Monday, April 29, 2019

"The Truth About Intercountry Adoption's Decline"

A recent article by the Chronicle of Social Change entitled "The Truth About Intercountry Adoption’s Decline" attempts to rightfully refute assertions made by the National Council for Adoption (a pro-adoption lobbying group) that the decline in international adoptions is a result of increased regulations imposed by the U.S. State Department. After chronicling episodes that resulted, possibly, in fewer adoptions from countries such as Russia, South Korea and others (I say "possibly" because my area of expertise is not in those countries, and thus I am unable to ascertain the validity of those contentions), the article cursively mentions the declines seen in China, the adoption elephant in the room for the past two decades. 

Susan Jacobs, the article's author, makes the following assertion:

"Domestic adoptions have increased in some countries like China, resulting in a decrease in international adoptions."

Ms. Jacobs is not alone in making this assertion. In fact, the idea that domestic adoption is the reason for the decline in international adoptions has been promoted by "Love Without Boundaries," Holt International, and others. That the decline in international adoptions is a result of an increase in domestic adoptions from the orphanages is the conventional wisdom of the at-large adoption community.

And it is wrong.

What were the reasons for China's substantial decline? When did it start, and why did it happen? We have a lot of data that detail when it started, and we can rule out many reasons proposed by the adoption community and others as to why, including Ms. Jacobs' theory.  

First, let's establish some basic facts regarding China's adoption program. Receiving countries, including the U.S., publish annual adoption figures for all children arriving from foreign countries through adoption. This data show that intercountry adoptions from China peaked in 2005, when 14, 481 children were adopted to the U.S., Canada, Spain, and other countries (Graph has 14,397 due to my ignoring very small country adoptions. I include in the graph the U.S., Australia, Italy, Spain, the U.K., the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Canada and France). That number declined to 10,759 in 2006, a decline of 25%, and fell nearly 20% the following year to 8,744 total adoptions. By 2017, only 2,211 total international adoptions were done from China, a decline of 85% from the program's 2005 peak.

To quickly eliminate one possible reason for the decline: Provincial finding ads mirror the declines after 2005, and thus it is known that the reason for the decline in China adoptions is "supply" related, not "demand" related. The increasing wait times, etc., prove that the declines are a result of fewer children being submitted for international adoption, not a result of fewer Western families wanting to adopt, an arrow in the heart of the "State Department is to blame" contingency.  

So, it is clear that something happened between 2005 and 2006 that dramatically altered the number of children coming into China's orphanages and being submitted for international adoption. Is it possible to "zoom in" and see what month the change occurred?

When we compile the findings by month of the top six adopting Provinces in 2005 (Anhui, Chongqing, Guangxi, Guangdong, Hunan, Jiangxi), we can clearly see when the decline began. Looking at submissions for the twenty-four months between January 2005 and December 2006, a noticeable decline began in December 2005, when findings dropped from about 897 findings per month between January and November 2005, to 608 findings per average between December 2005 and December 2006. Findings continued to drop beyond 2006.  What occurred in December 2005 that can explain the nearly 33% drop in one month?

Long-time adoptive families will remember that on November 25, 2005, the Hunan trafficking scandal was revealed inside China and around the world. Prior to that event, families inside China were largely unaware of the international adoption program, and realizing that children were being "sold" to Western families angered many. 

Families can debate the "why" behind the Hunan scandal's impact on international adoption numbers -- Was it birth families avoiding the orphanage, or was it orphanage directors changing their programs, for example -- but there is no question that the scandal forever changed the face of China's program, both in numbers of adoptions, and the gender and health status of those adopted. The Hunan scandal is the dominant force behind the decline in China's adoption rates.

But to return to the original assertion. Has domestic adoption had any significant impact on the international adoption program? Have children been adopted to domestic families, resulting in fewer children being adopted internationally? It depends on how you look at the numbers.

China's National Civil Affairs Bureau compiles the total numbers of children adopted each year from China's orphanages, both internationally and domestically. The following graph (drawn from data published here and here) shows the number of domestic adoptions logged by all of China's orphanages (whether they participate in the international adoption program or not) between the peak in 2005 and 2015.

One can clearly see that domestic adoptions from orphanages have also trended down over the past ten years, but did see a small increase in 2006 and 2009. These increases did not, however, make up for the declines experienced in the international adoptions. Clearly, total adoptions from China have declined, not simply a movement of children from international adoption to domestic adoption on the part of China's orphanages.  

So, if the children were not adopted domestically or internationally, where did they go? 

It seems likely that the collapse in international adoptions after the Hunan scandal resulted in birth families inside China being more cautious when relinquishing a child. In other words, children that could not be parented that may have gone into an internationally adopting orphanage prior to 2005 were now placed in extra-legal domestic adoptions. Although it is doubtful that the agencies quoted above had this in mind when they stated that China's domestic adoption program was growing (it is not), they are still partially correct that more children were being placed informally, rather than allowed to enter an orphanage, even if that orphanage did not participate in international adoptions.  

To summarize: The single greatest reason why China's international program declined following December 2005 was the reporting on the Hunan trafficking scandal. Whether it was a result of increased awareness that domestic families inside China got that orphanages in China were adopting children to Westerners outside China for money, or whether orphanage directors changed their programs is not known with certainty, although orphanage-by-orphanage experience tilts probabilities to the former.  What is known is that orphanages with known incentive programs saw the steepest declines in adoptions, and many of those orphanages continue offering rewards for children to this day. China's domestic adoption program was also negatively impacted.  Thus, a statement that China's international adoption program declined because of an increase in domestic adoption from orphanages is incorrect, unless one attaches "informal" to "domestic adoption" and removes the orphanages from the statement.

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