International adoption

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything In ItInternational adoptions, and how things have changed.

If orphan children were a single nation, their population would rival that of Russia. The global orphan population is estimated at a staggering 140 million children.

Millions of those children are in orphanages around the world. And the reasons for that aren’t new: war, famine, disease, disasters, and abandonment.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Given the great need, it seems reasonable to hope governments might make it easier for families to adopt children from other countries.

But international adoptions have declined. They’ve plunged 80 percent since 2004.

And now new regulations have adoption agencies worried the numbers will decline even further.

REICHARD: WORLD Magazine national editor Jamie Dean wrote about this and she’s here to discuss. Hi, Jamie.


Well, Jamie, why has international adoption declined so much since 2004?

DEAN: Well, it’s something of a complex question, but I think the most straightforward way to answer is to say that several countries that once allowed a considerable number of children to be adopted by Americans either shut down or dramatically slowed their international adoption programs over the last several years.

For example, Guatemala, Russia, and now Ethiopia have all closed their international programs.

China has not closed its program, but it has changed it, as the country has grappled with things like the effects of the one-child policy and some of the problems that was creating for the country.

But one question that has come up as some of these countries have shut down their programs is whether the State Department, which oversees international adoption here in the U.S., could have done more in at least some cases to help countries address problems or concerns in their programs, but also help them find ways to keep those programs open so children could continue to be adopted.

And that’s been an ongoing question and, really, an ongoing debate for a long time as we’ve seen those adoption numbers go down.

Well, what is this latest controversy surrounding international adoption about?

DEAN: Well, tensions have been growing for some time, but in February they got worse when the State Department announced that a new accrediting agency would oversee the work of accrediting and monitoring adoption agencies that facilitate foreign adoptions here in the U.S.

That new organization will charge higher fees, and some adoption agencies have estimated that some of their costs could actually triple under this new structure, and under a new organization that’s going to have an expanded staff and an expanded budget.

Now, add to that the fact that COA, which is the previous accrediting agency, actually quit their work because they said the State Department was demanding that they become much more of a policing and regulatory agency than they had been in the past. That alarmed some adoption agencies.

I actually spoke with the president of COA and he said in the past — and they’ve been doing this work for 8 years — he said their primary focus had been on making sure agencies were well-equipped to serve children and prepare families to receive adoptive children, not focus on forensic accounting or investigating agencies work overseas. And he says that was the shift the State Department was pressing for them to make. So all of that had begun to alarm some of these agencies.

We should mention the previous agency, COA, stands for “Council on Accreditation.” Well, Jamie, why would the State Department want to expand its efforts if the number of adoptions is already shrinking?

DEAN: Well, I think some adoption advocates would say it’s because the State Department presumes there is prevalent corruption in the adoption system that they need to root out. And this is a tricky question. No one denies that corruption in some level exists, or that it should be taken very seriously, but adoption agencies would say it’s not a systemic problem, particularly the notion of extreme corruption or worst-case scenarios.

And they would say we shouldn’t necessarily shut down the whole system or dramatically slow it because of problems in some segments of the system. We should try to make the process as clean as possible, but also try to keep that system moving as much as possible so that more children can find permanent homes.

Well, how is this being received by adoption agencies? Are they all concerned about the State Department’s expanded involvement?

DEAN: Not all of them have expressed concern. I actually spoke with Bethany Christian Services, and, ya know, they said they were concerned about the rising costs and they weren’t excited about the fee increases but they said they’re satisfied with their relationship with the State Department and that they will work with the new accrediting agency. So they did not express alarm.

Ya know, and I should say the Department of State says that it does not aim to make adoption dramatically more expensive, and they tend to think that agencies’ costs won’t be as high as they estimate. So, there’s still a lot of things, I think, to be worked out and to be seen in that area.

Well, what’s the next step then?

DEAN: Well, this new accrediting agency is moving forward. It’s taking over the work, even now, but at least one senator has asked the State Department for a response to the agencies’ concerns. And that’s Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican senator from Mississippi. I actually followed up with him and asked if he had heard back from the Department of State, and he said that he had received what he called an underwhelming response. So we’ll see where that leads.

What became clear to me as I reported this story is that there’s a lot that seems really unclear. There’s a considerable amount of angst and confusion on the part of at least some adoption agencies, and in the least, it seems like there needs to be better and clearer communication from the State Department over what they’re planning and what they’re expecting from agencies.

Well, of course the most important part of this story are the children themselves. Are there children available for adoption?

DEAN: Well, sure. I mean, one of the interesting things I learned in reporting this story is that as the adoption landscape has changed, so has the kind of children who are available to be adopted. Many now have special needs, many of them are older children. So there certainly aren’t many – if any – healthy infants available for adoption these days, but there are other children who need homes, and who are waiting to be matched with families.

Jamie Dean is national editor for WORLD Magazine and you can read her story in April 28th issue. Jamie, Thank you.

DEAN: Thank you, Mary.

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