The department’s report for the 2018 financial year shows 4,059 adoptions from abroad, down from 4,714 in 2017 and 82 per cent below the high of 22,884 in 2004. The number has fallen every year since then.

China, as has been the case for several years, accounted for the most children adopted in the US. But its total of 1,475 was down by 22 per cent from 2017 – a drop of more than 400 children – and far below a peak of 7,903 in 2005. This represents a drop of 81 per cent in the past 13 years.

A Chinese worker cares for the babies at an orphanage in Wuhu, in eastern China's Anhui province on this 2009 file photo. Photo: AFP
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A Chinese worker cares for the babies at an orphanage in Wuhu, in eastern China’s Anhui province on this 2009 file photo. Photo: AFP

Suzanne Lawrence, the State Department’s special adviser on children’s issues, said the steady decrease in adoptions from China was linked to an improved Chinese economy and the expansion of domestic adoption there.

She also said US adoption agencies were hampered by China’s laws restricting activities by foreign non-governmental organisations.

Adoptions from Ethiopia dropped sharply to 177, down from 313 in 2017 when it was No 2 on the list. Ethiopia imposed a ban on foreign adoptions last year, citing concerns about the well-being of its adopted children and improprieties by foreign adoption agencies.

Adoptions from impoverished Haiti, which is trying to establish a domestic foster care program, dropped from 227 to 196.

India accounted for the biggest increase, with adoptions to the US rising from 221 to 302. Adoptions from Colombia rose from 181 to 229. Lawrence said the State Department had developed strong relationships with child-welfare authorities in both countries.

For a fourth straight year, there were no adoptions from Russia, which once accounted for hundreds of US adoptions annually but imposed a ban that fully took effect in 2014. The ban served as retaliation for a US law targeting alleged Russian human-rights violators.

According to the new report, 81 children were adopted from the United States to nine foreign countries, including 38 to Canada and 20 to the Netherlands.

Along with the updated statistics, the State Department summarised concerns about shortcomings on the part of US adoption agencies. One persisting problem is failure to comply with requirements by foreign governments to regularly submit post-adoption reports on the welfare of the adopted children.

Also of concern are cases in which children adopted from abroad are transferred from one US home to another without authorisation from child-welfare authorities. There also have been troubling cases where adoptive parents in the US, without authorisation, have sought to return adopted children to their country of origin.

International adoptions have been declining worldwide in recent years. The United States accounts for about half of all foreign adoptions, including large numbers of children with special medical and psychological needs.

However, the National Council for Adoption and many of the adoption agencies it represents have faulted the State Department for failing to reverse the decline in foreign adoptions.

“Every year nothing changes, except that fewer children receive a loving, nurturing family through inter-country adoption,” said Chuck Johnson, the council’s president and CEO. “Orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children around the world are counting on the US to do better, and the State Department should re-evaluate what it’s doing, appoint people who can more effectively carry out this important mission and work more collaboratively with the US adoption community.”

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