It’s a question many adoptive families ask when they face prolonged waits for children in need of a permanent home—waits that have grown longer for many in recent years and left some adoption advocates perplexed over how to intervene early for some of the most vulnerable children in the world.
The United Nations estimates some 140 million children worldwide have lost one or both parents. More than 15 million have lost both. Many orphans in developing countries live with extended family, others live in institutions, and a small percentage find permanent homes through international adoption.
Some adoption advocates worry that small percentage will grow even smaller. The intercountry adoption rate in the United States already has fallen by nearly 80 percent: down from a peak of nearly 23,000 foreign adoptions in 2004 to around 5,000 in fiscal year 2017.
The reasons for the decline are complex, but some advocates say government bureaucracy is making it worse. They point to recent changes announced by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) that will raise fees on adoption agencies and adoptive families. Some say the increases will be dramatic.
They also say unclear regulations and a new accrediting agency announced by DOS could make the work of facilitating adoptions even harder, particularly for smaller organizations. Some agencies say they might have to drop the work altogether.
Ron Stoddart, an attorney and adoption advocate, ran a survey for the website SaveAdoptions.org. Out of 60 agencies responding, nearly half said they likely would stop facilitating intercountry adoptions or were uncertain if they could continue under the new accrediting agency.
Officials at DOS say they don’t intend to make adoption dramatically more expensive and that it’s too early for agencies to estimate all the costs they could incur under a new accrediting body.
This much seems clear: Many adoption agencies are bewildered, and the tension has only deepened in recent months. Ryan Hanlon at the National Council for Adoption says better communication is critical: “Relations between the adoption community and the Department of State are at an all-time low.”
The ongoing drama raises basic questions: How did a movement—driven in large part by evangelical concern for orphans—change so dramatically in the last two decades? And what does it mean for widows and orphans in distress?