New Statistics and Ongoing Concerns Around International Adoption Numbers

The US State Department recently released FY 2018 intercountry adoption statistics. Predictably, the numbers continue to decline: 4059 children were adopted to the US from some 90 countries, down by 655 from last year, and down by some 20,000 since the all-time high of 22,991 in 2004. Adoptions from India and Colombia were two countries that showed a slight increase in adoptions since last year.

Many folks do not realize that the US is also a “sending country” and has been for years. The Hague Convetion on Intercountry Adoption has made the statistics public. Adoptions from the US numbered 81 this year, with 38 of the children coming from Florida. Many of the children went to Canada and The Netherlands.

I hope you take a look through the report. The statistics are fascinating. Here are a few interesting points:

The median range of fees for Adoption Service Provider (adoption agencies) had a low of $3500 for adoptions from Togo, to a high of $32,310 for adoptions from Canada.

There are 4 reported disruptions cited in this report. According to State, these are “cases in which there was an interruption of a placement for adoption during the post-placement (but pre-adoption) period.”

But wait: “In addition, information received from the Department of Health and Human Services…indicated 72 cases of children from other countries entering state custody as a result of the disruption or dissolution of an adoption.”

My understanding is that these children were placed in the US foster care system and then could remain there or be re-adopted. Statistically, that’s a tiny amount: less than 2% of the total number of children brought to the US for adoption. Ethically and practically, though, it’s a sad, complicated number. I can only imagine the trauma that these children have been through and will potentially endure, as a result of leaving their home country, being placed in a new family, losing that family, and potentially drifting among placements.

The State Department also notes some serious, ongoing concerns about adoption practices. One example is the failure of adoptive parents to file post-adoption reports with the countries of origin. This request, while worthy insofar as the sending countries are concerned about the outcomes of their children (are they alive? healthy? in school? safe?) is unenforceable. Not receiving the reports can make sending countries reluctant to send more children for intercountry adoption.

Another concern is the so-called orphan hosting programs. “FY 2018 saw increased reports from countries of origin regarding hosting programs, which are often used to identify potential adoptive families for older children. A hosting program refers to a brief homestay visit in which a child from another country is issued a non-immigrant visa for the purpose of a temporary stay with a family in the United States. Several countries raised concerns that hosting was being used to identify children who had not yet been determined to be eligible for intercountry adoption and were being used by certain persons to circumvent intercountry adoption procedures and legal requirements. Toward the end of FY 2018, the Department became aware of more than one country moving toward restricting intercountry adoptions because of concerns about these types of activities.”

Many of State’s other concerns are even more troubling.

One concern is Unregulated Custody Transfer. UCT refers to a disturbing and more- common-than-we-would-like-to-think practice. “UCT, also known as “re-homing,” is the practice of adoptive parents transferring custody of a child to another individual or group without involvement of relevant authorities. UCT/re- homing is inclusive of all types of adoptions: public/foster, private, and intercountry,” according to this Fact Sheet from US Children’s Bureau.The precise number of children affected by UCT is difficult to ascertain by the very nature of UCT: it falls under the public radar. That said, according to Reuters, some 70% of children involved in UCT were internationally adopted.

Rep. James Langevin (D-RI) has introduced the Safe Home Act (HR 1389) to address the concerns around UCT; the bill is co-sponsored by Re. Don Bacon (R-NE). The proposed legislation would consider UCT to be child abuse, would allow state child welfare agencies to investigate UCT, and would provide funds to do so.

Another disturbing development noted by State is “efforts by adoptive parents to permanently return adopted children to countries of origin. The Department is aware of several instances in FY 2018 of adoptive parents who were considering or had already sent an adopted child back to their country of origin. These events raise serious concerns in both the Department and in the foreign country. The facts of each situation differ, but the reasons shared by adoptive parents to the Department for such returns include: concerns that the child was improperly separated from birth families to whom they wished to return; false or fraudulent information received during the adoption process; and medical or behavioral issues or previous abuse of the child that the family was not aware of prior to the adoption placement.”

An important point not to be overlooked here is that there are unknown numbers of cases of fraudulent adoptions where children were adopted under illegal and/or unethical circumstances. That is, the adoption took place illicitly (the child was kidnapped, the birth/first parents did not receive adequate or appropriate information about the adoption process, the people signing off on the adoption documents did not have the legal rights to do so, etc.). Some first/birth parents then take steps to regain custody of their child. Keep in mind that many birth/first parents do not have easy access to lawyers, are deeply impoverished in comparison to adoptive parents, may have been duped by family members or adoption agency personnel, and are often marginalized people within their own country. These circumstances can mean that birth/first parents whose children have been fraudulently adopted have enormous barriers to break through to be able to even inquire about the fate of their children, never mind ask for their return. It’s horrifying to think that there are untold numbers of parents heartbroken and grieving the loss of their children due to corrupt adoptions which took place through no fault of the parents, and whose voices are never heard.

Here is a case where the adoptive parents returned their adopted child to her Ugandan mother, once the fraud was uncovered: “The ‘Orphan’ I Adopted from Uganda Already Had A Family.” It’s bittersweet and highly complicated. I’d speculate it is the relative abyss of economic disparity between adopters and international first families that prevents more birth parents from being able to have their children back.

And would you find it disturbing to know that there are American families who know that their children were adopted under fraudulent circumstances, who know that the mothers want the children back, and who refuse to even tell their adopted children any of it? Not only do they close the door on returning the children who were illicitly adopted (and I understand how complicated that could be), but they also refuse to even have any contact with the birth family who are grieving and heartbroken. They refuse to send or share photos, or otherwise update the Ugandan mothers. I can’t imagine what the adopted children will think when they are older and learn their truth. I feel confident this is not limited to Uganda.

The statistics are interesting, but it’s the stories behind them that are wrenching. We need to listen to adult adoptees, and we need to keep demanding that the voices of birth families are sought out, welcomed, uplifted, and believed.

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