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Trends in International Adoption

By Richard Gibson, MSW, LGSW
Published in Resolve for the journey and beyond, Fall 2009

If you are finding it challenging to build your family, you may find yourself considering adoption. In the past 40 years, many families have grown through international adoption. As you explore whether international adoption is the right option for you, it is important to understand current trends and what they mean for families who choose this path. International adoption is a rewarding experience that comes with its own unique challenges.

Over the past 18 months, the international adoption community has witnessed a tremendous amount of change. There have been systemic shifts in how international adoptions are processed, both in the United States and abroad. Meanwhile, governments around the world are starting to view child welfare much differently. Given that these changes have occurred so quickly, it is not surprising that prospective adoptive parents have questions on international adoptions.

What has changed that makes everything so different?

  1. The Hague Convention. The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (a.k.a. the Hague) has a direct impact on how adoptions are processed in the United States. The Hague sets practice and process guidelines designed to protect children, adoptive families, and the adoption process. As will happen with any new set of guidelines, U.S. agencies and government officials are taking time to interpret language’s intent and establish consistent practices
    around international adoptions.
  2. Stronger emphasis on domestic adoption around the world. Korea, China, and Colombia are just a few examples of countries that support stronger family preservation and domestic adoption programs at home. As a result, fewer children are being identified as eligible for international adoption, which in turn leads to longer waits for an international adoption.
  3. Criteria for adoptive parents. Some countries are establishing stricter criteria for prospective adoptive parents with regard to health, age, and other background issues, reducing international adoption choices for some families. As with the Hague standards, it will take agencies some time to fully understand these new country guidelines.

What sorts of trends are apparent today that might continue into the future?

Until the Hague settles into place in the U.S., some of the current procedural uncertainty is expected to continue. As agencies and government officials continue to adjust to the system, families and children may encounter delays in their adoption plans. Ongoing communication between prospective adoptive parents and their adoption agency is important during the process.

Most adoption professionals believe the practice of having very large programs from a few countries are over. For several years, Guatemala, China, and Russia each were placing between 3,000 and 5,000 children, primarily young. some of the children, per year in the United States. With the Hague and other changes, it is unlikely that there will continue to be such large numbers from individual countries. In time, more countries may engage in international adoption, but in general fewer children will be eligible for international adoption.

As children with no known medical or developmental concerns are increasingly adopted domestically in the country of their birth, children with special concerns will likely comprise a larger percentage of the children eligible for international adoption. In countries with limited access to quality medical health care or with an overburdened welfare system, even the best family preservation and domestic adoption strategies may not meet the needs of children with special needs. Children with medical conditions, histories of abuse and neglect, older children, and sibling groups will continue to need families.

What else do I need to know as I plan my adoption?

It is important for prospective adoptive parents to fully explore their adoption plans and come to some decisions fairly early in the process. Choosing an agency that is either Hague-accredited or an agency that has a strong relationship with a Hague-accredited agency is an important, early step. Choosing a specific country early in the process will also likely ease your overall process.

Is my adoption going to go smoothly?

As much as prospective adoptive parents would like guarantee, and as much as agencies would like to provide complete certainty to adoptive families, nobody knows the answer to this question. Every adoption is different and proceeds at its own pace. One way to ease anxiety over the adoption process is to thoroughly explore agency options and choose an agency with the experience, knowledge, and international standing necessary to support a child’s adoption with professionalism, compassion, and care. Then, while in the adoption process, prospective parents should continue to communicate with their agency and take advantage of ongoing adoption-specific educational opportunities in order to prepare for parenting. In many respects, the entire international adoption community is facing a brand new world. Patience and flexibility will be important for everyone.

For up-to-date country-specific news, visit the U.S. Department of State website, and the Joint Council on International Children’s Services website,

Richard Gibson, MSW, LGSW, is an Adoption Supervisor with CHSFS’s Adoption Outreach and Intake team and serves on the Board of Directors for the Joint Council on International Children’s Services. He can be reached at