MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Thursday, the 20th of February, 2020. You’re listening to The World and Everything in It and we are so glad you are. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. First up: international adoption.
Fifteen years ago, Americans adopted nearly 23,000 children from other countries. By last year, that number had dropped to just over 4,000. Adoption advocates say it’s not because families lost interest. Government regulations—both at home and abroad—are making it much harder to place children from other countries into American homes.
REICHARD: Bethany Christian Services is the largest evangelical adoption agency in the United States. Last month, it announced it would end its international adoption program. WORLD Radio’s Anna Johansen reports now on what led to that decision.
ANNA JOHANSEN, REPORTER: Fifteen years ago, Scott and Leslie Willis knew they wanted to adopt.
LESLIE WILLIS: I don’t even remember talking about domestic adoptions. I think we just knew our daughter was in China.
They met their daughter Darcy in 2005. Ten years later, they headed back to China to meet their second daughter, Emma.
WILLIS: Emma was three and a half, almost four years old and she has down syndrome. But Emma came out and she was just loving it. She’s looking at the crowd and waving to everybody and she came right to us and never looked back.
Many adoptive parents have similar experiences. They feel a specific call to welcome a child from another country. But that call is getting harder to follow.
Kristi Gleason works for Bethany Christian Services. She oversees its international programs.
GLEASON: We’ve seen the decline just like every other adoption agency. Quite significant, um, decrease in numbers in the last probably five, seven, um, nine years.
Changes in regulations around the world have led to that steep decline. Over the past decade, many countries have tightened their adoption regulations. Others have stopped taking applications from foreign families altogether.
GLEASON: Ethiopia is a great example of this. They, um, closed the door to inter-country adoption about two years ago, two and a half years ago. The government really wanted to be able to say, Hey, these are our children and we’re going to care for them in our country.
Gleason says Bethany’s decision is based on a changing international adoption landscape. But other adoption agencies say there’s another factor at play here: U.S. government fees and red tape.
In 2018, the State Department established a new accrediting entity. It’s called IAAME: The Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity. IAAME’s job is to hold adoption agencies to certain fiscal and ethical standards. And many agencies are struggling to meet its requirements.
NEHRBASS: No matter what size the agency is, there is a difficulty with maintaining accreditation without some sort of adverse action or suspension.
Daniel Nehrbass is president of Nightlight Christian Adoptions. He says at least 35 adoption agencies have canceled or relinquished their licenses since IAAME launched. Eleven others have had their licenses suspended.
NEHRBASS: There was only 150 to begin with. So about one-third of them in the last two years have either been canceled, suspended, or relinquished.
Nehrbass says his agency’s fees have skyrocketed since IAAME took over. Nightlight used to pay $14,000 in fees every four years. With IAAME, it’s over $300,000.
Robin Sizemore is the executive director of Hopscotch Adoptions. She says regulation is, of course, necessary.
SIZEMORE: Especially if it’s rooted in the protection of the child and the family and frankly protection of the agency as well.
But she says this level of regulation is over the top.
SIZEMORE: The amount of self reporting is tremendous increase. It’s truly a full-time position. There’s continuous self reporting, and adverse actions attached to the timelines of these reports.
Daniel Nehrbass says many agencies are deciding that international adoption just isn’t worth the hassle.
NEHRBASS: And so I think there will continue to be a shrinking number of agencies who are willing to invest the resources and time and people that it takes to be involved in this work.
Though other agencies blame IAAME for reducing international adoptions, Kristi Gleason says it had nothing to do with Bethany’s decision.
GLEASON: It has not been our experience that we’ve had difficult times or relationships with accrediting entities.
Gleason says Bethany’s decision is a strategic move. Instead of focusing on bringing children to the United States, the agency will focus on finding families for children in their home countries. That’s more cost effective and it means building partnerships with local governments and local churches. Gleason again uses Ethiopia as an example.
GLEASON: How can we help build the capacity of local Ethiopians to care for children. What does it look like to recruit a foster family? How do we train foster families? How do we support foster families?
Daniel Nehrbass says in-country strategies like this one aren’t actually new.
NEHRBASS: The director of our Ugandan orphanage, I asked him about in-country solutions and he said there’s not a family in Uganda who isn’t already caring for multiple family members.
Taking care of extended family members and children is part of Ugandan culture, so Nehrbass says it is a realistic in-country alternative to adoption.
NEHRBASS: But it’s also over taxed. I mean that’s why international adoption emerged in the first place. Certain stresses come on that country that overtax the ability to do what is already in their culture to do.
Nehrbass says there’s room for many different strategies in many different places. Kristi Gleason agrees with that.
GLEASON: There’s children to be served around the world and they’re going to be served in different ways. And I think that’s, that’s okay.
Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Anna Johansen.