hubris. But at least in theory, I like their approach. In the US, no child must wait for a family within his state. There may be a preference for a local family so that the child can maintain contact with extended family and siblings, but no child is denied a family just because one can’t be found within the borders of his state. And US children can be placed abroad if a family can’t be found within the US. This right to a family is protected in the Hague Treaty on Intercountry Adoption.

How Has the Hague Treaty on Intercountry Adoptions Affected International Adoptions?

Interestingly, this same treaty is often touted as another reason why international adoptions to the US have declined. It is too early to tell what the impact of the Hague Treaty on international adoptions to the US will be since it only came into effect in the US in April 2008. It is certainly possible that the Hague Treaty may open up countries that were previously closed to placing children in the US. It is also possible that this treaty will close down adoptions from non-Hague countries if the US does not negotiate a separate agreement for international adoptions to continue.

The Hague requires a fairly well developed infrastructure to support the required bureaucratic framework. This can be a problem for some lesser developed countries, and these countries are likely to be the ones that need international adoption as part of their child welfare systems. On the other hand, this lack of infrastructure can also lead to fraud, baby trafficking, and kidnapping, especially when fertilized with big money from international adoptions.

What’s the Answer

I wish I had an easy answer, but I don’t, and I doubt there is one. All I know is that kids need parents. There will always be a need for adoption because there will always be extreme poverty, societal disapproval of unwed motherhood, unfit parents, abuse, and neglect. There will likely always be a need for international adoption because of poverty or societal attitude towards adoption. And let’s not forget, most studies show that adoption works. It’s good for kids, and it’s good for families. The only upside to the decline in international adoptions that I can see is that maybe more US families will consider adopting the almost 130,000 children in the US foster system that are in need of adoptive parents.

Next week’s blog will be a follow up on what I learned in my interviews on this week’s Creating a Family radio show with JCICS and the State Department on what the future holds for international adoptions.

Image credit: Andreietta