Wendy Koch, USA TODAY
What's a prospective parent to do? As Russia closes its doors on adoptions by Americans, the options to adopt a child contract even more. Some families look homeward, but that's a challenge, too.
The number of eligible children for Americans who want to adopt is reaching record lows as foreign countries such as Russia close their doors and fewer U.S. kids are available.
Adoptions by Americans from abroad are plummeting to a 20-year low after peaking at nearly 23,000 in 2004 and falling to 9,319 in 2011, according to the State Department. The number is expected to plunge further now that Russia, the third-largest source in the last five years, has announced it won't allow Americans to adopt any more of its orphans.
"It's been a cataclysmic implosion of intercountry adoption," said Tom DiFilipo of the Joint Council on International Children's Services, a non-profit. "It's truly the children who are suffering," he said, as countries accused of adoption fraud refuse to make changes and others acting out of nationalistic pride insist they can provide for their own.
Declines in orphan adoptions from other large foreign sources - China, Ethiopia and South Korea - are prompting some prospective parents to look homeward.
"A lot of families may switch to domestic," said Jenny Pope of Buckner International, an adoption agency. Yet even that's a growing challenge, because as single parenthood becomes more acceptable, she said "there are just not as many women placing their children for adoption."
As a result, the number of U.S. infant adoptions (about 90,000 in 1971) has fallen from 22,291 in 2002 to 18,078 in 2007, according to the most recent five-year tally from the private National Council for Adoption. Though the numbers are only current through 2007, the group's president, Chuck Johnson, expects the number has remained fairly stable since 2007, citing efforts to promote adoption.
There are fewer foster-care children available, because more are reunited with birth parents or adopted by relatives and foster parents. The overall number of kids in the system, 401,000 in 2011, has hit a 20-year low. The number waiting to be adopted fell from 130,637 in 2003 to 104,236 in 2011, according to the U.S. Children's Bureau. Their median age is 7 and they're a mix of races (28% black, 22% Hispanic and 40% white.)
"The options are far fewer for families," said Jennifer Doane of Wide Horizons for Children, an adoption agency. She said some, traumatized by costly failed attempts to adopt abroad, may not be ready to risk fostering a U.S. child only to lose guardianship later to birth parents whose parental rights are restored.
If people are willing to take that risk, their chances of adopting from foster care are much greater, said Kathy Ledesma of AdoptUsKids, a federally-funded listing service of eligible children.
Oregon's Patt Murphy and her husband Lawrence, who adopted their son from Russia in 2004, are now looking at foster care for another child, because they fear other countries may suddenly close their doors. They find adopting from foster care can be competitive but, she adds: "It's definitely worth it. The children really need you."
Laura Maneiro, a New York attorney, said she and her husband Pedro, 70, have switched from international to foster care, because they would be disqualified by the age limits set by many countries.
Despite the fewer options, Johnson said there are still as many Americans eager to adopt as ever. His advice: "Be prepared for a bumpier ride than 10 years ago."