The number of international adoptions has declined dramatically in Canada in the last five years due to tighter country controls, exorbitant costs and alternative routes to parenthood.
Last year, there were only 793 international adoptions in Canada, according to data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). That's the lowest number in decades, and nearly half the total from 2012, when there were 1,379 inter-country adoptions.
Deborah Brennan, chair of the Adoption Council of Canada, points to a number of factors driving the downward trend. These include hefty costs (an international adoption can cost up to $50,000) and an increasingly onerous administrative process that can take anywhere from 18 months to several years.
A growing number of countries have imposed restrictions or all-out bans on international adoptions, and many have developed stronger systems to encourage more adoptions within their own borders.
"I think they are paying more attention to making sure they create an infrastructure within their own country where they can take care of their children themselves," Brennan said.
She sees the trend as potentially positive for adoptee children, because remaining in their countries of origin helps ensure their family connections, culture and ethnicity are not lost.
"Our preference is that kids do stay … in their own countries of origin because it is risky for kids to come here and lose that. Many parents who adopt internationally, in my opinion, can sometimes do not a great job of maintaining those ties and those roots," she said.
More domestic adoptions?
While Canadians are increasingly using other ways to have a family, including surrogacy and in vitro fertilization, Brennan hopes fewer international adoptions will mean more domestic adoptions in Canada.
Right now, more than 30,000 children are available for adoption around the country.
Many of them are over six years old, are in sibling groups or are have visible special needs. Brennan said a big part of the problem with matching parents with children is a lack of social workers and a huge gap in the inter-provincial adoption system.
In 1993, the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption imposed strict safeguards to make sure all adoptions were in the best interests of the child. It also adopted new measures to crack down on the abduction, sale and trafficking of children.
Some provincial and territorial authorities have imposed suspensions on certain countries of origin including:
Data shows that the number of international adoptions to Canada remained high in the aftermath of the Hague convention, with moderate fluctuations between 1999 and 2009 that ranged from 1,535 to 2,127.
But the number of children adopted from China — which was long a top source country for international adoptions — has dropped significantly in the last decade, from 660 in 2007 to just 94 in 2016.
In that time, China relaxed its one-child policy so that families were not forced to give up subsequent children.
IRCC spokes Rémi Larivière could not speculate on how that has impacted Canada's program, but said China's development of a "robust" domestic adoption system has led some Chinese provinces to close their inter-country adoption programs.
"This has led to a longer wait time for an adoptable child, which may discourage some Canadian prospective adoptive parents during the process," Larivière said.
China has also imposed strict rules around who is eligible to adopt a child from their country, ranging from age and income requirements to a ban on parents with facial deformities or who are obese.
Russia, which was another top source country for prospective Canadian adoptive parents, has also imposed restrictions in 2013, including a prohibition on countries that legalize same-sex marriage.
The Government of Canada website lists 24 countries which do not currently allow international adoptions, including Argentina, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Children without homes, parents
Robin Pike, executive director of Choices Adoption and Counselling in Victoria, B.C., said while the idea to keep children in their countries of origin is a noble objective, it's not yet clear if it is having the desired effect.
"We know that there are hundreds of thousands of children without families, orphaned or detached from their families for whatever reasons," she said.
"I think it's a very good principle, but I think the children who were previously adopted fairly quickly prior to the Hague convention are still available but lingering longer without a permanent solution, a permanent family for them."
A similar trend to fewer international adoptions is occurring in the U.S., where the number dipped to 5,370 in 2016 from 19,601 in 2007.
Pike said there are often politics at play when countries choose to stop foreign adoptions even if it is not necessarily in the best interests of the children.
"A lot of countries are looking to be seen as First World countries on the world stage, so if other countries are taking your children and finding homes for them — and you should be doing this yourself — then the attitude has changed in a lot of countries to say, 'We'll manage our own child welfare issues, thank you,'" she said.
"On the ground, whether it's changed for those children, that's the big question. But certainly politically, it's probably a very favourable decision to make in most countries."