REXBURG — Over the past 13 years, international adoptions by Americans have dropped by 81 percent.
But one local company is trying to change that.
Nathan Gwilliam is the CEO of Rexburg-based Adoption.com, which he founded 20 years ago. Adoption.com claims to be the world’s most-used adoption site and has the largest online adoption community. It has facilitated thousands of adoptions and works to help adoptees reunite with their birth parents, according to the company website.
One of the company’s biggest concerns is a seemingly continual decline in international adoptions. In 2004, the International Adoption Accrediting Entity budgeted for 22,989 international adoptions. In 2018, IAAME budgeted for 4,200.
“The State Department has been treating adoptive families … like criminals.”
Gwilliam said if that trend continues, international adoption could completely end within four years. He said there are various reasons for the dramatic drop in international adoptions including Russia closing its international adoption program in 2012.
“We believe that the bigger issue is the State Department,” he said. “The State Department has been closing country after country and instead of collaborating with the international adoption agencies, the State Department has been treating adoptive families, in many cases, like criminals.”
The problem, Gwilliam said, is from federal legislation that was passed in 2000.
Former Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, the original co-sponsor of the Intercountry Adoption Act, which led to the Hague Convention, said she would never have supported the legislation if she had known how the State Department would end up implementing it, according to the National Council For Adoption web site.
The Hague Convention was intended to streamline the international adoption process and protect children from illegal or ill-prepared adoptions.
“Instead of shoring up the process and providing support for sending countries, the State Department has twisted the intent of the treaty to close one country after another,” Landrieu said in an article on Adoption.com. “The process has become far more cumbersome and far less transparent. American parents who want to help and lovingly raise a child are often made to feel like criminals.”
Adoption.com and adoption-advocacy groups have filed a petition with the White House requesting President Donald Trump investigate the causes behind the decline in international adoption.
Gwilliam said he hopes that if the petition receives the 100,000 signatures needed by April 16, Trump will make reversing the international adoption decline a priority for his administration.
“I’m adopted from Korea, but I have three siblings that were adopted from China,” Seth Anderson, an international adoptee from Soul Korea, told EastIdahoNews.com. “There are millions and millions of children and infants that need to be adopted.”
Anderson says he supports this petition, but not everyone is behind it.
International adoptee and Shelley native Dennis High was adopted from Russia in 1994 when he was 3 years old. High told EastIdahoNews.com his experience being adopted has been great; however, he is not an international adoption supporter.
“There are a lot of struggles that can come with international adoption, and I think there are plenty of kids here in the U.S. that need good homes,” he said. “Maybe we should focus on domestic adoption and improving the adoption system here.”
But Gwilliam saw the number of international orphans as too large to ignore. Gwilliam cited a study that looked at 15,000 Russian orphans who were never adopted and eventually kicked out of their orphanages.
“Of those children, 10 percent, within two years, had committed suicide, 40 percent had become homeless, 33 percent had committed a crime and 50 percent of the girls that had aged out of those orphanages had been forced into prostitution,” he said.
Gwilliam explained if, from 2004 to 2018, adoptions had continued at the same level of 23,000 international adoptions per year, 166,203 more children would have been adopted.
“If you run those numbers, 16,000 children committed suicide or will commit suicide that otherwise wouldn’t have if they had been adopted,” he said. “And 41,000 young women have been forced into prostitution that otherwise wouldn’t have. The impact on children and families — it’s huge.”