NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. government has raised fees and made a series of regulatory changes recently for American families adopting children overseas, fueling resentment toward the State Department among agencies who fear further reductions in the already dwindling number of foreign adoptions.
The number of foreign children adopted by U.S. parents has plummeted steadily since a peak of 22,884 in 2004. The total for the 2016 fiscal year was 5,372, a decrease of more than 76 percent.
The National Council for Adoption, which represents scores of adoption agencies, is leading a campaign against the new fees. They were announced Feb. 1 as part of broader changes in how the agencies offering international adoptions undergo a required accreditation process.
Chuck Johnson, the council's CEO, said the new policies will make adoptions too costly for many families and force agencies out of business "due to the burdensome costs of maintaining accreditation."
The ranks of international adoption agencies in the U.S. already has dropped from more than 200 a decade ago to about 160 now.
Many of the remaining agencies are faith-based, and view adoption as a means of carrying out a Christian mission. Leaders of some of these agencies have voiced frustration over their strained dealings with the State Department under President Donald Trump at a time when several other departments in the White House are taking steps welcomed by Christian evangelicals.
The process for American families seeking to adopt foreign children has been surrounded by turmoil lately.
Corruption scandals have led to suspensions of adoptions from a few countries, contributing to the drop in international adoptions. In China, which accounts for the most children adopted in the U.S., the numbers have plummeted as more Chinese people adopt domestically. Russia used to account for hundreds of U.S. adoptions a year, but has halted them due to political strains.
In November, the organization that oversaw the accreditation process for nearly a decade, the New York-based Council on Accreditation, announced it was withdrawing from that role after a public exchange of differences with the State Department.
The State Department said its most recent performance review of the council revealed "numerous concerns and deficiencies," including alleged laxity in enforcing regulations governing the adoption agencies' foreign employees and partners.
The council, in turn, accused the State Department of unilaterally altering their business agreement and pushing for fee increases.
"This will have a chilling effect on families coming forward to engage in the process," said Richard Klarberg, the Council on Accreditation's president.
Officials of several leading adoption agencies said they respected Klarberg's council and were sorry to see it relinquishing its duties.
Klarberg says his organization handled the adoption dossier with a full-time staff of four, making use of volunteers from the adoption industry to help carry out its investigations in a collegial manner. The State Department has recruited a brand-new agency, the Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity (or IAAME), to take over from Klarberg's council; it is expected to have a bigger budget and a staff of at least 20 to carry out a more aggressive regimen of investigations.
Suzanne Lawrence, the State Department's special adviser for children's issues, said the new fees were necessary to fund those activities.
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