Government officials “need to look at every policy that comes out of the United States that is connected to adoption and the welfare of children” and make certain “they’re not overburdening organizations that are trying to participate and help,” Newell said.
Public policy regarding child welfare needs to be more proactive than reactionary, he said. All countries, regardless of their human rights records, “understand that children are their future and that children represent what their nation will be in the future,” Newell said. “[C]hild welfare is something that I believe can bring nations together and actually can be an olive branch of diplomacy if we use it correctly.”
The U.S. State Department’s shift in the last eight to 10 years “from seeing adoption as a diplomatic issue to seeing adoption as a reactive issue” is a factor in the massive decrease in intercountry adoptions, said Newell, who has led Lifeline since 2003. Previously, adoption was one of the “major talking points” among diplomatic delegations to and from the United States, he said. Before the shift, the State Department “had a much more proactive understanding that adoption was a way that we showed aid to another country, it was a way that we could reach out to another country,” he said. “If there’s a problem [now], our State Department will lean in but not in a diplomatic way.”
Other factors in the decline in intercountry adoptions by Americans, Newell said, include:
- The “unintended consequences” of the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, which was enforced in the United States in 2008.
While the Hague treaty “was meant to protect children and meant to protect families that were going through the process, it also made the process more difficult and more costly for families,” said Newell, who commended the increased checks and balances, uniformity and protections produced by the treaty. Another result, however, was that some countries “either didn’t have the resources or infrastructure to become approved or to satisfy the treaty. … And a lot of those that couldn’t become Hague countries were the countries that typically have the most children in need,” he said.
- The increase in adoption and foster care in many countries.
“[We] did start to see a lot more domestic participation in caring for orphans and vulnerable children,” especially in developing countries and notably by the church, Newell said. In the last year, Lifeline has seen Christians in such countries as Colombia, Costa Rica and India adopt or foster children, he said.
In the last nine years, four previous countries of origin for adoptions by Americans have enacted policies that prohibit such placements, according to the State Department – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya and Russia.
The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the orphan crisis worldwide and created new problems for intercountry adoption. By the end of April 2021, more than 1.5 million children had experienced the death of a parent or grandparent caregiver who lived in their home and helped care for them, according to a report by a coalition that included the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The State Department largely attributed the 45 percent decline from 2019 to 2020 in intercountry adoptions by Americans to the pandemic’s effect “on operations in countries of origin worldwide, travel restrictions” and its own “Do Not Travel” global advisory.
Because of the pandemic, the Chinese government barred travel by adoptive families to the country, which has left about 400 children in China matched with but still awaiting families from the United States.