NEW YORK (AP) — The number of foreign children adopted by U.S. parents dropped more than 12 percent last year, accelerating a decline that's now continued for 13 years, according to new State Department figures.
Sharp drops in adoptions from China and Congo more than offset notable increases from many countries, including India, Colombia and Nigeria.
The department's report for the 2017 fiscal year, released Friday, shows 4,714 adoptions from abroad, down from 5,372 in 2016 and nearly 80 percent below the high of 22,884 in 2004. The number has fallen every year since then.
China, as has been the case for several years, accounted for the most children adopted in the U.S. by far. But its total of 1,905 was down nearly 15 percent from 2016 and far below a peak of 7,903 in 2005.
Suzanne Lawrence, the State Department's special adviser on children's issues, attributed the lower numbers to increased interest in domestic adoption among China's growing middle class. She also said new Chinese regulations affecting non-governmental organizations had disrupted partnerships involving some U.S. adoption agencies.
In 2016, Congo was second after China, accounting for 359 adoptions. The number fell to four in 2017 as the Congolese government — which has been concerned about adoption fraud — halted international adoptions pending a possible overhaul of regulations.
Replacing Congo as No. 2 in the new report was Ethiopia, accounting for 313 adoptions. It was followed by South Korea, Haiti, India, Ukraine, Colombia and Nigeria.
For a third straight year, there were no adoptions from Russia, which once accounted for hundreds of U.S. adoptions annually, but imposed a ban that fully took effect in 2014. The ban served as retaliation for a U.S. law targeting alleged Russian human-rights violators.
According to the new report, 83 children were adopted from the United States to seven foreign countries, including 41 to Canada and 20 to the Netherlands.
Lawrence noted that international adoptions have been declining worldwide, and said the United States accounts for half of the total, including large numbers of children with special medical and psychological needs.
However, the National Council for Adoption, and many of the adoption agencies it represents, have faulted the State Department for failing to reverse the decline in foreign adoptions. This constituency has decried a newly implemented accrediting system that will subject them to tighter monitoring and oversight, and raise fees either for the agencies or for the families they serve.
"The number of orphaned, abandoned, and relinquished children worldwide continues to grow, yet international adoptions continue to decline," Chuck Johnson, CEO of the adoption council, said in an email. "Does the number have to reach zero before top officials at the Department of State will admit that their policies are failing children miserably?"
Johnson called on Congress and President Donald Trump's administration to investigate whether officials in the department's Office of Children's Issues were "purposefully sabotaging intercountry adoption."
Thus far, the State Department has taken a tough stance in the face of such criticism, warning that foreign adoptions by U.S. families might grind to a halt if the new accrediting system is disrupted.
Assistant Secretary of State Carl Risch, whose dossier includes the Office of Children's Issues, issued a statement Thursday saying efforts to maintain international adoption as a viable option "are greatly undermined when foreign countries lose trust in our accreditation system."
"The Department will continue its efforts to ensure that the best interests of children and families, both birth and adoptive, are paramount and that they are protected," he said, stressing the need for stringent oversight of U.S. adoption agencies and foreign adoption practices.
Concerns about corruption, child-trafficking and baby-selling have prompted the United States to suspend adoptions from several countries in recent years, including Cambodia, Guatemala and Nepal. Domestically, the State Department shut down an Ohio-based adoption agency 14 months ago after alleging extensive improprieties in handling international adoptions.
Among other efforts to improve adoption practices, the department is pressuring the agencies to comply with requirements by foreign governments to regularly submit post-adoption reports on the welfare of the adopted children. Negligence in this regard had prompted some countries to warn they might reconsider their support for adoptions to the U.S.