- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 8, 2009

Adoptions of children abroad by Americans are plummeting, and the trend is likely to continue owing to new restrictions by foreign governments and diminishing financial resources among prospective parents.

Americans adopted 17,438 overseas children in fiscal 2008, down from a peak of 22,884 in 2004, according to the State Department. Adoption experts predicted the total for fiscal 2009, which ends Sept. 30, could drop below 12,000.

“This is a difficult economic time, and people don’t add to their family when they are worried about losing their job or their home. But you have to remember that while we get hit here, [children] get hit harder there,” said Linda Brownlee, executive director of the Adoption Center of Washington, an agency licensed in Washington and Virginia.

International adoption can cost up to $30,000, and the process can take years, usually requiring at least one trip to the child’s country of origin.

Because the recession is global, Ms. Brownlee worries about the impact on children who are potential adoptees and on the orphanages that care for them.

“It is more difficult for families to keep their children in struggling countries, and more children end up in orphanages, which are also impacted by these economic times,” she said. “When families adopt from an orphanage, they often continue supporting in some way the orphanage, making it a little bit better.”

“Every child deserves a permanent, loving and safe family,” Ms. Brownlee said.

Tom DiFilipo, president and chief executive of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, called the situation a tragedy and a crisis.

“You have children being left in trash cans, and no one knows what to do with them,” said Mr. DiFilipo, whose organization represents more than 200 nonprofit international adoption agencies, child-advocacy groups, parent support groups and medical clinics.

Decreases in adoptions from Russia and China accounted for 90 percent of the 2008 decline, said William Bistransky, a State Department official who deals with adoption and overseas citizen services.

Russian authorities, worried about negligent parents and the tactics of some adoption agencies, have implemented stricter regulations, contributing to a decrease of 4,000 adoptions from Russia since 2004, said Yevgeniy Khorishko, spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington.

Asked why the Russian government had made the process more cumbersome for adoptive parents, Mr. Khorishko said, “If they don’t want to play by our rules, they are free to leave.”

He declined to say why Russia has not signed onto the Hague Adoption Convention, an agreement that establishes international standards for adoptions involving more than one country. According to the State Department, 75 countries, including the United States, follow these procedures.

However, the State Department announced in September that it would no longer process adoptions from Guatemala, one of the top three sources of children for adoption in recent years, because “it has not yet established the regulations and infrastructure necessary to meet its obligations under the convention.”

Even in countries that have implemented the convention, the lengthy adoption process and high cost discourage many potential parents.

“I remember clearly hearing a newborn baby’s cry and remember thinking, ‘Your mama ain’t coming,’ ” said Nick Adde. He was describing his visit to a Russian orphanage in Kamensk-Uralskiy, where he and his wife adopted their daughter, Julia, now 7, in 2002.

“There’s just too many babies there,” added his wife, Barbara Adde.

As international adoption rates decrease, many Americans opt to help foreign orphans through other methods.

Even at adoption’s peak, only 0.02 percent of UNICEF’s estimated 132 million orphans worldwide find families through international adoption, said Dr. Jane Aronson, a pediatric infectious-disease and adoption specialist who founded the Worldwide Orphans Foundation.

While providing resources to those interested in international adoption, Dr. Aronson, the self-proclaimed “Orphan Doctor,” also provides direct services to orphans in their home countries.

Her foundation organized the Orphan Ranger Program, under which college and medical students and practicing professionals provide medical attention and emotional support through art, sports and leadership development.

“We need solutions to help the children left behind,” Dr. Aronson said.


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