International Adoptions On Downward Trend

President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed a bill banning Americans from adopting Russian children. U.S. adoptions from Russia had already been on the decline over the last several years — reflecting a broader downward trend in international adoptions. For more on adoption trends, host Audie Cornish talks with Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill today banning Americans from adopting Russian children. It's a move that will add significantly to a downward trend in international adoptions. American adoptions from Russia were already falling from a high of nearly 6,000 eight years ago to less than 1,000 last year. That's according to the State Department.

In that same time, international adoptions from all countries have dropped at a steady pace. And to talk more about this shift, we're joined by Adam Pertman. He's the executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute and author of the book "Adoption Nation." Welcome, Adam.

ADAM PERTMAN: Thanks for having me on.

CORNISH: Now, the U.S. has dominated the foreign adoption market for many years. In a nutshell, why is that?

PERTMAN: Americans adopt more children internationally and domestically than the rest of the world combined. It's much more a part of the fabric of our culture and much more so than in any other country on Earth.

CORNISH: Now, Russia was one of four countries that made up the majority of U.S. international adoptions, and that group also included South Korea, Guatemala and China. At the same time, the numbers are down for each of those countries, as well. And can you explain the different sorts of reasons why that is?

PERTMAN: Well, there are systemic reasons, and there are individual country reasons. The big reason, there's a new, not so new, international treaty called the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption that mandates certain laws, rules, requirements that the U.S. wants met. And not everybody has the resources, the money or even the knowhow to meet all those.

Mostly it is individual countries making individual decisions. So Guatemala closed a few years ago because there were allegations of widespread corruption. Russia, you see what's happening, it's a lot of politics. China apparently discovered that they didn't want to lose all their little girls. And so, a few years ago they changed the rules to make it much more difficult to adopt, and it's a much longer process. And most of the children are older or have special needs.

And then, South Korea has had a more methodical retrenchment over decades, during which they have tried to create more of an adoption culture within the country so that more of the children would wind up in families there.

CORNISH: Now looking at a country like Ethiopia, which only recently became a more popular place for international adoptions, specifically from the U.S., and already those numbers went down in 2011. How much of this has to do with shifts in cultural attitudes domestically in these countries?

PERTMAN: Well, it has a lot to do with cultural attitudes. It also has a lot to do with politics. There isn't a country that is proud of the fact that it cannot take care of its own children. But it's also true that within countries, as they realize that there's corruption, that there are rules that are hard to follow, sometimes they just retrench and then go forward again after they fix the problems.

I think Ethiopia is a good example of that. They've found some real problems, and now they're in the process of trying to fix those. One would hope that they define some body of children who really need homes and aren't going to get them, but maybe not.

CORNISH: What about the emotional toll on these children and these families when there are periodic freezes or, in the case of Russia, an outright ban?

PERTMAN: Well, I think that's the real nut of the story. These events, when they happen like this, Korea is a wonderful example of how you can start to do it right. If you don't want your children going to other countries, develop a culture in your own country where blood ties aren't everything and where they get real care, real help and, most importantly, real families because children don't do well in temporary care.

So it's devastating for adoption, per se, when something like this happens, as it has in Russia, people's perceptions of adoption, the availability of adoption. It's devastating for the families. But most of all, and we should never forget it, the real victims are the children in Russia and elsewhere who stay in institutions.

Their prospects in life are very poor. Leaving them institutionalized is the worst-case scenario.

CORNISH: Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute and author of "Adoption Nation," Adam thank you for speaking with us.

PERTMAN: Thanks so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR.

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