- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 6, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — After tripling in the past 15 years, the number of foreign children adopted by Americans dropped sharply in 2006, the result of multiple factors that have jolted adoption advocates and prompted many would-be adoptive parents to reconsider their options.

The consequences could be profound for the ever-growing numbers of Americans interested in adopting abroad. Already, some have had their hopes quashed by tightened eligibility rules in China. Adoptions from Africa, where millions of children have been orphaned by AIDS and wars, could increase if those from China and Eastern Europe continue to decrease.

Declines were recorded last year in nearly all countries that recently have been the top sources of adopted children — China, Russia, South Korea and Ukraine among them. Increases from less familiar alternatives — Ethiopia, Liberia, Haiti and Vietnam — partly offset the drop, but some specialists think the era of constantly surging foreign adoption has ended.

“The huge growth rates you saw in the ‘90s — I think that’s over,” said Thomas DiFilipo, president of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services.

He urged Americans considering international adoption to “reassess any preconceived notions they have … and get educated on the myriad options that are available.”

Overall, according to new State Department figures, international adoptions by Americans dropped to 20,679 in fiscal 2006 from 22,728 in 2005 — the first significant decline since 1992.

Adoptions from China, the No. 1 source of children since 2000, fell 18 percent, from 7,906 to 6,493, while adoptions from Russia, the No. 2 source for the previous six years, dropped about 20 percent to a 10-year low of 3,706. Both are among many nations trying to reform their child welfare systems and increase domestic adoptions.

Thomas Atwood, president of the National Council for Adoption, said the drop in foreign adoptions is both understandable and worrisome.

“There’s always been the issue of national pride, where the country of origin wants to take care of their children themselves,” he said, “but there are so many orphans that an increase in domestic adoptions shouldn’t result in a decrease of international adoptions. We urge these countries to be enthusiastic toward both.”

The only major country of origin to increase U.S. adoptions in 2006 was Guatemala with 4,135 adoptions. It overtook Russia in the No. 2 spot.

However, that status is expected to change later this year when the United States ratifies the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions, a pact setting tough standards that Guatemala’s corruption-prone adoption system doesn’t meet. Adoptions may be suspended while Guatemala tries to make required changes. Some specialists doubt the number will ever return to last year’s level.

Some advocates worry that the Hague treaty, though well-intentioned, might not succeed in encouraging more international adoptions.

“We sincerely hope that all the good work that’s being done isn’t going to result in fewer adoptions,” said Lee Allen, a spokesman for the National Council for Adoption. “Every time adoptions slow down in these countries, it means less opportunities for kids to have a home in America. It’s not just numbers — it’s a tragedy.”

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