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Fewer adoptions in fewer countries


Douglas R. Chalke
Executive Director, Sunrise Adoption, North Vancouver, B.C.
August 1, 2009

What does the future of international adoption hold for children and adopting parents? There are disturbing signs that the world is turning away from intercountry adoptions as a method of family formation. From a political standpoint, many believe that children should not migrate to find a family but should remain in their country of birth. While others argue that this denies children the right to grow up in families, it is having a negative impact on governments' willingness to support or encourage intercountry adoption. If experts in the USA are correct, the number of intercountry adoptions could be halved in a 24-month period. In Canada, this would mean less than 1,000 intercountry adoptions per year by 2011.

In 2004, after visiting orphanages and government officials in numerous countries, I wrote an article on the future of adoption. The article predicted that the numbers of intercountry adoptions would decrease significantly (see The Future Of Adoption). Unfortunately, these predictions have come to pass much more quickly than I anticipated.

The number of intercountry adoptions is decreasing in every developed country today (i.e. Europe and North America). See the statistics (pdf). This is a tragic result for the growing number of orphaned and vulnerable children of the world who face an uncertain future with staggering risks. The number of such children in the world is increasing at a rate of 10% per year. (See "What About the World's Orphans?") Not only does intercountry adoption enable some of these children to grow up in families, intercountry adoption fees contribute to the support of children who are not adopted.

Contrary to what is happening in intercountry adoptions, the rate of domestic adoptions in British Columbia has remained reasonably constant for the past 12 years. As a result we do not expect any change in the future in the number of domestic newborn adoptions. Provincial Governments across Canada however, can never find enough parents to adopt all of the Waiting Children in provincial care and hopefully there will be an increase in these adoptions.

Adoption agencies are also affected by declining adoptions and face new challenges at the same time as they deal with increased interest in adoption resulting from current infertility rates. In the past year over 60 adoption agencies in the United States either merged with other agencies or closed their doors because they could not sustain their program. In Europe some adoption agencies will not take any new clients. Every adoption agency in the world is facing the problem of overwhelming demand by adopting parents. We have entered the era of adoption gridlock where any new adoption possibility anywhere in the world is quickly swamped by demand.

Since I wrote the original article in 2004 Sunrise has been preparing for the new world of adoption. As a result this agency feels that it is in a strong position to meet the new realities. What does this all mean for our clients? It means that we will be completing fewer adoptions with fewer countries, and that there will be waiting lists for every country. As wait lists fill, we may have to temporarily close programs from time to time. Although most people in North America who applied to adopt in the past decade were successful, that will no longer be the case; an increasing number of parents who apply to adopt may not be able to do so. We continue to work to help children find homes and help families to adopt, however the reality of fewer options and increased wait times, demands flexibility and patience on the part of adopting parents. Understandably, many parents are past wanting to be patient and flexible. They are stunned and upset by the lack of opportunities in international adoption.

What, if anything, can be done by Canadian adopting parents to change what is happening in the world today? It is instructive to see what adopting parents in the USA are doing. The Adoption Congressional Caucus of the US Legislature includes over 160 members of the Senate and Congress. Adopting parents in the USA are politically active as a group and as a result continually let their congressman know how they feel about various adoption initiatives. In fact adopting parents in the United States have one of the strongest lobbies in the US Congress!

A coalition of adoption groups in the USA have decided to do something to try and reverse the global tide currently engulfing intercountry adoptions. The Families for Orphans Coalition has sent out a Call to Action for adopting parents in the USA to take specific and identified steps which will support new legislation recently introduced to Congress. The Families for Orphans Act establishes the Office of Orphan Policy, Development and Diplomacy, a specialized office within the U.S. Department of State. The law is intended to focus the resources of the USA on a permanent and loving family for every child. It will ensure that US government programs, policies and funding are directed towards that goal. To read the proposed legislation, visit the Library of Congress and search "Families for Orphans Act".

I encourage adopting parents in Canada to become more politically active. If adopting parents in Canada want international adoptions to continue, they could contact their Members of Parliament and let them know that intercountry adoption is an important outcome today for the orphaned and vulnerable children of the world.

The only national adoption group in this country is the Adoption Council of Canada. The ACC advocates with governments on behalf of the adoption community on issues such as citizenship, adoption leave and adoption tax credits. With an office in Ottawa it is poised to be of assistance to adopting parents across Canada who wish to make their views known to government. Think about becoming a member (pdf) of the Adoption Council of Canada, make an appointment with your Member of Parliament, and consider taking collective action to achieve your goals.

Canadian adopting parents could take a place on the world's stage in expressing the beneficial and important aspects of international adoption. If adopting parents won't advocate for families for the vulnerable and orphaned children of the world, who will?

Douglas R. Chalke is executive director of Sunrise Adoption agency in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

©2009 Sunrise Family Services Society

Published at Family Helper,, on Oct. 23, 2009.
Previously published online at Sunrise Adoption as "Adoptions Today ..... or The Future of Adoption, Part II".


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