Do Not Blame the State Department for Declining Adoptions

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A host of recent news stories are about the decline in international adoptions. The decrease in adoptions is staggering: 24,000 plus foreign adoptions in 2004 and less than 5,000 as of 2017.

But the State Department is not actively looking to stop international adoption as many bloggers and pundits suggest.

This issue cuts across both liberal and conservative constituents with each side, convinced of a nefarious Department of State (DOS) conspiracy against them regarding declining international adoptions. They see the falling adoption rates as an attack against them by a biased government.

The reduction in foreign adoption is occurring for a host of reasons and has happened for years.  One of them is DOS’s increased emphasis on laws, rules, and procedures ensuring ethical adoptions.

Since ratifying The Hague Treaty on International Adoption in 2004, the State Department is the authority ensuring they follow The Hague treaty rules. The government contracted with the Council on Accreditation (COA) and the State of Colorado as their Accreditors, who reviewed adoption service providers (ASPs) to make sure they were following Hague mandates. The State of Colorado quit doing the work shortly afterward and the COA became solely responsible for agency reviews.

COA charged the agencies for their accreditation, but also did not follow all the rules and procedures that it should have and neither did the ASP’s.

There were issues under COA’s watch. For example, one group they accredited, was later disbarred by the State Department. The DOS realized it had to crack down. The government informed ASP’s in 2018 that they had four months to align their rules and regulations with the State Department’s rules or face repercussions via suspensions or even possible disbarment.

This incensed adoption agencies.

It’s crucial to mention, the State Department did NOT add a bunch of new rules; these were rules they should already have followed. Agencies were angry because they believed the DOS was interpreting the regulations more severely.

In October of 2017, faced with the mounting backlash from ASP’s, the COA informed the State Department they would discontinue as the State Department’s adoption accreditor. This caused a chain reaction from ASP’s, big and small with many closing down and others decrying the government’s lack of transparency.

A Florida-based non-profit called Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity, Inc. (IAAME) won the contract as the new accrediting body and will use professional reviewers and charge agencies for it. IAAME initiated a $500 dollar Monitoring & Oversight fee for each new application and most ASPs will charge it as a pass-through to families. Many believe because COA’s fees were less for peer reviewers, that IAMME’s increased fees are unfair and unnecessary. Because IAAME charges more, accreditation costs will rise.

If small adoption providers, cannot abide by the new interpretation of the rules, that’s unfortunate. The fee increase impacts both small and large agencies the same. Again, this fact refutes the notion the fee punishes smaller agencies. With families spending $30,000 plus on foreign adoptions, a $500 increase is statistically minimal.

Could the State Department have done a better job sharing these concerns with adoption agencies and being more transparent? Maybe.

But their mandate is not facilitating as many adoptions as possible, it is ensuring ethical and legal adoptions.

Plus, I have no issue with fewer adoption agencies. Foreign adoptions if required, need to be legal and transparent. If adhering to laws and ensuring they are followed to the best of the agency’s ability is too burdensome for APS’s, then it is time to shut down. Plus, with adoptions decreasing by 75%, there is no reason for so many agencies to exist.

As for the decline, there are more reasons than the State Department’s newfound adherence to rules. One is national pride. Countries are embarrassed they cannot care for their own kids and give them a safe and nurturing environment.

A further reason for declining adoptions is long waiting lists of potential parents wishing to adopt healthy infants from their own countries. If adoption occurs, then all should agree the first priority is keeping a child with an in-country family member. The second priority should be remaining in their birth country if a family member is not found or unwilling to adopt. While the last option should be a foreign adoption to another country. There is a further shift in adoption trends, as many internationally adopted children have special needs.

All of those are reasons why adoption is declining precipitously. Add to them that South Korea is sending fewer children, and Russia, Ethiopia, and Guatemala have either stopped facilitating or severely curtailed international adoptions. Even the main agency of the United Nations that deals with children’s issues, UNICEF, focuses more on family unification, preservation, and domestic adoption in the child’s birth country.

There are many reasons why international adoption numbers are decreasing, but it is misguided to blame the State Department and ignores the facts.

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