Some adoption advocates, including Miller, call the Hague Convention perhaps the single-largest factor behind the decrease in international adoptions. The single-largest decline too, when international adoptions fell from more than 17,000 children to 13,000 in a single year.
However, it is also telling that the number of children and teens adopted internationally has remained relatively stable since 2004. When international adoptions are broken down by age, only two categories show marked declines — school-aged children and infants under a year old. That largely reflects changes in countries' own policies to allow only domestic adoptions of healthy young children.
Miller worries about children whose chances of adoption have decreased because their home countries don't comply with the Hague. "There are just so many children who don't have families, and it makes me hurt, all the time," she said. "I think about the children left behind, and I pray."
Still, Simmons sees a bright side. When children are being sold, infants are usually the victims, and the decreased availability of infants may encourage a couple to adopt an older child, as he did.
"A 5-year-old is more tired of waiting for a family than you are of waiting for a baby," he said.
Foreign policies keeping kids home
While the Hague is certainly a factor behind the decline, Pertman doesn't believe it is the sole force driving international adoptions down. Top countries such as China put new policies in place in an effort to keep their children home. Other countries made other changes. For example, last December Russian president Vladimir Putin announced that Americans would no longer be able to adopt Russian children, although adoptions that were already to a certain stage in the process could be completed.
The international adoption process has always varied according to the child's country of origin. When Miller adopted her daughters from China, little participation from the parents was needed. She and her husband put in their papers through an agency and heard next to nothing until they received notice they had been selected to receive a daughter. The couple flew in with a group of other adoptive parents and picked up their daughter within hours of arriving. They remained in China for two weeks while the adoption was processed.
When she adopted from Guatemala, Miller received photos and information about her son within days of his birth; he had not even been named. The agency offered to introduce Miller to the birth mother.
Americans can no longer adopt from Guatemala because it fails to comply with Hague regulations. China has put up barriers that increase the length of the international adoption process to between three and five years. Infants in particular, Pertman said, are saved for domestic adoptions in China.
That's one harsh reality of adoption, Simmons said. Parents' high preference for healthy infants limits their availability internationally.
"There's always a home for newborn babies," he said, "and almost always in country."
Still, if foreign countries desire to take care of their own kids, "that's a positive," Pertman said. "We don't need children to be adopted to other countries, we just need them to be in stable homes."
The children most likely to be available for international adoption are those with special needs, older children or even sibling groups, Cox said. Dark skin can make one what she called "a waiting child," available for adoption. The United States, too, allows adoption of American children by foreign families if willing American parents aren't found. Black biracial American newborns, for example, sometimes find new homes in Canada, Israel and Europe.
You can still adopt
Families that hope to adopt internationally have more likelihood of success if they are open to possibilities, Cox said.
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