ASHEVILLE, N.C. – The number of foreign children adopted by U.S. families plunged again last year, according to data the U.S. State Department released last month.
Intercountry adoptions declined by 14 percent, from 4,714 children in 2017 to 4,059 in 2018. The 2018 number is down 82 percent from a high of more than 22,000 in 2004.
The report showed declines even in countries that historically had the most children adopted in the United States, including China, Ethiopia, and Haiti. India and Colombia saw modest increases, but tumbling numbers in almost every other country offset those gains.
In the report, the State Department cited external factors and mismanagement by U.S. adoption service providers. China, with a drop of more than 22 percent, accounted for much of the decline, something the report attributed to improved economic circumstances and domestic permanency options in the country. The report also noted that China passed a law in 2017 restricting the activities of foreign nongovernmental organizations that incidentally limited the work of some U.S. adoption service providers.
The second largest drop in intercountry adoptions last year was in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government banned intercountry adoptions in early 2018, citing corruption and ethical concerns. The State Department report backed up the charge, saying problems such as U.S. families not complying with post-adoption reporting, unregulated custody transfers, and concerns about misconduct were "barriers and threats to the vitality of intercountry adoption."
But international adoption advocates in the United States argue the report masks the real story – one in which the number of orphans languishing in institutional care and parents willing to adopt them has increased while onerous regulations and costs have strangled compliant, ethical U.S. adoption service providers.
"This is what happens when you only impose overbearing regulations that make it increasingly difficult to facilitate intercountry adoption," said Chuck Johnson, the president and CEO of the National Council for Adoption. An NCFA statement released after the State Department report contended that since the department's Office of Children's Issues assumed responsibility for adoption in 2008, it has focused almost all of its attention on regulating intercountry adoption, not advocating for it.
Ryan Hanlon, the vice president of NCFA, said that while he does believe bad actors exist in the adoption industry and regulations are needed, the State Department is so focused on preventing corruption that it isn't willing to collaborate with adoption advocates, a stance that is "impacting real children who aren't joining families."
He also said tens of thousands of orphans still languish in orphanages in China despite economic growth and the rise of the country's middle class.
Without substantial changes, Hanlon said he expects the 2019 numbers to be far worse than 2018.
"NCFA hopes that the leadership at the Department of State will take responsibility for their role in contributing to this human rights disaster and reverse course immediately," Johnson said.
Written by Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.