Intercountry Adoptions to U.S. Continue to Plummet in 2018

The number of intercountry adoptions by Americans continues to freefall, according to recent figures released by the State Department, down 13 percent from last year and 84 percent from 15 years ago.

There were 4,089 international adoptions by American families in 2018. That is 655 less than there were in 2017, and far below the peak year of 2004, when 22,989 international adoptions were finalized.

In releasing the figures, State said that “Intercountry adoption remains one of the Department’s top priorities.” The report said the majority of last year’s decline is attributable to actions by two countries:

  • China, which in 2017 passed laws restricting the activities of foreign non-governmental organizations (most international adoption agencies fit that description).
  • Ethiopia, which during 2018 invoked a ban on intercountry adoptions.

But the National Council for Adoption blasted the agency, saying its recent re-interpretation of regulations has contributed to the decline in adoptions. A press release from the council last week says there are “very credible reports” alleging a personal bias against international adoptions by some leaders at the agency.

“This is what happens when you only impose overbearing regulations that make it increasingly difficult to facilitate intercountry adoption,” says NCFA President Chuck Johnson, in the statement. “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.”

The State Department, in an unattributed statement issued through its press office, said “we reject the allegation that the Department of State is not committed to intercountry adoptions. “…We work to ensure that intercountry adoption remains a viable option for children in need of permanency throughout the world when it is in the best interests of the child and domestic solutions have been given due consideration. Intercountry adoption policy in the United States is not made by one person or even one agency.”

State did note concerns of its own with the post-adoption process by American families and agencies.

“The Department is very concerned about efforts by adoptive parents to permanently return adopted children to countries of origin,” the report said. “The Department is aware of several instances in FY 2018 of adoptive parents who were considering or had already sent an adopted child back to their country of origin.”

The report also said that providers too often failed to provide post-adoption reports asked for by countries of origin.

The U.S. did see increased adoptions from Colombia and India in 2018. State said it had helped Croatia facilitate the authorization of American adoption agencies to work in the country.

This story was updated on March 18

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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.