If Brangelina is any indication, American interest in adopting foreign children is stronger than ever. So why is the United States adopting fewer of them? According to early projections by the State Department, foreign adoptions have dropped an estimated 10 percent from last year-the fourth straight year of decline since the high-water mark of 22,884 in 2004. Experts say the downward trend is likely to continue as countries such as Russia, Guatemala and China, which in recent years had been among the largest providers of orphans for adoption, have either dialed back their programs or ended them entirely. "It's not that American interest has diminished at all, or that there are fewer kids who need homes," says Chuck Johnson of the National Council for Adoption. "The declines are directly the result of bureaucratic or political issues."
In China, a process that used to take a year-and was lauded for being efficient, transparent and affordable-now takes 31 months and is expected to get longer. China says increased prosperity in the country means fewer abandoned children. Russia, Ukraine and South Korea, all facing declining birthrates, are encouraging domestic adoption and making fewer children available to foreigners. Agencies say Russian adoptions have become particularly difficult, and the children available are sicker and older. The average cost has also soared to $40,000, the most expensive in the world. Kazakhstan's system has slowed while it is being overhauled. Adoptions from India dropped in the wake of news stories about human trafficking of orphans in other countries.
The U.S. government stopped new adoptions from Guatemala early this year because the country failed to comply with the Hague Adoption Convention's standards. And Vietnam shuttered its program last year following allegations of fraud and corruption. As a result, at least 600 approved adoption applications submitted by Americans have been returned to their agencies without matches, Johnson says.
Advocates hope the tide will turn back soon. Guatemala has signaled that it plans to overhaul its program when all the adoptions currently in the pipeline are completed. In Vietnam, negotiations are underway to restart adoptions following the arrest of 24 police officers as part of a crackdown on abuse. "We want enforceable safeguards and a transparent process that protects everyone from exploitation," said Gerry Fuller, of the State Department's Office of Children's Issues. "Both sides agree there are deficiencies, and the process is going forward."
Meanwhile, Mexico, which has long restricted adoptions to Americans to less than 100 children a year, says it may expand those numbers since the United States implemented the Hague Treaty in 2008. "There's more trust now that you have Hague accreditation," said Monica Rios Tarin, general legal director for the Mexican government's family and children's welfare system. There are also encouraging signs that adoptions from Ethiopia and Colombia will soon increase, proving that as some doors close, others are bound to open wider.