The significant decline in international adoptions is not a time for hand-wringing. It is an opportunity for family preservation and for equitable programs to help vulnerable children and families.
The U.S. State Department has released the most recent numbers documenting the decline in the number of children being adopted internationally. In 2004, nearly 23,000 children arrived here for international adoption. Last year, there were 5648 children adopted to the U.S. from other countries. Over half of them came from 3 countries: China (2354), Ethiopia (335), and South Korea (318).
The numbers have been decreasing for several years. You can read the State Department’s data here.
I believe there will always be children, especially older kids, sibling groups, and those with special needs, for whom international adoption may be a viable option. I believe in adoption, when it’s done with transparency and integrity.
There are many reasons for the decline in international adoption numbers. Russia closed adoptions to the U.S.; China has loosened the one child policy. Many countries are moving toward increased domestic adoption. In South Korea, there have been efforts, strongly promoted by adult adoptees, to remove the social stigma against single mothers so these moms can keep their children. KUMFA is one example. As countries move to promote adoption within their own borders, the number of available children for international adoption decreases. We promote domestic adoption here in the U.S., though about 100 American children are placed for adoption outside the U.S. each year, primarily to Canada and western Europe.
Many countries are also working to curb corruption that has permeated too many adoptions. It’s a long, tortuous road to recognizing and eliminating fraud and corruption. Much of this fraud has been discovered by adoptive parents who search for their children’s original family and find previously unknown information about why the child was placed for adoption, including news that the child was not an orphan. A great deal of fraud has been discovered by adoptees themselves, in many countries, when they have searched for their own histories and families.
Many folks in adoption work say that various intended safeguards, such as the paperwork and regulatory requirements of the Hague Convention and increasing U.S. forms and programs, have created significant barriers to international adoption. Were it not for the restrictions and bureaucracy, they say, thousands more children could be adopted.
I would argue that increased promotion of family preservation would allow tens of thousands of children to grow up in loving families–in their own country. Poverty is a major reason that children are placed for international adoption. A little help changes the world.
Here are two economic points:
- International adoptions historically have cost between $20,000 and $50,000, for one child., and thousands of U.S. parents have paid those fees. So the money is there.
- The adoption tax credit has meant some $7 billion for U.S. adoptive parents, primarily for international and U.S. infant adoptions, and a much smaller percentage for U.S. foster care adoptions. The money is there too, and I wish it could be re-prioritized.
Because of the decline in international adoptions, fewer Americans will be using the adoption tax credit, saving the U.S. government a fair amount of money. I would love to see the advocates of the tax credit–designed to create an incentive for action that would not otherwise occur–insist that there be funds allocated instead for aid to first families in the countries of origin from which children have been adopted. Just a thought.
Another thought is that greater emphasis and awareness be focused on sponsorship programs. Anyone who has ever considered adopting an orphan, or who has wanted to help a child whose mother has died, or who has felt helpless about the decline in international adoption numbers: Consider helping preserve existing families. Sponsor a child, a mother, a family, or a school.
Costs start at $40 or so a month. So, somewhere around $400 to $500 a year. It’s tax-deductible. Do that for 10 years, and you will have spent what one family would spend on one international adoption. And you will have helped many more families send their kids to school, get access to health care, and not starve to death. Fewer mothers will be separated forever from their beloved children.
Here are a few examples of family preservation efforts in Ethiopia: Ethiopia Reads, Bring Love In, Roots Ethiopia, Selamta Family Project, Hope In Helping Hands, Encourage Africa, Connected In Hope, A Hope For Children, Project Hopeful, Children’s Hope Chest, and that’s not all. Some are Christian; some are secular. Some work in more countries than Ethiopia.
Yes, I am an adoptive parent. Yes, I have been blessed by adoption. If you believe in adoption, then you believe in keeping families together, especially families that just need a little help to stay together, or to get a school built in their remote village, or to feed their babies.
Declining adoption numbers don’t have to mean fewer children have families. In fact, if we can get the word out, tens of thousands of children could easily have families, without a whole lot of expense or paperwork.
Let’s do this.