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A Family for Every Child: International Adoption of American Children in the Netherlands

Hans VanHooffHans van Hooff
Legal Advisor, Fiom and Coordinator, International Social Service (ISS) Netherlands

Summary: Social and political changes are resulting in an increase in the number of American children adopted in the Netherlands.


Recently, the adoption of American children in the Netherlands has received a great deal of public attention. There are several reasons why this trend has caused both concern and heated debate.

The US has traditionally adopted the highest number of foreign-born children. This, of course, begs the question of how is it possible that children, especially infants, from the US are available for international adoption when there is an obvious demand for children to adopt within the country. A second concern is that many American children are still infants when they are adopted internationally. The result is that the biological mother has little time to consider her decision. This is in direct conflict with the spirit of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, to which the Netherlands is a signatory. In response, the minister of justice decided to minimize the number of adoptions from the US by limiting adoption to children with special needs and children over five. A brief overview of the history of adoption in the Netherlands will provide the context for this important change in child welfare policy.

National Adoption in the Netherlands
In 1956, the Netherlands enacted the Adoption Act. National adoption under this act is defined as a complete adoption: severing all (legal) relations with the biological parents. Although adoption is viewed as a child protection measure, it also incorporates an element of family formation. Domestic adoption in the Netherlands has been steadily decreasing since the 1970s. The following statistics illustrate this trend:

Number of Domestic Adoptions:

1970    1,209

1980    259

1990    90

2000    50

2009    25

The decrease in domestic adoptions is the result of several factors: a changed view of single motherhood, the introduction of the Social Assistance Act, increased access to contraception and the emergence and legalization of abortion clinics. In addition, increasing prosperity has resulted in women having children at a later age. However, this has led to an increase in fertility problems. Often, (international) adoption is the only remaining option.

Intercountry Adoption in the Netherlands

Because there are so few children available for domestic adoption in the Netherlands, individuals and couples looking to adopt a child are searching outside the country. However, the Dutch authorities, in the spirit of the Hague Convention, attached numerous conditions to international adoption in the act of  December 8, 1998. Despite this, the number of applications for foreign adoptions has increased considerably. In fact, more than 3,000 couples who have met all the formal requirements for international adoption are waiting for the arrival of a foreign child.

Until 2004, the number of foreign-born adopted children increased in the Netherlands. After 2004 the number of foreign-born children adopted in the Netherland began to decrease. This was due to a decrease in the supply of children available to Dutch families willing to adopt from overseas. Specifically, the decrease in the number of children from China who were available for adoption had a huge impact on the number of international adoptions. Nearly half of all foreign adoptions until 2004 were children from China. However, a review of the current trends in international adoptions reveals that there is a notable increase in the number of children adopted from the US.

Number of children adopted from abroad:

1990    800

2000    1192

2004    1307    including 18 from the US

2005    1185    including 32 from the US

2006    816     including 38 from the US

2007    782     including 39 from the US

2008    767     including 56 from the US

Children Adopted from the United States
Since 2001 Dutch adoption legislation has permitted international adoption by same-sex couples. However, until very recently, only the US allowed adoption by same-sex couples. The result is that many US-born children are adopted by same-sex couples. In the Netherlands, most adoptions from the US are achieved by applying, a “do-it-yourself” method. This means that adoptive parents personally developed contacts abroad rather than hiring a state-licensed agency to assist. However, this option is only available in countries that are not signatories to the Hague Convention. Because the US has ratified the convention, the ability of prospective parents to utilize the “do-it-yourself” method has been eliminated. There are two reasons for this.

First, all international adoptions that occur between Hague signatory countries are administered by the central authority in each country. Second, the principle of subsidiarity of the Hague Convention states that international adoption is not an alternative unless all domestic options are fully explored. This includes the children’s extended family, foster care and domestic adoption opportunities. It is only when a domestic solution is not available that international adoption can be considered.

These changes in Dutch domestic child welfare law and the fact that the US has ratified the Hague Convention means that prospective parents in the Netherlands may have a very long wait to adopt. However, there are thousands of potential parents who are willing and able to provide a safe, permanent and loving home to American-born children.


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