International Adoptions to the US Continue to Decline

An image of baby's footWith President Vladimir Putin’s signing of a new law at the end of last year, as of January 1, US citizens are no longer able to adopt Russian children. For Americans seeking international adoptions, this means one more closed door, in an environment that has seen the number of foreign children adopted by US parents steadily decline since 2004.

Nine years ago, adoptions of foreign children peaked at 22,991. In 2012, that number had dropped to 8,668, representing a decline of 62%. Last year, before Russia’s new law went into effect, that country was the third-largest provider of children for foreign adoptions to Americans, at 748.

There are several reasons for the lower numbers. One is the enforcement by the US, beginning in 2008, of stricter guidelines under the Hague Adoption Convention. The Convention was formed to cut back on child trafficking and other abuses, which is a good thing. But this has also complicated the process for reputable adoptions and has caused some countries to restrict, or eliminate, adoptions to foreign countries, as they try to meet Convention standards. (The State Department maintains a list of global updates and notices concerning adoption, here.)

For some countries, politics is at play, which seems to be the case in Russia, which is widely thought to have passed their ban in response to a US law that targets human-rights violators in Russia.

And in other countries, feelings of nationalism have caused governments to make it harder to adopt out their children in an effort to have more of their own citizens fulfill the adoptions—and take care of the problem without outside help.

In the case of China, numbers have dropped, in part, because more Chinese have become economically able to adopt (China’s one-child policy allows for additional children through adoption) and because the nation has lengthened its list of restrictions limiting which foreigners can adopt. A 2009 article in Time also cites changing attitudes by the Chinese that are increasing in-country adoption of girls, who, at the time, made up 95% of the children in their orphanages.

With international adoption statistics changing so dramatically over the years, it’s hard to keep up with the numbers. Here’s a look at the latest figures from the US Department of State—for fiscal year 2012, ending September 30:

Most Adoptions, by Country of Origin

1. China  2,697
2. Ethiopia  1,568
3. Russia    748
4. Republic of Korea  627
5. Ukraine  395

Most International Adoptions, by State

1. Texas  617
2. California  555
3. New York  492
4. Florida  398
5. Illinois 390

Median Fees for Hague Convention Adoptions (Most Expensive)

1. South Africa  $160,217
2. Albania $25,960
3. Hungary  $21,685
4. Canada $20,000
5. Armenia $19,825
(For perspective, the median fee for adoptions from China was $15,600)

Median Fees for Hague Convention Adoptions (Least Expensive)

1. Sri Lanka  $6,200
2. Ecuador  $6,250
++Kenya  $6,250
4. Philippines  $8,500
5. Brazil  $10,413

Average Number of Days to Complete Hague Convention Adoptions (Longest Wait)

1. Mexico  770
2. Dominican Republic  741
3. France  709 (1 adoption)
4. Costa Rica  690
5. Armenia  667
(For perspective, the average wait to complete adoptions from China was 267 days.)

The Both Ends Burning Campaign is concerned with facilitating adoptions and decreasing the time that children spend in orphanages. Their work includes the Both Ends Burning book, an online petition, and the Step Forward for Orphans March, scheduled for May 17 in Washington, D.C. Here’s a trailer for their documentary, Stuck. The full video is available here.

A Note on the Numbers: Stuck gives the average length of time for an international adoption as 896 days, while the State Department figures above list Mexico as the country with the longest average time at 770 days. I’m curious as to why the numbers are so far apart. I’m not doubting the validity of the documentary’s statistics, but I wonder where the difference comes from. Maybe it’s because the State Department left out non-Hague countries or because the two differ on what constitutes the complete adoption “process.”

(Gregory L. White, “Putin Signs Adoption Ban, Putting Pending Cases in Limbo,” The Wall Street Journal, December 28, 2012; Kayla Webley, “Why Americans Are Adopting Fewer Kids from China,” Time, April 28, 2009; “FY 2012 Annual Report on Intercountry Adoption,” Office of Children’s Issues, U.S. Department of State, January 2013)

[photo: “Baby’s Foot,” by Wirawat Lian-udom, used under a Creative Commons license]

Related Post:
Documentary Shows Adoptees’ Journeys from China to the US to “Somewhere Between”


13 thoughts on “International Adoptions to the US Continue to Decline

  1. I adopted my son from Russia in January 2 1995. I first conceived of adopting from Russia in late January of 1994 when I read a magazine article about the first international adoptions in Russia. I had already suffered through three years of “dear birth mother ” letters that went no where, and a failed domestic adoption where the birth mother changed her mind after the birth of the baby.

    My grief was so great at losing that baby , I realized I couldn’t risk another domestic adoption and international adoption seemed so much easier. Seeing these time lines and the huge drop in international adoptions makes me very sad. Every day a child spends in an orphanage is another day lost , another day of emotional and physical damage. Heartbreaking to see the disconnect between children who need a home and those wanting to love and care for a child.


  2. interesting post. i adopted from ethiopia and now with the concerns of agency and in-country corruption i am not sure if i should do it again though i would love for my child to have a sibling. i agree with tall chris, above. it is heartbreaking for it to be so challenging to get children who need homes into families ready to love them.


  3. Really enjoyed reading this. We have adopted to girls in Taiwan privately. Now we are saddened that is no longer a possibility as Taiwan no longer allows private adoptions. We have many friends here who would love to adopt, but sadly they cannot do so any longer. So many children without homes, so many families ready to welcome them home and yet, so difficult to make that a possibility.


  4. We’re in the process of adopting two from Uganda. I have many friends who have seen how many orphans there are in Uganda. Its so sad to me that it takes so long when the need is so great. I’ve had a chance ti view Stuck. It’s phenomenal and so well done.


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