The number of foreign children adopted by US parents fell by 7 percent last year, to the lowest level since 1994, and is likely to plunge further this year due to the new ban by Russia on adoptions by Americans.
Figures released Thursday by the State Department for the 2012 fiscal year showed 8,668 adoptions from abroad, down from 9,320 in 2011 and down about 62 percent from the all-time high of 22,884 in 2004. The number has dropped every year since then.
As usual, China accounted for the most children adopted in the US. But its total of 2,589 was far below the peak of 7,903 in 2005.
Ethiopia was second, at 1,568, followed by Russia with 748. For the current year, the figure from Russia is likely to shrink to only a few dozen adoptions that were in the final stages of approval before the ban was enacted last month.
The immediate purpose of Russia's ban was to retaliate for a new US law targeting alleged Russian human-rights violators. But the measure also reflects resentment over the 60,000 Russian children adopted by Americans in the past two decades, 19 of whom have died.
The ban has caused anguish for scores of US families who were in the process of trying to adopt Russian children, and it has saddened many of the families who successfully adopted Russian children in the past. They've been posting family photographs and heartwarming testimonials on a Facebook site called Orphans Without Borders.
The adoption numbers were up for several African countries and for Haiti, which had virtually halted foreign adoptions following the devastating earthquake of 2010, but has slowly resumed them. Haiti accounted for 154 adoptions by Americans last year, compared to 33 in 2011.
Overall, however, the numbers were discouraging to adoption advocates as countries that formerly provided large numbers of adopted children continued to cut back, and controversies over adoption-related fraud and corruption continued to block nearly all adoptions from Vietnam, Cambodia, Guatemala, and Nepal.
The last time there were fewer foreign adoptions to the US was in 1994, when there were 8,333, and the downward trend has troubled many supporters of international adoption.
"We're demoralized," said Chuck Johnson, CEO of the National Council of Adoption, in an interview before release of the latest numbers. "It's a failure of leadership, from everyone involved, myself included, to come up with policies and procedures that open up doors for kids."
Kathleen Strottman, executive director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, said she found it frustrating that the foreign adoption numbers kept dropping at a time when the number of orphans and abandoned children worldwide was rising.
"Maybe, once and for all, we're at a point where we see how crucial it is for the US government to step up and take a real leadership role," she said.
Susan Jacobs, the State Department's special adviser on children's issues, said in a telephone interview that she and her colleagues remained "very disappointed" by the Russian ban.
"They're angry with us, and they've found something that would hurt us," she said. "But it also hurts the Russian children who are looking for a home."
Jacobs expressed some wariness about the increased number of adoptions from Africa, noting that several of those countries were not signatories to the Hague Convention, a treaty that sets ethical standards for intercountry adoption. But she suggested that Americans should be pleased — not disappointed — by the declining numbers of foreign adoptions from nations such as China and South Korea, which have been improving their domestic adoption and child welfare programs.
The international developments have narrowed the options for Americans who want to adopt. According to the latest tally by the National Council for Adoption — based on 2007 data — there were about 76,000 domestic adoptions that year, not including adoptions by relatives. Of that total, about 43,000 involved children adopted from foster care, and the rest were handled either by private agencies or private individuals, such as attorneys.
By last count, there were about 104,000 children in the US foster care system available for adoption. This group generally includes many children with emotional or physical difficulties, as well as higher proportions of blacks and Hispanics than the general population.
Adam Pertman, executive director of the Donaldson Adoption Institute, said the decline in foreign adoptions was part of a broader change in the demography of adoption, but he stressed that ample options remain for parents wishing to bring a child into their homes.
"There's a growing number of parents who have trouble finding a child to adopt who fits into their original vision of what would happen," he said. "But if they are willing to adopt across racial and ethnic lines, or adopt older children, the kids are there."
Bill Blacquiere of Bethany Christian Services, one the largest US adoption agencies, said his national network generally has a waiting list of some 700 would-be adoptive parents waiting for children to become available.
In hopes of adding at least a few more babies to the adoption pool, Bethany has teamed with a conservative media organization, Heroic Media, on an advertising campaign seeking to persuade pregnant women considering an abortion to choose adoption instead.
"We're not saying adoption is for everyone," Blacquiere said. "We're just saying, 'Be aware of all the facts.'"