The drop in International Adoptions in the U.S
International adoptions and symbols that represent it. Source: Artwork by Christiane Alvarez
Since 2005, there has been an estimated 98 percent drop in international adoptions, according to the U.S State Department. This drop follows after a combination of several world events and international policies, changing international relationships, and documentation of abuse of international adoptees, sparking concerns about the living conditions children are experiencing after adoption.
An infographic sharing where Foreign Adoptees to the U.S come from. Source: Statista
The decrease in international adoptions is in part a result of a smaller pool of children put up for adoption, particularly in countries where adoptions by Americans were once more common. Most adoptees in recent years are from China, India, Ukraine, Colombia, South Korea, Haiti, Ethiopia and Nigeria.
In the late 20th century, the U.S had high overseas adoption rates as a result of war and international conflict that left many children without homes. International adoptions began to rise in the U.S after the Korean war. In the years that followed, many adoptees came from Vietnam after the Vietnam War, and then from various Eastern European countries, including Russia, after the Soviet Union broke down.
However, in recent years, international adoption trends have gone down among the five most common countries for US international adoption because of foreign policy changes and shifting international allegiances.
Some countries, such as China, have made significant policy changes. China was once one of the major countries that U.S. international adoptions came from. Much of this was attributed to China’s one-child policy that started in the late 70s and became more enforced during the 80s. Many families that already had a child would often have few options, and several families put their additional children up for adoption. In addition, prejudice often resulted in female children being abandoned for hopes of a son. In recent years, notably 2015, China began to allow two children in families, and in 2021, allowed for families to have three children.
According to the Associated Press, China has sent fewer adoptees to the U.S because of rising rates of domestic adoption, as well as restrictions on foreign nongovernmental organizations. Other factors, such as a stronger economy, have also meant that households are less likely to abandon their children to welfare. After years focused on economic reforms, China now has a GDP of around 9.5 percent and in the process, has brought 800 million people out from living in poverty.
In other countries, foreign adoptions have been banned as a result of concerns about the well-being and safety of children adopted out. In 2012, a largely publicized case of neglect resulted in the death of a thirteen-year-old Ethiopian girl, Hana Williams, from malnutrition and hypothermia. The child had been adopted by a family from the U.S. and was found unconscious during a cold night outside of her home in Washington state. She had lived with her adoptive parents for three years, and authorities uncovered that she had experienced physical abuse and long-term starvation. Using this case as a primary example of abuse, Ethiopian lawmakers eventually banned foreign adoptions in 2018.
Similarly, Russia’s parliament voted to ban American adoptions as a result of what they claim is concerns over child abuse. However, this has been met with some controversy, as some have mentioned that Russia has more widespread abuse occurring within their own orphanages. The ban was later attributed to sanctions that the U.S government had made in response to alleged human rights violations.
International adoption rates have also fallen for reasons that have nothing to do with the US. In Guatemala, adoptions to the U.S decreased after the government ended the program due to reports of corruption and fraud within the adoption system itself. These investigations cited inaccuracies and irregularities in the adoption process.
In other places, international adoption has decreased because of high costs and complicated paperwork. South Korea was once a country with many international adoptions, but their extensive and complicated paperwork process has deterred families and made it difficult and expensive to adopt from the country. South Korea also signed the Hague Convention on adoption, which expresses the preference of having a child be adopted domestically as opposed to internationally. Similar trends from other countries play a role in why the U.S is seeing this drop.
Despite overwhelming decreases in recent years, there has also been an increase in adoptions from certain countries, notably India and Colombia. According to an official from the State Department, these increases are a result of stronger ties established between the US and child welfare authorities from said countries. From 2017 to 2018, adoptions from India rose from 221 cases to 302. In Colombia, adoptions rose from 181 to 229 cases during that same timeframe. This rise can’t easily be attributed to a singular reason but rather based on the fostering of connections and accessibility, contributing at an almost inexplicable rise, considering how this is not the same situation with other countries.
A graphic showing fewer adoption cases to the U.S over the years. Source: Pew Research Center
Outside of the U.S, adoption rates have also fallen, even domestic ones. One of the potential causes of falling domestic rates may be individuals and families using alternative methods including IVF treatment as a way to have a child. According to the BBC, adoptions within England and Wales have fallen 62 percent, along with success rates with IVF tripling. While there is no clear link that indicates such a cause and effect between these two areas concerning children, there could be an underlying connection. However, England has noted that they have a higher number of children in care along with a decrease in adoption rates.
From just 2018 to 2019, the US saw a fourteen percent drop in international adoptions. The U.S has an estimated 135,000 adoptees a year. Out of this number, around 26 percent of these cases come from foreign countries and almost 60 percent are children who are within the U.S foster care/child welfare system. While many children have been adopted domestically, many prospective parents also turn to international adoptions based on perceived faster placements and cheaper costs.
The key issue at stake is that every child deserves to be raised in a household where they are cared for and wanted. While certain adoption restrictions can be made with good intentions, it can also limit the number of available homes that can provide the care a child needs.
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2. Held, Amy. “Ethiopian Lawmakers Vote To Ban Foreign Adoptions.” NPR. NPR, January 10, 2018. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/01/10/577144605/ethiopian-lawmakers-vote-to-ban-foreign-adoptions.
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