Foreign countries tighten adoptions

MINNEAPOLIS -- Adoptions of foreign children by American families are declining for the first time in more than a decade, an apparent sign of new anxiety abroad about how prevalent the practice has become.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Adoptions of foreign children by American families are declining for the first time in more than a decade, an apparent sign of new anxiety abroad about how prevalent the practice has become.

The shift is particularly relevant in Minnesota, which has long led the nation in the rate of international adoptions per capita.

"Other countries are looking more closely at why international adoption is so popular," said Luann Zimmer, manager of international adoptions for Lutheran Social Service in Minneapolis. "They're looking at the question, 'Why are we exporting all of these children?' "

Some countries are requiring that efforts first be made to find an adoptive home there before foreign adoption is considered. In Vietnam, for example, there's a two-month window for in-country adoptions, Zimmer said.

International adoptions by Minnesotans have steadily risen from 756 in 2003 to 918 in 2005, according to the Department of Homeland Security. In the U.S., adoptive families account for 2 percent of all families.


But last year saw a drop in international adoptions to the U.S. -- a decline of 2,049 to 20,679 children -- that was the first significant drop in years.

Adoptions from China fell 18 percent, while adoptions from Russia dropped about20 percent to a 10-year low. Over the past 15 years, the number of children adopted internationally by U.S. families had tripled.

Mark Olson and Eunice Hansen, who live in Woodbury, Minn., once had hopes that the children they plan to adopt would be among those arriving from Russia last year. But the 7-year-old boy and 5-year-old girl in their photos remain at an orphanage, perhaps until this summer. The reasons for the delay are twofold: Their first referral was rescinded when the children's grandfather stepped forward to adopt them. The second referral was proceeding when Russia's Ministry of Education ruled that all foreign adoption agencies needed to apply for reaccreditation, a process that can take months.

When their agency, Children's Home Society and Family Services in St. Paul, is reaccredited, the health and criminal background checks the couple had done last year will have expired, so they'll have to redo them. Olson is philosophical about the wait.

"I mean, this entire process, the due diligence, is for the protection of the children," he said. "That I'm inconvenienced by another way of doing something, in the long run, means nothing. It's just taking a more global understanding of things."

China, the top source of U.S. international adoptions since 2000, recently announced tighter restrictions on adoptive parents. Married couples between 30 and 50 have priority over people who are single, obese or depressed -- although the rules are more relaxed for those willing to adopt children with disabilities. The new rules reflect Chinese preferences for what makes a healthy family, but the drop in foreign adoptions also is expected to continue with the rise of a Chinese middle class.

Deb Harder, adoption information specialist with Children's Home Society and Family Services, said her gut reaction is that people seem as interested today in adopting from Ethiopia as they did when China first opened its doors in 1992.

In Minnesota, Children's Home Society and Family Services placed 698 foreign-born children with local families last year. China was the main source, followed by Ethiopia, Korea and Russia. Zimmer said Lutheran Social Service has averaged between 160 and 180 children in recent years.


One of the big questions for future adoptions of foreign-born children revolves around Guatemala and its lack of compliance with an international agreement called the Hague Convention, which seeks to protect all parties involved in international adoption. When the U.S. comes into compliance, probably later this year, it may no longer be able to approve adoptions from Guatemala, Zimmer said. The Guatemalan government has said that adoption reform legislation will be a priority.

Neither Harder nor Zimmer were ready to consider the slowdown in foreign adoptions permanent. "This is an explainable change in the numbers," Zimmer said.

Harder said that the process probably will be less predictable for a time. "What used to be a 12- to 14-month process from China is stretching up to two years." She advises families to "hang in there," which is what Olson and Hansen are doing.

Last May, they traveled to Russia to meet the children. "Seeing someone who sometime in the next year is going to be your son and daughter, I tell you, that is a life-changing experience," Olson said. Given the delays, the chance to see the orphanage and the level of care firsthand has proven a lifeline. "If your children were in a place you didn't want them to be, it'd be tearing you up."

What To Read Next
Get Local