Why International Adoptions by Americans Have Hit a 35-Year Low

Foreign adoptions have been in short supply while demand has surged among American evangelicals

While it’s good that countries are working to safeguard children, “[i]t needs to be said unequivocally that constrictions in intercountry adoption bear tragic consequences for tens of thousands of children who today could be growing up in loving families were it not for these restrictions,” he wrote. In fiscal year 2015, adoptions by Americans dropped the most from Ethiopia, Haiti, and Ukraine. The decline from these three counties alone outweighed the gain from other countries.


In 2004, Americans adopted 22,884 children from foreign countries—an all-time high.

Twelve years later, that number has dropped to 5,648 children—the lowest level in 35 years, according to recently released statistics from the US State Department on fiscal year 2015 (Oct. 1, 2014 to Sept. 30, 2015).

The sharp decline isn’t limited to the United States; global adoptions to the top 24 receiving countries dropped by 75 percent during the same 12 years.

Foreign adoptions have been in short supply while demand has surged among American evangelicals, prompted by Russell Moore and other leaders.

Last year, Americans adopted the most children from China, Ethiopia, South Korea, Ukraine, and Uganda. Most of these adoptive US parents lived in Texas, California, New York, Florida, and Georgia.

While reasons for the steady decline are multiple and complex, 80 percent of the drop in American adoptions can be traced back to three countries: China, Russia, and Guatemala, according to the State Department.

The Russian government banned Americans from adopting Russian children in 2012,leaving in limbo thousands of children and dropping the number of Russian adoptions from a high of 5,682 in 2004 to zero last year.

Guatemala suspended foreign adoptions to all countries while it works to clean up a system full of fraud and corruption. The 3,251 adoptions of Guatemalan children in 2004 dropped to 13 in 2015.

In the same vein, Uganda voted last month and the Democratic Republic of Congomoved in 2013 to make it harder for children to be adopted out of those countries in an attempt to close loopholes that enable child trafficking. (However, some advocates say the requirement that foreign adoptive parents stay one year in the country before their adoption is complete is “not realistic.”)

Foreign adoptions from China have dropped for an entirely different reason. In the past 10 years, “the Chinese government increased its efforts to promote the domestic adoption of children in need of a permanent home,” the State Department reported. “As a result, some 20,000 to 30,000 children are now placed domestically in China each year.”

Perhaps aided by the relaxation of China’s controversial one-child policy, Chinese children waiting for adoption are no longer primarily healthy baby girls (95% of adoptable children in 2005), but are now children that are traditionally harder to place: those who are older, part of sibling groups, or who have special needs. More than 90 percent of Chinese children waiting to be adopted today have special needs, according to the State Department.

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