NEW YORK - The number of foreign children adopted by U.S. parents fell by 7 percent last year, to the lowest level since 1994, and is likely to plunge further this year due to the new ban by Russia on adoptions by Americans.
Figures released Thursday by the State Department for the 2012 fiscal year showed 8,668 adoptions from abroad, down from 9,320 in 2011 and down about 62 percent from the all-time high of 22,884 in 2004. The number has dropped every year since then.
As usual, China accounted for the most children adopted in the U.S. But its total of 2,589 was far below the peak of 7,903 in 2005.
Ethiopia was second, at 1,568, followed by Russia with 748. For the current year, the figure from Russia is likely to shrink to only a few dozen adoptions that were in the final stages of approval before the ban was enacted last month.
The immediate purpose of Russia's ban was to retaliate for a new U.S. law targeting alleged Russian human-rights violators. But the measure also reflects resentment over the 60,000 Russian children adopted by Americans in the past two decades, 19 of whom have died.
The ban has caused anguish for scores of U.S. families who were in the process of trying to adopt Russian children, and it has saddened many of the families who successfully adopted Russian children in the past. They've been posting family photographs and heartwarming testimonials on a Facebook site called Orphans Without Borders.
Following Russia on the 2012 list were South Korea, which accounted for 627 adoptions, Ukraine at 395, the Democratic Republic of the Congo at 240, Uganda at 238 and Nigeria at 197.
The adoption numbers were up for several African countries and for Haiti, which had virtually halted foreign adoptions following the devastating earthquake of 2010, but has slowly resumed them. Haiti accounted for 154 adoptions by Americans last year, compared to 33 in 2011.
Overall, however, the numbers were discouraging to adoption advocates as countries that formerly provided large numbers of adopted children continued to cut back, and controversies over adoption-related fraud and corruption continued to block nearly all adoptions from Vietnam, Cambodia, Guatemala and Nepal.
The last time there were fewer foreign adoptions to the U.S. was in 1994, when there were 8,333, and the downward trend has troubled many supporters of international adoption.
"We're demoralized," said Chuck Johnson, CEO of the National Council of Adoption, in an interview before release of the latest numbers. "It's a failure of leadership, from everyone involved - myself included - to come up with policies and procedures that open up doors for kids."
Kathleen Strottman, executive director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, said she found it frustrating that the foreign adoption numbers kept dropping at a time when the number of orphans and abandoned children worldwide was rising.
"Maybe, once and for all, we're at a point where we see how crucial it is for the U.S. government to step up and take a real leadership role," she said.