The State Department, which oversees the adoption of foreign children by American families, is under fire from scores of adoption agencies for drafting new regulations that critics depict as overly rigid and potentially budget-busting.
More than 80 agencies have co-signed a letter to the department, urging the regulations to be withdrawn. The agencies say more than 27,000 people have signed a petition supporting the request.
"We have seen the number of intercountry adoptions decline by 75 percent since 2004," the agencies' letter says. "The proposed rules would further restrict adoptions, leaving hundreds of thousands of children who may otherwise be adopted with no hope for a family."
Among other complaints, the agencies say the proposed regulations would require an extra level of accreditation in order to operate in certain countries, further boosting costs for adoptive families. They also say the rules are overly rigid in regard to required training for adoptive parents, and in regard to fees charged to these parents for services provided in the country they're adopting from.
The State Department acknowledged that it has received negative feedback about the regulations, as well as some positive input, and declined to offer specific responses at this stage.
In light of the comments, the department said it is working on a supplemental notice seeking to clarify the purpose of the new regulations, and how they would work in practice. Further public comment will be accepted during this process.
The dispute marks a low point in a long-running debate in the U.S. over the dramatic decline in the number of international adoptions. The State Department's latest report, for the 2015 fiscal year, tallied 5,648 adoptions from abroad, about 75 percent below the high of 22,884 in 2004. The number has fallen every year since then.
The State Department says factors out of its control are responsible for most of the decline — including an increase in domestic adoptions in China, Russia's suspension of adoptions by Americans, and corruption scandals that shut down international adoptions in several countries.
Susan Jacobs, the department's special adviser for children's issues, said she and her colleagues had been working hard to reopen the adoption systems in some of those countries, and expressed optimism about progress in Guatemala, Vietnam and Kyrgyzstan, among others
"I'm very proud of the record we have," she said.
There's a contrasting view at the National Council for Adoption, which represents many of the agencies upset by the proposed regulations.
Chuck Johnson, the council's CEO, described the department's adoption policies as "disastrous" and says there has been an explicit effort to make international adoptions more difficult.
"I don't see any way of fixing intercountry adoption unless we have a complete shake-up in staff and policy," Johnson said in an email.
Johnson said it was possible that under the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, the State Department might adopt policies more to the liking of the adoption agencies. But he expressed frustration at the possibility that the proposed regulations, first made public last September, would be in place before a new secretary of state could reconsider them.