"The era of the boom time for international adoption, I think, has passed us by," says Adam Pertman, head of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. "International adoption used to more or less occur under the radar, and it was pretty much the Wild West.
"Then people started paying attention — really paying attention," Pertman says. "And they saw the good, the bad and the ugly."
With allegations of baby trafficking and fraud widespread, the U.S. and other nations have signed onto the Hague Adoption Convention, which imposes strict regulations to ensure transparency throughout the adoption process. While Pertman says the agreement is much needed and well intentioned, he fears some countries have overreacted, shutting down adoption programs altogether as they struggle to meet the new standards.
The media has also had an impact. Press coverage was intense in 2010, when a Tennessee mother returned the 7-year-old son she had adopted from Russia, sending him back on a plane alone. Russia reacted angrily and quickly restricted adoptions to U.S. families.
Many nations also feel increasingly stigmatized for sending their babies abroad. Both Russia and China are now encouraging domestic adoptions over international ones.
In the wake of these shifts, international adoptions to the U.S. have plunged by more than half in the past eight years, from a peak of nearly 23,000 in 2004 to fewer than 10,000 last year.
Would-Be Parents Wait as International Adoptions Plunge