Why Is the U.S. State Department’s New System For Accessing International Adoption Stats So Terrible?

The U.S. State Department had changed its International Adoption Statistics page so that it is unwieldy, time-consuming, and frustrating.

Terrible optics: it’s almost as if the Department were trying to make information about adoptee immigrants difficult to access.

There are two descriptors, both somewhat misleading: “All Years Adoption Statistics” and “Total Adoptions.” Both are shown as 278,745.

However, and this has been the case for many years, State publishes its international adoption stats only from 1999. Adoptions began in significant numbers after the Korean War, in the early 1950’s. I don’t know why the thousands of adoptees in the 64 years between, say, 1955 and 2019 are not included by State in the “All Years Adoption Statistics.” It means that tens of thousands of adoptees are simply not included, contributing to the invisibility of adult adoptees and the silencing of their voices.

A bold new feature on State’s site is a vaguely interactive map, as if the hemispheric location of a country of origin is the main point of interest. On brand for the State Department, I suppose, but not so much for understanding the complexity of international adoption. When you click on a country name, it shows up on the map with a blinking pink outline that then fades. The color of the country depends on how many children were placed for adoption from it. There is an alphabetical listing of sending countries, each of which has a little sorta quadrilateral shape next to it that ranges in color from yellow to orange to brown. What does that signify, you ask? Click on the house shape at the upper right of the map to find out. (Spoiler: The legend explains that the colors correspond to the number of children adopted, greater/equal to 81637, then greater/less than 6421, then greater/less than 235, and so on. Yes, those are the actual numbers used.)

Anther new feature about that alphabetical listing of countries (and whether they are Hague signatories or not) is that you must go through the entire list EACH TIME you are looking for a piece of data, say adoptions by year in Guatemala, or, heaven forbid, Zimbabwe. You will start each time with Afghanistan (sometimes Albania). This will be true if you are looking at 2015 stats for China, then want to switch to 2016 stats for China. Start with Afghanistan… and keep on scrolling.

Another option as a source of the numbers of international adoptions is a non-governmental site, the Johnston Archives. with loads of footnotes and a caveat from the researcher William Johnston: “Data are from multiple sources, sometimes using inconsistent methods or reporting periods (e.g. fiscal year vs. calendar year) such that time series may not be uniform. Some data are incomplete.” It’s a fascinating list nonetheless. As you scroll down the pages, you see how international adoption exploded globally in the 1980’s onward.

And that brings us back to the unfortunate fact that the Adoption Statistics page of the U.S. State Department only shows the past 2 decades. There are tens of thousands of adoptees now in their 40’s, 50’s, and older. But they appear nowhere on the stats page. They should. There are ramifications on citizenship issues, for example. (More on that soon.)

There are links to the State Department’s Annual Reports, which began in 2008. That’s the year (on April 1) that the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption went into effect for the U.S., and the annual report became mandated. The FY2008 report is filled with adorable photos of children, plus about 4 pages of a list of adoption agencies. The FY2019 Annual Report is 10 pages of text and tables. One blurry cute kid photo.

In the FY2019 report, there is no list of agencies, though there is a link to the agency info on the sole accreditor (IAAME, the International Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity) page; the list of agencies is 176 pages. It’s not that there are thousands of agencies; they space out the list of the countries where each agency works plus the addresses of the offices.

Interestingly, on the same link as the list of agencies, IAAME also has a “Substantiated Complaints and Adverse Action Report” which is 188 pages.

Adoption is a complex set of numbers. I am no statistician nor historian, yet I find this information fascinating. It’s quite a rabbit hole, as we say in the U.S., a path of information that if followed leads to more and more things to follow. Information is power, after all, though it’s what we do with it (learning context via interviews, research, and reports; critiquing and citing sources; double checking!) that is vital. When what should be public information is difficult to access or even find, we do a disservice to the people involved.

I’ll close with another controversial point: I realize that the State Department has information/reporting mandates which it meets per the Hague adoption convention. Still. Information on iU.S. international adoption should include statistics on birth/first families as well as on adoptees, and they (not only adoptive or prospective parents) should be involved, encouraged, and welcomed to comment on not only the statistics but the policies over a lifetime.

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

“The Economist” Editorial: Blind to the Realities of International Adoption

The Economist, the British-based weekly news magazine, missed a valuable opportunity to present much-needed solutions for children without families. Instead, it glossed over recent history and current realities around international adoption, sounding uninformed and starry-eyed.

All children deserve safe, loving families. International adoption is one means of helping, but there are many other much-needed actions as well. Too often, people romanticize the notion of adoption without understanding its realities. Think “Annie.”

The Economist recently published two articles on international adoption. I was among many folks interviewed for Sarah Esther Maslin’s article, “Home Alone: Fewer Families Are Adopting Children From Overseas.” She addresses the issues of fraud and corruption in Romania and Guatemala, among other countries, noting the frustration that some folks have with the bureaucracy around the adoption process: “Such sluggishness infuriates overseas parents. But many sending countries say critics underestimate the difficulties of building a robust adoption system—and ask why, if people in rich countries really care about poor children in poor places, they do not fund domestic programmes to keep families together instead.”

Indeed.

Maslin’s article explains why international adoptions have decreased so significantly in recent decades, and it’s important that this information get out into the world at large. (I wrote about the issue in this post: “Lamenting the Decline in International Adoption? Take Action.”)

In addition to Maslin’s article, The Economist also published an editorial, “Babies without borders.” The editorial was superficial at best, failing to speak out to its 1.3 million readers about genuinely effective ways to help children have families.

Adoption can benefit some children and families. However, there is a bigger picture around child welfare advocacy that must be addressed.

Here is the Letter to the Editor I sent to The Economist:

In urging that international adoptions be made easier, The Economist’s editorial “Babies without borders” is naïve, clichéd, and shallow. It includes the following:

  • A stunning amount of faith that the Hague Convention has rooted out fraud and corruption, and thus it is now safe to move faster in processing adoptions.
  • A failure to mention how many adult adoptees have discovered the extent of deception in their adoptions.
  • A cavalier dismissal of the loss of culture and history when children are internationally adopted.
  • A noticeable silence about several countries’ efforts to promote in-country adoption and to reduce the cultural stigmas around it.
  • An astonishing exhortation that U.S. evangelical Christians specifically should not be stopped on their happy way to adopting.
  • A lack of awareness about the current paucity of post-adoption services which has led to tragic re-homing situations, as well as to international adoptees being placed, for example,  in the U.S. foster care system.

As an adoptive parent, I know the power of adoption. International adoption, though, helps very few of the children who genuinely need help. Increased family preservation efforts and child/family sponsorships via reputable organizations are only two of the possible  solutions to ensuring that many more children have safe, loving families.

Unfortunately, The Economist was busy humming Little Orphan Annie’s “Hard Knock Life,” and quoting it, rather than examining realities and proposing thoughtful solutions.

 

 

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Please read both Sarah Maslin’s article and the editorial, and share your thoughts with The Economist. You can e-mail letters@economist.com. Include your mailing address and a daytime telephone number.