Fewer American parents are bringing home orphans from foreign countries, dropping the international adoption rate to a record low last year.
The number of foreign adoptions by U.S. parents fell by 7 percent between 2011 and 2012, from 9,320 to 8,668. According to the State Department, this is a 62 percent drop from the record peak in 2004 when parents brought home 22,884 international orphans.
The decline in adoption will complicate the future of millions of orphans worldwide. While the causes are diverse and complex, adoption activists hope the trend will lead to unexpected, positive breakthroughs.
Adam Pertman, executive director of the Donaldson Adoption Institute, said the decline in foreign adoptions was part of a broader change in the demography of adoption.
"There's a growing number of parents who have trouble finding a child to adopt who fits into their original vision of what would happen," he said. But, he stressed, ample options remain for parents. “If they are willing to adopt across racial and ethnic lines, or adopt older children, the kids are there."
Jason Kovacs, co-founder of Together For Adoption national adoption conferences and a staff member at the Abba Fund, said interracial adoption has become less taboo. These days, money is the most significant obstacle, he said. Other stumbling blocks include hostile adoption laws, longer wait times, and more ethical concerns about the welfare of the adopted children once they reach the United States.
Foreign countries are becoming less willing to send their orphans to America because of cultural and political reasons. Many consider international adoption a blow to national pride. They also view the trend as a loss of cultural and economic resources.
Adoptions from Russia declined dramatically during the last decade, from 5,862 in 2004 to 970 in 2011. That number will decrease even further now that President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a ban against American adoptions. The measure is a retaliation against a new U.S. law that punishes alleged Russian human-rights violators.
Kovacs pointed out many countries complicate international adoption for a variety of reasons, both political and cultural. “Some countries believe it’s better for children to live in their native culture, even if they live in a foster home or orphanage,” he said. “We’re trying to convince them that a permanent family solution is in the best interest of the child.”
Even though the ban will leave thousands of children without a family, Kovacs points to two positive benefits. Some countries are willing to allow American parents to adopt children with special needs who would otherwise remain social castaways. Restrictions on foreign adoptions also help raise awareness among indigenous churches of the need to care for their country's orphans. For example, Ukrainian churches have formed the Ukraine Without Orphans campaign, which hopes to cultivate a proactive adoption movement despite significant cultural obstacles.
When Russia’s ban went into effect, it complicated the adoption process for 46 children approved for release by the courts but whose parents had not completed the mandatory 30-day waiting period.
Russia has more than 654,000 children not in parental custody. About 128,000 of them are eligible for adoption, most living in orphanages. Susan Jacobs, the U.S. State Department's special adviser on children's issues expressed disappointment about Russia’s ban.
"They're angry with us, and they've found something that would hurt us," she said. "But it also hurts the Russian children who are looking for a home."
A breakthrough came earlier this month, when Russia's Supreme Court ruled that all adoptions that had been approved by courts by Jan. 1 would be allowed to proceed. The first few children were released and permitted to join their American parents, said the U.S. Embassy’s press attaché Joseph Kruzich. But he would not specify how many.
Meanwhile, Kovacs urged more churches to get involved.
“The solution for global orphans is for the global church to have a vision to answer the call to care for the fatherless,” he said. “Adoption is God’s design.”