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What do the State Department Adoption Numbers Really Mean?


Last week the US Department of State released its annual report on inter-country adoption for fiscal year 2012.

For the 8th consecutive year, the number of inter-country adoptions showed a decline, albeit a smaller one than the year before.

The decline of inter-country adoptions in 2012 is all the more remarkable since China, the largest exporter of adoptable children, (which corners almost one third of the market), showed a slight increase of the number of children sent to the United States.

Based on the provided figures for the last 8 years,  it is clear that inter-country adoption has collapsed in almost all traditional sending countries. Former adoption power-houses like Russia and South Korea now send far less than 1000 children each year, and countries like Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Vietnam have been closed down altogether. Even traditional adoption countries like India, Haiti, Ukraine and the Philippines show a sharp reduction of the number of adoptions in 2012.

The trend in declining numbers of adoption is true for all continents, except for Africa, where countries like Congo and Uganda show a rapid increase in the number of children sent to the US.

The figures become even more interesting if we compare the number of adoptions in 2012 to the average number of adoptions between 2004 and 2011. A handful of countries (mostly in Africa) show a significant increase in the number of children sent to the USA, while a much larger number of countries show a decrease in the number of children sent to the US for adoption.

Country Number of adoptions in 2012 Average number of adoptions between 2004-2011 Relative change
Democratic Republic of the Congo 240 27.13 784.79%
Uganda 238 61.5 286.99%
Morocco 57 17.5 225.71%
Bulgaria 125 40.38 209.60%
Ghana 171 64.38 165.63%
Latvia 82 32.75 150.38%
Nigeria 197 103.25 90.80%
Bangladesh 19 10.13 87.65%
Rwanda 23 17.88 28.67%
Guyana 36 30.63 17.55%
Ethiopia 1568 1369 14.54%
Cameroon 12 11.63 3.23%
Thailand 57 59.75 -4.60%
Zambia 11 11.88 -7.37%
Nicaragua 21 23 -8.70%
Peru 26 28.75 -9.57%
Taiwan 177 203.63 -13.08%
Pakistan 29 35.13 -17.44%
Ecuador 15 19.25 -22.08%
Jamaica 43 57.63 -25.38%
Colombia 195 277.5 -29.73%
Armenia 19 27.25 -30.28%
Ukraine 395 608.75 -35.11%
Hong Kong 12 18.5 -35.14%
Japan 21 35.25 -40.43%
China 2697 4973.5 -45.77%
South Korea 627 1174.5 -46.62%
Poland 35 69.25 -49.46%
Phillipines 125 249 -49.80%
India 159 316.88 -49.82%
Brazil 21 46.25 -54.59%
El Salvador 6 14.25 -57.89%
Kyrgyzstan 9 21.63 -58.38%
Haiti 154 372.13 -58.62%
Estonia 4 10.13 -60.49%
Lithuania 8 21.13 -62.13%
Iran 4 10.63 -62.35%
Dominican Repubic 5 15.5 -67.74%
Kenya 6 19.5 -69.23%
Mexico 21 73.5 -71.43%
Russian Federation 748 2749.13 -72.79%
Liberia 34 162.75 -79.11%
Moldova 3 23.5 -87.23%
Sierra Leone 2 16.75 -88.06%
Nepal 3 49.75 -93.97%
Guatemala 7 2608.75 -99.73%
Vietnam 0 282.13 -100.00%
Kazakhstan 0 458.38 -100.00%
Note: Small adoption countries (on average sending less than 10 children per year) were omitted from this table

Predictably, the leaders of the adoption lobby are deeply saddened with these developments.

"We're demoralized," said Chuck Johnson, CEO of the National Council of Adoption, in an interview before release of the latest numbers. "It's a failure of leadership, from everyone involved, myself included, to come up with policies and procedures that open up doors for kids."

from: Foreign Adoptions By Americans Decline Again

Interestingly, Chuck Johnson seems to think the decline is "demoralizing" and a reflection of failed leadership. In a way he is onto something, but ironically it has very little to do with current leadership, but instead that of the past. From the mid-1990s onwards, inter-country adoption was a free for all gold rush for "adoptable" children, ("orphans"), leading to poor placement decisions and rampant child trafficking.

Where were the CEOs of the National Council of Adoption and the Joint Council on International Children's Services during these years? What did they do to help calm down the demand side of the market and help ensure children put in-care were given the appropriate safeguards needed for long-term placement decisions?

None of the leaders in the adoption community did a thing to prevent the adoption system from getting out of control. The decline in inter-country adoption since 2004 is the backlash of this lack of leadership. It seems sending countries eventually got sick and tired of all ongoing corruption,and decided to either stop inter-country adoption altogether or institute strict laws and bans affecting the sending of "orphans" to the United States.

It seems Mr. Johnson, and adoption advocates like him, still believe in the stale dogma of American exceptionalism: somehow the US is destined to dictate to other countries how  internal and external affairs, as they relate to child placement, ought to function and operate. This belief and "faith"  probably still holds true for those countries that are so dependent on American aid, they will do almost anything to keep their benefactors happy. However, by now, most other countries in this world have become increasingly more independent, and in-turn, less interested in being part of the adoption gravy train that caters to and benefits the American adoption industry.

For those advocating the needs of children put in care, the report from the Department of State leaves plenty of reasons for concern -- concerns that go above and beyond the national council's interests.

Corruption within the adoption industry remains high. Ethiopia, with 1568 children sent for adoption, is still out of control, despite efforts in 2011 to reduce the output considerably. Countries like Congo, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda are sending growing numbers of children and may soon hit the threshold of becoming out of control too. In fact, it seems once a country reaches a certain level of popularity, (thanks to the ease, relative low-cost, and short-wait a PAP must endure before an "adoptable" child is received), all adoption agencies specializing in ICA tend to flock those locations. This adoption agency-migration (complete with "facilitators" providing false documentation) leads to an exponential increase in the number of illegal adoptions and number of children (so-called "orphans") sent abroad, to the USA.

Countries like Guatemala, Ethiopia and Vietnam, all started out with moderate numbers of children sent for adoption, through ICA. However, once they reached levels of 300-500 children per year, demand started to exceed realistic supply, leading fraudulent adoption practices to satisfy the needs of the American adopter and the American adoption industry. And the response from adoption advocates in the United States? Keep the foreign adoption doors open, because every child has the right to have a family and home.

Altogether, the annual report for 2012 calls for modest optimism with respect to inter-country adoption. Most countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America seem to have their systems under control and send a modest number of children to the US for adoption. Africa, however, seems to be expanding their inter-country adoption programs, while none of the governments in those countries can properly regulate their own adoption systems.

The American adoption community may be thrown into a fit by the news of last year's adoption figures, and representatives of the adoption industry may shed their crocodile tears, but do foreign sending numbers really matter all that much?

The number of private domestic adoptions (mostly infants) are much higher than the number of inter-country adoptions, but this absence in numbers receives very little media interest and criticism, despite the known effects forced maternal deprivation has on a newborn. 

The Russian ban on inter-country adoption by American citizens caused a temper tantrum of biblical proportions within the adoption community. Guatemala, although now closed for several years is still a hotly debated topic in Adoptionland, while hardly anyone pays attention to the very murky world of private domestic adoption. We know exactly how many children were adopted internationally, but we have no clue how many children were adopted within the US in fiscal year 2012. There are some estimates that the number may be in the order of 20,000 to 25,000 children per year, but we have no idea if this figure remains more or less stable, or whether there is a rising or declining trend. We don't know if there are actual hot-spots where relinquishment is disproportionately high, nor do we have any indication about disruptions and dissolutions of private domestic adoptions.

Although it is too early to bury inter-country adoption as a thing from the past, it is time to pay attention to more important forms of adoption, so we may start to get more of an understanding of the shadowy world of private domestic adoptions. For too long, privatization in Adoptionland has been allowed to fly under the radar due to a disproportionate attention to inter-country adoption. Isn't it time for a stronger focus on the American Adoption System? Before the US tries to save the world's orphans, the American adoption system needs to ensure the children in our own back yards are safe and thriving, and no longer in-harm, due to poor care.

by Kerry and Niels on Tuesday, 29 January 2013