Is the Number of U.S. Adoptions Really Dropping?

Recent news stories have painted a grim picture of adoption trends in the United States. An April 30 Associated Press article reported that “this is an especially distressing time” for hopeful adoptive parents, citing an overall decline in the number of U.S. adoptions in recent years. As a result, the article claims, would-be parents are forced to face long waiting times and high fees in order to finally build their families.

The article, and others like it, perpetuates the popular adoption myth that it’s nearly impossible to adopt a child in the United States. But while the statistics it shares might have some shock value, they may not be telling the whole story.

The Truth about Domestic Adoption in the United States

The National Council for Adoption estimates a 17 percent drop in the total number of adoptions from the U.S., from 133,737 adoptions completed in 2007 to 110,373 adoptions in 2014. However, most of that decline is due to a decrease in international adoptions, which have dropped more than 76 percent since their peak in 2004, according to federal figures.

In contrast, “the number of infant adoptions remained relatively stable at about 18,000, as did adoptions out of foster care at about 50,000,” according to the article.

This “relatively stable” number suggests that domestic adoption is very much alive and well. In fact, in many ways, domestic adoption today is better than ever, according to an article in Adoptive Families magazine.

“The fact that more than 18,000 American families successfully adopt newborn babies in the United States every year belies the widespread misperception that domestic adoption is a difficult, time-consuming, expensive, and risky process,” the article states.

While an estimated 1 million families are waiting to adopt at any given time, the vast majority of hopeful parents who choose domestic infant adoption — about 84 percent — are able to adopt a newborn within two years of starting the adoption process, according to Adoptive Families’ latest Adoption Cost and Timing survey. Sixty-four percent of those families adopt within the first year, with some adoption agencies estimating even lower wait times.

Still, it’s true that fewer adoptions take place today compared to 35 years ago; U.S. adoptions reached their peak in the 1970s. Plenty has changed since then — the stigma against single motherhood has begun to wane, and abortion became a legally available option for women nationwide following the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973. These societal changes correlated with a decline in the number of women placing their infants for adoption, down from 9 percent in the 1970s to 1.4 percent in 2002.

But despite these numbers, there is nothing to suggest that domestic adoptions are in any danger of dying out. In fact, more couples choose to adopt within the U.S. than internationally each year — and that is likely why adoption numbers have dwindled overall.

Why International Adoption Rates Are Changing

International adoption has undergone a more dramatic transformation in the past decade. Increasing domestic adoptions in countries like China have led to a decrease in the children available for international adoption. Other countries, like Russia, have implemented suspensions of adoptions by American families.

As a result, the wait times to adopt internationally may be longer. According to Adoptive Families’ Adoption Cost and Timing survey, parents hoping to adopt a healthy infant from China are currently expected to wait more than five years for a referral. However, families who are open to adopting an older, waiting child in China are likely to receive a referral within six months to a year.

In light of these increasing wait times, more stringent international adoption policies, the limited availability of healthy infants, and the often complicated process of working with both the U.S. and foreign governments, some couples have decided against international adoption, instead pursuing other family-building options, such as domestic adoption or even gestational surrogacy.

What These Numbers Really Mean for Adoptive Families

If you are considering adoption for your family, it’s important to remember that every adoption experience is different. While there is no shortage of adoption statistics available online, know that some families will experience waits that are longer or shorter than the average, and that wait times (as well as adoption costs, disruption rates and more) vary significantly based on the type of adoption and the professional you choose.

However, it’s also important to have an idea of what to expect from your adoption process. Here are some helpful tips for every hopeful parent considering adoption:

  • Compare the average wait times, costs and pros and cons of each type of adoption to choose the option that’s best for your family
  • Before choosing an adoption professional, ask about their current average wait time, the number of families on their waiting list, and what they can do to help you minimize your wait
  • Remember that large, national adoption agencies and adoption service providers who work in many states or countries can typically can provide more adoption opportunities and lower wait times. They also tend to be more stable and less susceptible to changing adoption trends and policies
  • When waiting for an adoption opportunity, consider the types of adoption situations you are comfortable with; the more flexible you are, the higher your chances of adopting within a shorter timeframe

Whatever path you choose for your family, know that adoption can be a viable option for you.

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