Why Are Americans Adopting Fewer Foreign Children?

Global prosperity and government bureaucracy both play a role.



International adoptions are currently down 80 percent since 2004, according to a report from the State Department, marking an end to the high international adoption rate that persisted throughout the '80s, '90s, and early aughts. The reason might not be decreased demand but, in some cases, increased government meddling.

In 2004, there were nearly 23,000 children adopted into the United States. By 2014, that number had fallen to less than 7,000, and by 2017, that number was hovering around 4,700 according to State Department estimates. There are plenty of competing theories about why this is—some scholars claim the declining role of churches (especially evangelical ones) might be the culprit. Ryan Hanlon, the vice president of the National Council for Adoption, told NPR's Morning Edition on Monday that conflicts like World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War have historically compelled people to open their homes to children in need.

Other experts agree. Ben Christopher, at the data visualization website Priceonomics, writes that "In the 1980s, civil war and poverty in Central and South America are reflected by an uptick in American adoption rates from El Salvador and Guatemala, and in the 1990s, we see the fall of the Iron Curtain in the rise of Romanian and Russian adoptions." As more and more immigrants get turned away from the southern border, and family separation gets more airtime and debate in U.S. politics, it will be interesting to see whether adoption from violence-ravaged parts of Latin America rises (though clearly only children without parents, not children separated from their parents, will be eligible).

The other part of the equation is global prosperity. As middle classes in China and South Korea grow, there's more of an internal push to keep children in their native countries.

In the '90s, China opened itself up for international adoption and quickly became the country with the most children adopted to the United States. Now, about 42 percent of the total U.S. international adoption pool consists of Chinese adoptees (still high, despite recent declines), but the Chinese government has removed the restrictive one-child policy and made a significant push in favor of domestic adoption within the country's borders. These changes are largely good for China—more children will now be raised by Chinese families, and the government is easing up on some of its more authoritarian policies. Now, demand for international adoption remains decently high in the U.S., while supply decreases.

For example, in December 2012, the Russian government banned adoptions to the United States. Earlier this year, the Ethiopian parliament passed new legislation which bans adoptions by foreigners, citing concerns about child welfare. Some countries have chosen to restrict adoption due to high-profile cases of child abuse and neglect. Others favor keeping children within their home country's borders for cultural reasons, and to signal to international observers that they can take care of their own.

Adoption costs have also grown over time. Per NPR, "many experts also argue that policies put in place over the years meant to regulate international adoptions actually make it more cumbersome and expensive." Unfortunately, many bureaucratic changes fly under the radar since so few people are tuned into international adoption news—in February of this year, for example, the State Department issued changes to the accrediting entity (AE) fee structure (AEs essentially hold up ethical standards for adoption agencies), creating a new agency called the International Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity (IAAME).

Under the new fee structure, adoption agencies should see accrediting fees rise by nearly 800 percent annually. IAAME will also charge a fee of $500 for each adoption, which the State Department claims can easily be passed on from adoption agency to family. But in the past, certain fees have been waived or lumped together for sibling group adoptions, as an incentive for keeping siblings together. Now, those incentives will disappear.

In the past 10 years, the number of international adoption agencies has decreased from roughly 200 to 160. That number is expected to drop more as agencies deal with these expensive new licensing requirements and the bureaucratic headache of implementing vast changes to the already-complicated international adoption structure.

On one hand, it's good that so many feeder countries for international adoption are find ways to take care of children within their borders. On the other, changes in the structure of the American international adoption bureaucracy, and the starkly decreasing frequency of adoptions, might mean we're less prepared to take more children into our country in times of international crises, when they're most in need.

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  1. Why Are Americans Adopting Fewer Foreign Children?

    Angelina Jolie and all her friends decided they had enough. How many kids do you expect these people to take in?

  2. Because I would be a terrible dad.

  3. We’re already supporting the ‘refugee’ children at the border.

    What more do you want?

  4. When people are considering their options for adoption, usually the first 2 things they consider are cost and wait times, both of which have increased substantially for international adoption. Add to that a few horror stories of families being matched only to have the child’s country of origin pull the plug at the last minute (after the family had already paid the high adoption fees) plus stricter eligibility requirements (such as China not allowing fat people to adopt), and domestic adoption is now the better bet.

    1. I never understood why adopting poor kids is such a hassle. Its beneficial to the wannabe parents and poor kid(s).

      Its like a bunch of countries use adoption as a corruption racket collect as much money from Westerners as possible.

      1. I never understood why adopting poor kids is such a hassle. Its beneficial to the wannabe parents and poor kid(s).

        It may satisfy a desire for parenthood, but how is it actually “beneficial” to the wannabe parents?

        1. The child tax credit? Seriously though, my mom miscarried a bunch of times, and she and my dad wanted a family but couldn’t have kids, so they adopted my brother, my sister, and me. Ours was a domestic adoption, but even those have changed dramatically. Now birth moms can choose the family the child goes to, negotiate visitation rights, and in some cases even name the kid.

          1. Visitation? She better pay child support.

          2. My wife has a cousin who did this. She named the baby and the family raising the kid said she could visit whenever she wanted.

        2. Um, you answered your question with the first half of your statement.

          1. People have a desire for drug and promiscuous sex; that doesn’t make drugs or promiscuous sex “beneficial”.

    2. I have friends that adopted a baby from a foreign country. It took two fucking years and thousands of dollars.

    3. ^ This.

      We adopted our daughter from Guatemala in 2000. It was expensive but not crazy so, and fairly fast. In the suburb I live in there were a ton of other Intl adoptions…now it seems to have dropped off substantially. Now that the hassle factor and other risks has grown to be in the ball park of domestic adoptions, its hard to see international ones ever being at the level they once were.

    4. cuz wir all RACISTS!!!11!!!

  5. a new agency called the International Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity (IAAME)

    Does IAMME get involved when, say, a Russian wants to adopt a poor unaborted American kid?

    1. American babies do get adopted internationally, but it’s usually Black babies whose moms choose European or Canadian families because they think the US is too racist.

  6. I would add the factor that the people who were raised with the notion of service – service to your family, your organizations, your employer, your community, your country – are now all past the age where raising kids is feasible.

    The participation award generation, if they have any notion at all of how much selflessness parenting requires, will not be wanting to adopt.

    1. I would add the factor that the people who were raised with the notion of service – service to your family, your organizations, your employer, your community, your country – are now all past the age where raising kids is feasible.

      Those generations have been past that age for decades. The boomers have been as selfish and ignorant as the “participation award generation”.

      1. I’m guessing you are part of the participation award generation

        1. You’re guessing wrong.

    2. I don’t know about that. Its probably more that the younger generations are far less financially able to do this, burdened down with a lot more school debt etc. Same reason they put off having kids etc.

  7. So Americans don’t want to fill their homes up with more immigrants than they can handle?

  8. Yes, the wait time and costs have gone up.

    Several people I know who did foreign adoption ended up with kids with serious learning and / or developmental problems. I suppose that’s a risk in any adoption case, but with foreign adoption it seems like some of the agencies deliberately off-load less healthy kids to foreign parents.

    1. They don’t need to “off-load less healthy kids”. The average IQ in central America is in the 70’s. It’s even lower in sub-Saharan Africa. That means that from a US point of view, a kid of average intelligence from those countries is intellectually disabled. And the learning disabilities will produce aggression and other problems when those kids end up in a demanding, intellectual Western environment, because they simply can’t keep up and realize they will be unable to find a job. Even the US military doesn’t take people with an IQ of less than 85.

  9. I adopted a foreign wife.

    1. That is another thing I never understood why its so difficult. If an American wants to marry a non-American and then bring her into the USA, the process is overly complex, time consuming, and costly.

      I guess the fear is that marriage scams will be a dime-a-dozen but who cares? Less non-Americans would enter the USA than currently do under open border schemers. Plus, many Americans married to foreigners stay happily married.

      1. Laws will proliferate wherever there is no powerful lobby to oppose them.

  10. This article gave me a great idea… And then dashed my hopes only a few paragraphs in! I figured adopting a 17 and a half year old Russian girl would be a very kind and generous thing to do… And they’d be 18 soon, and not biologically related… But then the article mentioned Russia won’t let me adopt 🙁

    I guess you could skip the in between step and go straight mail order bride, but that’s always just seemed so tacky to me! LOL

    On a more serious note, if we made laws less retarded about surrogates, and “buying” babies from mothers who don’t want to keep pregnancies, but might if they could be compensated for the hassle, domestically we probably wouldn’t need to import any babies. But as per usual government fucks everything up.

    1. Plus, hooking up with her at 18 would still be incest because you adopted the girl and now she would legally be your daughter. Doesn’t usually matter about blood relation for criminal purposes.

      1. Doesn’t usually matter about blood relation for criminal purposes.

        I disagree. You’re probably right that it would be sensible for her to be legally emancipated before proceeding, but fiction (NSFW) that would fall squarely under the incest ban hammer in lots municipalities frequently skirts it by pointedly stating that it’s only incest in a legal/adoptive sense rather than a biological sense. Not that any of it carries any weight in the court of public opinion or the pool of 12 angry people that would be drawn from it.

        1. That makes sense. The blood relation bit is the important bit in incest.

          All that said, I seriously can’t imagine wanting to bang an 18 year old at this point anyway. They’re sooooo fucking dumb. I’m only in my early 30s, and even most girls in their mid 20s basically seem like retards when you talk to them. There are exceptions of course, including for 18 year olds, but generally speaking they just have so little life experience it makes talking to even the smarter ones pretty tedious.

    2. On a more serious note, if we made laws less retarded about surrogates, and “buying” babies from mothers ”

      We have CPS for that they go in take a healthy baby from one family and give it to another all depending on who bids the highest.

      1. Othing wromg with store bought babies.

        1. Lawyers make money
          Agencies make money.

      2. Adoption is big business. Lawyers and agencies make a bundle on every transaction that is a tragedy for one party and a blessed event for another. Why should the one giving up a child be barred from remuneration with all thsoe lawyers and agencies are making money off if the child.

        You’d have a lot less abortions, if woman had some upside to offset the shredding of one’s life by taking a pregnancy to term and giving up the child.

      3. Yeah, the stealing them first bit is the problem. If it were willing 17 year old mothers it wouldn’t be such a bad thing anymore. I’m quite sure a lot of abortions would be avoided if some 17 or 18 year old got her medical bills covered plus 100K cash, or whatever the market would set “rates” at.

    3. I’m gonna say that is profoundly creepy, even though I knew you were joking.

      1. If only for the fact that an unadopted 17.5-yr.-old Russian girl probably looks like she would be right at home in a cantina in Star Wars and will probably have the mental capacity of a 12-yr.-old well into her 30s.

        1. …and I’m gonna say that is profoundly cruel, even though I knew your were joking.

      2. If you wanna know something REALLY messed up, I could have said 15.5 years old! In Washington state the age of consent is 16! So you just gotta get them at 15.5, then get them emancipated at 16, and you’re good to go! LOL

        ***I’m pretty sure there must be adoption laws that cover stuff until 18, but if you’re just going for shock value anyway…***

  11. “On one hand, it’s good that so many feeder countries for international adoption are find ways to take care of children within their borders. ”

    If it’s true. Bets? It seems far more likely that the ‘feeder’ countries have simply decided that international adoptions make them look bad, and don’t care if the children they are thereby keeping within their borders get used for sausage filling.

    1. Agree to an extent. I have no stats to back it up, but seriously doubt that declines in adoption are highly related to improved economic conditions in the countries involved. In a lot of these places, things haven’t improved much or at all.

      Rather, it comes down to embarrassment and local pressure. In Guatemala, and elsewhere, there is a widespread urban myth that foreigners adopt kids to take their organs. In Guatemala, a Japanese tourist taking pictures was pulled from a bus and killed by a mob of villagers over just such a crazy belief.

      Right or wrong, things like that, as well as a generalized mistrust of foreigners taking “their” kids, has driven many countries to adopt more restrictive measures.

  12. or could the political pc luster of adopting foreign kids has finally become so yesterday. Today PC signaling is done by hating everything American

  13. Fashion trends come and go

  14. Don’t complain. Wasn’t everyone against family separation?

  15. I dunno? Free market?

  16. Because despite what they say, adoption basically functions as baby buying. More regulations and restrictions raises costs and reduces supply. International adoption is much ‘cheaper’ than domestic adoption in the case of ‘prime’ desirable adoptees (i.e. babies). It is cheap to adopt an ‘undesirable’ child (i.e. a minority over the age of 5) because the supply is high and the demand is low.

    It is horrible to talk about in these terms, but that really is the essence of the whole thing. Just need to wait for a war or tragedy to break out and the international market will be flooded with cheap babies from whatever country…

    1. Can you blame people? If you’re not getting a normal baby straight out of the womb it can be hell to raise them… My great aunt was infertile, so she adopted 2 babies. One was essentially a part black male drug baby she got when he was maybe 2ish, the other an Asian baby girl who was under 1 IIRC. I’ve not been around them much since they were babies still, but have heard through the grape vine about endless problems with the boy. He’s in his 20s now and basically she’s still having to help him along in life constantly. The little girl is basically fine as far as I’ve heard.

      One of my biggest fears about when I have children is not just that I might end up with some sub par kids, but that some or all of them will even just be AVERAGE. My father randomly ended up with a higher IQ than almost anybody in our family. I in turn lucked out and had an IQ far above his. I have 1 cousin, and maybe a couple uncles that are really smart, like in the range of my dad, but everybody else is pretty much just middle of the road average or a few points above…

      I can’t imagine even having kids that are middle of the road. It seems like it would be painful to have kids that you couldn’t honestly say to “You’re brilliant, you can do whatever you want in life.” Not to mention all the conversations you can’t have because it’s just largely over their head etc. That seems horrible. But a crack baby, that’s just unthinkable to me.

      1. Trying to find an above average IQ breeding partner, who is also good looking, has the right moral values, you get along well etc is why I don’t have kids yet. All the other things are tough enough, but adding high IQ to the list makes it a true unicorn situation… But I’m sticking to my guns, because I’m a man and have time to do this, and the potential for disaster if you let your standards slip and knock up the wrong woman are just too high.

        Good on people who adopt crack babies I guess… Somebodies gotta do it, but it sure ain’t gonna be me.

  17. White americans adopted war babies and famine babies and others with good intentions. In the new reality of identity and culture politics, your children could hate you for taking them (Kaepernick).

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