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Working Together to Reverse the Decline in Intercountry Adoptions

Moderator

Allison Hollabaugh

Counsel

Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Witnesses

Suzanne Lawrence

Special Advisor for Children's Issues

U.S. Department of State

John Carver

Father of six children adopted from the OSCE region

Ron Stoddart

President

Save Adoptions

Kathleen Strottman

Former Legislative Director

Senator Mary Landrieu

The United States has a long tradition of intercountry adoption, and worked with 19 OSCE participating States and 5 partner States to find forever homes for more than 1,000 children last year.  However, overall intercountry adoptions have been on the decline in the United States since 2004, when Americans adopted almost 23,000 children worldwide.  In 2016, only 5,370 intercountry adoptions were completed.  While this decline may reflect an increase in economic stability and domestic adoptions in some children’s home countries, it may also reflect a need for change in the U.S. adoption processes and international aid priorities.

On November 12, 2017, the U.S. Helsinki Commission held a hearing exploring reasons for the decline in intercountry adoptions, Congressional intent behind the Intercountry Adoption Universal Accreditation Act of 2012, the impact of the initial implementation of the Act by the U.S. Department of State, and legislative and other solutions to ensure that the maximum number of children in need are connected with families in the United States offering permanent homes.

Suzanne Lawrence, Special Advisor for Children’s Issues at the Department of State, began by discussing the reasons for the decrease in adoptions. Many countries that had previously participated in international adoption have recently withdrawn from the process, or have recently changed their adoption policy to encourage in-country placement, she said. Other countries, concerned about their ability to provide oversight and ensure the child’s safety after international placement, have also restricted international adoptions.

Ms. Lawrence pointed to progress on the later issue, noting the State Department’s successful effort to collect post-adoption reports on children adopted from Peru and Kazakhstan, which have led those governments to consider revising their restrictions on intercountry adoption.

Speaking next, John Carver, the father of six children adopted from Russia and Belarus, described his experience as an adoptive father and the joy that adoption has brought his family. “Our children are our life. I mean, we have six kids and they give us the breath in our lungs. I mean, they give us a reason to get up in the daytime.”

He also discussed the difficulties he and his wife faced while adopting their children, including the financial cost and the length of the process. Additional challenges appeared when their youngest daughter, Juliana, was diagnosed with cancer, and required a bone marrow transplant from her birthmother, Irina. With the help of the State Department, they were able to locate her in Belarus, and she agreed to come to the United States to donate her bone marrow. “We’ve developed a great relationship with Irina and she is our family now. I mean, she’s us, we’re her,” he said. Despite the transplant, Juliana tragically passed away in October 2016.

In closing, Mr. Carver emphasized the good that adoption can do for children across the world. “There’s thousands of kids overseas who have no hopes and no dreams and, very candidly, no family to tuck them in at night,” he said. “They would love to have a forever family, they really, really would.”

The next speaker was Ron Stoddart, president of the nonprofit Save Adoptions, and former executive director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, the agency through which Mr. Carver and his wife adopted their six children. Mr. Stoddart emphasized the need for communication and cooperation between the State Department and adoption service providers to reverse the decline in intercountry adoptions. He also discussed the need to focus on adoption in all age groups, including infants and older children. He noted that while the number of intercountry adoptions fell to 5,370 in 2016, the number of children adopted under the age of one has fallen to zero.

Mr. Stoddart expressed optimism that the tensions between adoption service providers and the State Department can be resolved, to the benefit of adoptive parents and children in orphanages across the world. “Are there problems with intercountry adoptions?  Of course there are.  We’re talking about a very emotional process between different cultures with different laws.  But these problems can be solved without throwing out the babies with the bathwater.”

The final speaker, Kathleen Strottman, served as a legislative director to Senator Mary Landrieu, and worked on several pieces of adoption legislation in the U.S. Senate, including the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 and the Intercountry Adoption Universal Accreditation Act of 2012. Ms. Strottman gave an overview of the history of international adoption, describing its roots in the aftermath of the Korean And Vietnam Wars, and its global expansion in the 1980s, culminating in the Hague Adoption Convention in 1993.

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