NEW YORK - The number of foreign children adopted by U.S. parents dropped by 9 percent last year to the lowest level since 1982, according to new State Department figures.
The department's report for the 2014 fiscal year shows 6,441 adoptions from abroad, down from 7,094 in 2013 and about 74 percent below the high of 22,884 in 2004. The number has fallen every year since then - a trend that has dismayed many adoption advocates in the U.S.
Trish Maskew, chief of the State Department's Adoption Division, said it was difficult to predict when the number of foreign adoptions might start to rise again after so many years of decline.
"We're trying to identify places where there's potential, and work with them to see if we can improve the process," Ms. Maskew said. "It would be great to be as powerful as some people think we are."
As usual, China accounted for the most children adopted in the U.S., but its total of 2,040 was down more than 10 percent from 2013 and far below the peak of 7,903 in 2005. Since then, China has expanded its domestic adoption program and sought to curtail the rate of child abandonment.
Ethiopia was second at 716, a sharp drop over a two-year period from 1,568 adoptions in 2012. Ethiopian authorities have been trying to place more abandoned children with relatives or foster families, and have intensified scrutiny of orphanages to ensure that children placed for adoption are not part of any improper scheme.
The next three countries on the list showed increases - 521 children adopted from Ukraine, up from 438 in 2013; 464 adopted from Haiti, up from 388; and 370 from South Korea, up from 138.
Russia had been No. 3 on the list in 2012, with 748 of its children adopted by Americans, but that number dropped to 250 for 2013 and to just two in 2014 as an adoption ban imposed by Russia took effect. The ban served as retaliation for a U.S. law targeting alleged Russian human-rights violators.
The last time there were fewer foreign adoptions to the U.S. overall was in 1982, when, according to U.S. immigration figures, there were 5,749 adoptions from abroad.
Chuck Johnson, CEO of the National Council of Adoption and a critic of State Department adoption policy, said the department has worked hard to make international adoption more transparent and ethical, but has failed to advocate forcefully for adoption as a viable option for many of the world's orphans.
"I want to prevent every instance of fraud," Mr. Johnson wrote in an email. "But it appears that the Department of State has taken the view that we can't help even eligible children on the often unsubstantiated fear that a child might be trafficked."
Concerns about corruption, child-trafficking and baby-selling have prompted the United States to suspend adoptions from several countries in recent years, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Guatemala, and Nepal.
The Cambodian government has expressed interest in resuming international adoptions, but U.S. officials say more improvements are needed in Cambodia's child-protection policies.
Maskew said some adoptions are expected to be completed soon from Vietnam under a new, limited program involving children with special needs.
She said Guatemalan and U.S. officials were trying to complete the last batch of adoption cases - about 14 - that were pending when adoptions from Guatemala were suspended in 2007. Guatemala was once a top source of adopted children for U.S. couples, with more than 4,000 babies adopted each year.
Maskew said it was unclear when Guatemala would be ready to start processing new foreign adoption cases.
The State Department reported that 92 American children were adopted by residents of foreign countries last year - 46 of them went to Canada and 27 to the Netherlands.