Why is it easier to adopt a child from overseas than from another state?

Barriers to adoption across state lines, however, largely result from bureaucracy and unintentional disincentives. Such barriers have been recognized for years; the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 included a provision that penalizes states that “denied or delayed the placement of a child for adoption when an approved family is available outside of the jurisdiction.”

Yet no state has been punished for violating that provision. And states often require families to wait one year after their home study has been completed before they are even allowed to look at a child in another state. Barriers to interstate adoption exist because the United States does not have one nationwide child welfare system; each state has its own. Each state’s primary interest is the adoption of its residents. Each state expends resources to recruit and train prospective adoptive families, and it receives nothing in return if that family adopts from elsewhere. Effectively, if a New Jersey family adopts a child from New York, New York wins and New Jersey loses. This is an acute problem for children in metropolitan areas that straddle two or more states, such as New York City, Philadelphia, Washington or Chicago.

So why is Congress focusing on increasing adoptions of foreign children and not American children in foster care? Some reasons are clear: International adoption agencies and the parents looking to adopt overseas compose a powerful interest group.