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Amy Beeman reads with her 18-month old twin son and daughter, Sam(left) and Lucy(right), at their home in Vancouver, British Columbia, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail/Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)
Amy Beeman reads with her 18-month old twin son and daughter, Sam(left) and Lucy(right), at their home in Vancouver, British Columbia, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail/Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)

The painful new realities of international adoption Add to ...

Even as a teenager, Amy Beeman knew her ideal family would one day include both biological and adopted children. Her father was adopted and she is determined, despite also giving birth to twins, to give a needy child a home.

But the Minnedosa, Man., agency handling Ms. Beeman’s Ethiopian adoption, the Canadian Advocate for the Adoption of Children, is fighting to stay afloat financially, leaving Ms. Beeman and 800 prospective families on tenterhooks.

It’s an increasingly familiar scenario facing people hoping to adopt internationally. Adoption agencies, their first point of contact, are stretched on a number of fronts – from dealing with increased paperwork and international regulations to bottlenecks for newly popular countries, such as Ethiopia.

That’s in addition to staying on top of which countries are open to adoption and from which countries Canada allows international adoptions (also called intercountry adoptions.)

Most provinces have suspended Haitian adoptions due to irregularities after the 2010 earthquake, such as adoptions being arranged without a proper search for birth parents. Also on the no-adoption list are Guatemala, Cambodia and Nepal, for allegations of unethical or illegal practices including payments being made to birth mothers for giving up their babies. Meanwhile, other countries like Ethiopia and China are making it harder to adopt, due to their own domestic policies.

Face of adoption changing

The heyday of international adoption appears to be over.

“Intercountry adoption is changing continually. It’s not static. But there are more restrictions in place now,” says Cathy Murphy, the acting executive director of the well-regarded non-profit Ottawa agency, the Children’s Bridge.

The result is higher fees, fewer adoptions, longer waiting times, older kids.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada reports that in 2010, there were 1,968 international adoptions, down from 2,130 in 2009, and peak of 2,180 in 2003.

The downward trend is more stark in the United States, says Elizabeth Bartholet, a professor at Harvard Law School and faculty director of its child advocacy program. From an all-time high of 22,991 in 2004, international adoptions fell to 9,320 in 2011.

“In seven years it’s fallen off by more than half. So that’s a pretty stunning falling-off-the-cliff phenomenon. It definitely has affected agencies in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere that help facilitate international adoption. It’s just drying up.”

There are about two dozen agencies in Canada, and shutting down can mean hundreds of families left in the cold. A Vancouver agency, Hope Adoption Services, closed in January, also for financial reasons. An Ontario agency, Imagine, shuttered in 2009 after its founder and general manager were charged with breach of trust and fraud. It all leaves prospective parents with a feeling that their access is shrinking.“The agency pool is getting smaller and smaller,” Ms. Beeman says.

Fee hikes inevitable

And those who survive have no choice but to raise their fees. Three years ago, the Children’s Bridge started charging an additional annual administrative fee of $1,200 which kicks in after a year with the agency, over and above their usual fees. On average, it now takes $35,000 to $45,000 to complete an adoption. About a third covers Canadian costs, a third goes to fees in the child’s home country and a third to travel.

“At the time, it was not popular with our families; our clients were quite upset by it,” says Ms. Murphy. “However, by taking this action, it’s allowed us to remain viable during a tough time. I call it a keep-the-lights-on fee.”

In CAFAC’s case, a slowdown in Ethiopian adoptions after the Ethiopian government vowed to clean up its system has meant files that used to take 18 months to complete can now take five to 10 years – and a lot more administration.

But Manitoba caps the amount of fees that agencies can charge clients (unlike Ontario and others who do not). So even though the province allowed a 50 per cent increase in 2010, from $5,800 to $8,800, the agency has been lobbying the government to raise the limits or it would be forced to close.

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