March 24, 2014. International Adoption to the U.S. Plummets to Barely 7,000 in FY 2013. Here Is Why. Over the last five years the USG has taken a consistently negative approach on international adoption. The Department of State has adopted UNICEF's policy which is that international adoption is to be shunned. It is DOS and UNICEF which advance the proposition that countries should reject international adoption as a method of family formation. When speaking at international forums such as the Fifth International Policy Conference on the African Child: Intercountry Adoption: Alternatives and Controversies (May 29-30, 2012; http://www.africanchildforum.org/ipc/), DOS and UNICEF speak with one voice, defining international adoption as cultural genocide, a sign of national failure or as a cover for fraud. As the USG has funneled billions of dollars of aid through UNICEF in the last five years, it is no surprise that developing countries are following this prescription.
The USG has not usefully aided countries which wish to join the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. DOS, our Central Authority, has not given the level of technical advice and training that could bring good programs into existence. Instead we criticize other countries' efforts and find them unacceptable (The record of our interactions with Vietnam is relevant here.) We have not accorded appropriate respect to countries which have joined the Hague. Being a member of the Hague Convention should give foreign Central Authority decisions an analogous level of status as under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. DOS has taken the opposite approach, telling the Chinese what their laws mean, questioning the Ethiopians on their legal practices etc. Contrast the approach taken by DOS in Hague Abduction cases.
DOS has not used timely and appropriate diplomacy with other international adoption partners. Chinese officials have repeated told stakeholders that DOS is the worst central authority with which they have programs. We could probably not have prevented the Russian ban on international adoption to the United States but had DOS taken a more active role during the negotiations over the U.S.-Russian Bilateral Adoption Agreement, that treaty would have been effective, with regulations promulgated when the Russian ban was enacted. This would have most likely meant that pipeline Russian children (including biological siblings of children previously adopted here) would have come home to their American families.
DOS often uses fear of fraud as an explanation for its actions. Yet when USCIS examined over 2000 Ethiopian cases, its officials could find no case that should not have been approved. The Center for Adoption Policy has repeatedly asked DOS to require specific anti-fraud measures, with no results. It is almost as if DOS wants fraud to exists as an excuse to end all international adoption. Of course there are bad adoptions which call for specific bad actions to be ended and specific bad actors to be excluded from international adoption work. But instead of this proper focus, DOS is weaponizing these wrongful practices and targeting all international adoptions. Is there trafficking through adoption? There are a tiny number of documented cases and they are heinous. But the number is miniscule when compared to child trafficking done through illicit immigration schemes, child snatching and birth families' actions. (Nicholas Kristof's column in yesterday's New York Times is exactly on this point: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/23/opinion/sunday/kristof-he-was-supposed-to-take-a-photo.html?ref=opinion&_r=0.)
DOS has repeatedly been dilatory and lax in its efforts as the Central Authority. There have been numerous times over the last five years when I have contacted DOS with news of changes in various countries' programs. I glean my information from online research. Surely DOS could have better information if it so chose. This lack of information causes true pain and suffering to potential adoptive parents. Just as bad is the continued flawed processing and the consistent burying of adoption cases under reams of paper. No wonder we have seen the pool of potential adoptive parents shrink because families, understandably, shy away from international adoption when they learn of these unnecessary pitfalls.
There is another way. The USG could take the opposite path and embrace international adoption as a legitimate method of family creation for unparented children. This is the goal a number of us are attempting to reach through the Children in Families First Act (CHIFF; S. 1530, H.R. 4143). As CHIFF directs: "All options for providing appropriate, protective, and permanent family care to children living without families must be considered concurrently and permanent solutions must be put in place as quickly as possible. Solutions include family preservation and reunification, kinship care, guardianship, domestic and Intercountry adoption, and other culturally acceptable forms of care that will result in appropriate, protective, and permanent family care. Preference should be given to options that optimize child best interests, which generally means options which provide children with fully protected legal status and parents with full legal status as parents, including full parental rights and responsibilities."
In practice this policy would direct DOS, USCIS and USAID to use both money and soft power influence to promote an American policy which puts the goal of children having families first, including the use of international adoption as a legitimate option for unparented children, as well as advocating for other available solutions. Our government would allocate our foreign aid to help countries create child-centered solutions which would have general similarities but also take account of national differences. We would provide monetary and technical assistance to countries that were joining the Hague Convention and we would measure progress to make sure that best practices were put into place in a timely fashion. With our Hague partners we would take the position that once you have joined the Hague club, we respect and accept your domestic procedures. The USG position would aim to get to yes, rather than find ever more creative ways of saying no.
We would assure countries that in our multicultural nation, a child who comes here will be brought up with the greatest respect for her culture and will grow up as a citizen of the world. Nationalism has not increased in the last twenty years; one of the courses I taught at Yale (in my previous career as a diplomatic historian) traced the trajectory of nationalism, and I can vouch for that assertion. If you look at the number of immigrants who wish to come here and the lengths that they go to do so, one understands that nothing ideological stands in the way of the hope for a better life, for oneself, and for one's children.
Currently, despite falling birth rates, millions of orphans and vulnerable children are at risk around the world. The USG can and should work with governments and international bodies to create permanent solutions for these children without families. Take China, for example. In Guangzhou the local government this year set up a child safe haven box where parents could leave children they could not care for. In ninety days 260 children were left there, completely overwhelming officials who closed down the facility because they had no room in the city's orphanages. On an annual rate, the number of children abandoned in that one safe haven in that one three month period is 45 percent of the entire number of adoptions from China to the United States in FY 2013. Under our new approach, the USG would, together with Chinese officials, ameliorate difficulties so that these children could find permanent, loving homes.
In FY 2008, our first year as a Hague nation, there were 17,456 adoptions into the US. Last year there were 7,094. Tens of thousands of children have been abandoned to the direst of fates. We must do better.