Challenges And Changes In International Adoption


Over the past 15 years we have seen significant changes in International Adoption. We have seen international adoption agencies in the U.S., adoption agencies in Indiana and adoption agencies in Indianapolis grow and others close their doors. We have seen countries open and countries close international adoption programs. This has been a result of the numerous factors. Understanding international adoption risks, the effects of various influences (politics, culture, independent adoptions, social media, advertising children, child trafficking, abuse, legal changes) takes years of study and still one cannot guarantee or predict the future of international adoption. However, reviewing the history of adoption, current changes, following cultural and political pressures and trends, will help in the understanding of the process and provide insight to those wanting to preserve this option for American families.

International adoption trends do not have the most positive outlook. While I am a strong believer that international adoption will continue and should continue, I am also realistic about challenges that agencies and adoptive parents face in the future. A glimpse of the trends in international adoption will show that from 1997-2004 international adoption into the U.S. increased from 15,000 to over 22,000. Since 2004 when 22,991 orphan visas were approved by the US for internationally adopted children there has been an even more significant decrease. In 2011, only 9,319 orphans were granted the orphan visa for the U.S. (source: statistics on orphan visas). While China continues to be the largest sending country for international adoption, we have seen an increase in interest from parents desiring to adopt children from China while a decrease in processed adoptions by the Chinese and US governments. This has created significant waiting times for adoptive parents (special needs adoptions are much faster than minor medical/healthy adoptions from China). I estimate a waiting time of four to six years for a Chinese international adoption to be completed. South Korea which has been a stable and predictable sending country for international adoption for approximately four decades and has cut in half its number of adoptions over the past seven years. I believe due the advancements in South Korea of their own domestic adoptions and economy, there will be little to no international adoptions available from South Korea in several years.

Why the change? So many reasons…

Russian reaction and halt of international adoptions has created a lot of discussion on politicizing international adoption. However, some critics believe that the US has been doing this for several years in places like Vietnam, Guatemala and Cambodia. The US State Department argues that their positions on these countries are based in fighting corruption in international adoption, promoting transparency in the process and fighting child trafficking. These topics are hard to dispute and therefore, most do not attempt to disagree. Critics still argue that the US prevention of adoptions from these countries is motivated more by efficiency for our government and political control. The point adoption agencies and future adoptive parents must understand is that these issues exist and how they can protect themselves and pursue international adoption in the best way possible.

Suggestions to adoption agencies:

  • Pursue Hague Accreditation
  • Pursue adoptions in Hague countries only
  • Train foreign staff
  • Personal visits to your program countries
  • Continue to pursue education (including following the politics and State Department positions)
  • Be involved in national organizations that promote and educate on international adoption issues

Suggestions to future adoptive parents:

  • Pursue adoptions through Hague Accredited/Approved agencies – do not get “stuck” in the process when new laws require Accredited/Approved agencies. (See my previous article on Universal Accreditation, which was passed into law on January 14, 2013.)
  • Do not jeopardize your adoption – follow your agency’s advice.
  • Develop the right expectations for your international adoption.

Whether you are adopting from Bulgaria – a Hague country – or adopting form Congo – a non-Hague country, your international adoption has risks and there could be changes in the process. Listen to your agency’s advice and education on the process. International adoption is an amazing journey but as with all journeys there can be turns and bumps in the road.

Photo Credit: Dana

For more information about MLJ Adoptions’ international adoption programs, please click here.

MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.