By: Namita Kalghatgi
Despite spending thousands of dollars of fees, facing piles of paperwork, and waiting years on end, families across the United States are yet to be matched with children they long to adopt.
The number of children from outside the U.S. adopted by Americans continued its consistent decline in 2016, according to data from the U.S. Department of State. Americans adopted around 5,370 children from other countries in 2016– 77% fewer than the peak in 2004. In comparison, Americans adopted about 53,500 U.S.-born children through public agencies in fiscal 2015, the most recent year for which data from the Health and Human Services Department are available.
Overseas adoptions by Americans have dipped to the lowest level in 35 years, as data has recently shown. The State Department reported that it issued 5,372 visas to children who were adopted abroad or were coming to the United States to be adopted by American parents in 2016, down from 5,648 in 2015 — and a fraction of the 22,884 overseas adoptions in 2004, when adoption rates peaked.
The latest figure is the lowest since 1981, when there were 4,868 overseas adoptions. Reasons for the decline are varied. Some countries are promoting domestic adoptions over foreign ones; several have suspended the process because of corruption. Still others have imposed stringent restrictions after cases of child transfers and abandonment.
As the teenage pregnancy rate has fallen and the stigma attached to single motherhood has faded, the number of babies placed for adoption has declined. In 1971, 90,000 children were given to be adopted in the United States. By 1975 the number had fallen 50%, mainly because of the legalisation of abortion in 1973. In 2014, only 18,000 infants under the age of two were placed for adoption.
Meanwhile, adopting from abroad has also become harder. According to the State Department, almost 23,000 children were adopted from abroad in 2004; last year, only 5,400 were. Unicef, Save the Children and other international charities consider such adoptions a last resort. Relatives and those who live close to the child are preferred. Russia has closed all international adoptions to American citizens as a response to Western sanctions, and corruption or child-trafficking scandals have ended adoptions from several countries, such as Guatemala. The federal government has also become more hostile. Thus, many children are left in underequipped and understaffed institutions, with uncertainty as to when they can leave for a loving home.
In the words of Hugh Thornbery, chief executive of the charity Adoption UK,“Adoption can offer the best chance to permanently break a cycle of neglect and abuse and give a child a second chance at fulfilling their potential with the support of a loving family.”