The number of adoptions of foster children plummeted by about 17 percent in the past year, City Limits has learned. While the number of adoptions has remained relatively constant during the past five years–fluctuating between 3,600 and 4,000 children annually–only 3,145 foster children were adopted during fiscal year 2000. The decline comes despite major new federal legislation to speed up the process, and a massive six-year-long effort by New York City government to increase the number and pace of adoptions.

The slump has several possible explanations. Administration for Children’s Services spokesperson Jennifer Falk explains the decline as a natural fall-off, the predictable result of a sharp dip in the number of children who went into foster care in the mid 1990s.

For other child welfare watchers, though, the answers aren’t so simple. Some blame the clogged-up courts, made worse by the year-old federal Adoption and Safe Families Act, which has put a strain on Family Court by demanding faster legal processes.

Several adoption experts and foster care agency adoption specialists suggest that, after years of strenuous pro-adoption campaigns by the city, the children still waiting for new families to join are just not very adoptable. Falk calls this theory a “myth.”

The obsession with adoption numbers itself is misleading, says Columbia University’s Fred Wulcyzn, who has analyzed these data for ACS. He contends that administrators should focus instead on the amount of time any one child spends in the system waiting for adoption.

What’s clear is that even the concerted efforts of both federal and local government to speed up adoptions have not met with much success. “Even with everyone focusing attention on this, we still can’t reach the goals we should be reaching,” says John Courtney of Hunter College’s Center for the Study of Family Policy.