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A Policymaker’s Perspective on National Adoption Month

Picture of hands holding a miniature globe couple with a pull quote from the blog, written by author, Michelle Bernier-Toth, Special Advisor for Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State
Each November, we recognize National Adoption Month as an opportunity to raise awareness and celebrate adoptive families and their children who have benefitted from both domestic and intercountry adoptions.  Those who embark on the adoption journey know that it can be a roller coaster of excitement, frustration, anxiety and joy.  But the challenges haven’t stopped thousands of American families from opening their hearts and homes to children in need each year.  We attribute these successful adoptions in large part to the Adoption Service Providers, who recognize the unique adjustments and considerations surrounding an intercountry and cross-cultural adoption, and support parents and their children through the journey, both before and after the adoption.    
As Special Advisor for Children’s Issues in the Department of State, it is my privilege to support our mission of ensuring that intercountry adoption remains an option for children when it is in their best interests.  I am proud of the fact that American families have historically adopted approximately half of all the children eligible for intercountry adoption around the world, something that speaks volumes about us as a nation.  Many of these children have special needs, have experienced some sort of trauma, or have waited for years in an institution before joining their families – yet they find loving, permanent families who will provide them the future they deserve.   I am fortunate to work with the dedicated adoptions officers in the Office of Children’s Issues, who have made our mission their top priority and who work proactively to engage with foreign governments, monitor trends, and provide guidance to our overseas embassies and consulates as they carry our message to their host governments - the message that intercountry adoptions must remain an option for children in need.  
It is true that the number of children adopted internationally has dropped in the past decade – a global trend that extends beyond adoptions to the United States.  There are many reasons for this.  Unfortunately, there are countries that, for purely political reasons, have barred foreign families from adopting, thereby putting children at risk of an uncertain future.  Some countries, concerned by the lack of safeguards to protect children and parents, have shut down their programs pending reforms.  We encourage those nations to implement the necessary measures to allow adoptions to resume, so that children will not face a life of institutionalization.  In other countries, many believe improved social and economic conditions mean that their children can receive appropriate care in their own country, and therefore, fewer children are eligible for, or in need of,  intercountry adoption.  Some countries, sadly, are hesitant to permit intercountry adoption as they see it as a sign that they cannot care for their own children.  The truth is that no matter how robust a country’s child welfare system, there will always be children for whom intercountry adoption is in their best interests.  The United States also supports opportunities for children born in the country to find a permanent home through adoption outside the United States, after domestic placement options have first been given due consideration.    
Our goal is to work with countries to help them build and sustain intercountry adoption programs as part of their child welfare system.  As I meet (virtually, these days) with foreign government authorities, I emphasize that acting in a child’s best interests – including intercountry adoption – engenders even greater global respect for their nation.  In fact, intercounty adoption builds bridges between countries and cultures, and fosters better understanding between people and nations.  Each child becomes a citizen ambassador for his or her country of birth, and I have seen how American parents work to celebrate their child’s culture and make it part of their family story.  Intercountry adoption brings families together, but it also brings countries together as we work to ensure that children in need of permanency can find loving homes.   Supporting these children and their families is not just a job for those involved – it is a mission for all of us.  And each November, we recognize those parents, organizations, governments, and adoption service providers who understand the importance of adoption in a child’s life.