THE number of foreign children available for adoption is falling significantly and those who make it through the process can have spent up to four years in institutional care first.
Tighter regulation of adoption abroad means that children placed for adoption are now less likely to be babies. These older children often have particular health and medical needs, according to the annual report of the Adoption Authority of Ireland.
Children are now often more than 18 months old when available for intercountry adoption, but are generally between three and six years old with an older or younger sibling, said the report.
"In many cases due to malnutrition and institutionalisation, prospective adoptive parents have to be prepared and able to cope with difficult reactive attachment issues that have long-term effects for the children's welfare," it added.
New adoption legislation came into effect in Ireland in late 2010 and it excluded several of the countries that were previously popular with Irish people adopting abroad.
The changes bring more heartbreak for Irish couples who are desperate to adopt but are facing an increasing range of obstacles which are making their dream of raising a family more difficult to realise.
The authority said it was recommending that Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald introduce an upper age limit of 42 for people who want to adopt.The figures for 2012 show that the majority of Irish people who adopted abroad were aged between 40 and 51 years of age, while 5.4pc were over 50.
The report shows there were 117 foreign adoptions recognised for people living in Ireland in 2012, some of which were processed under the old legislation for those who had passed an assessment process before 2010.
Foreign adoptions by Irish people were as high as 397 in 2008 and 307 in 2009, dropping to 200 in 2010.
There were 49 children adopted from Russia in 2012, compared to 117 from this country in 2008 and 100 in 2009. No child was adopted from Vietnam in 2012, which was closed to Irish people in 2010 but has since re-opened. In 2008, there were 182 children adopted here from Vietnam.
While full figures for 2013 are not yet available, the authority granted 88 adoption orders to the end of October. These include both overseas and domestic adoptions.
The authority said it was aware that there were children in state institutions and foster-care systems in some countries who were in need of loving homes that could be provided by Irish families in compliance with the Hague Convention.
Intercountry adoption is an alternative to institutional care but children's welfare and safety must be protected. The report referred to the Children's Referendum, passed in 2012, which gave the green light to a larger number of children in longer-term foster care to be adopted here. While this will change the adoption landscape here, the legislation to give it effect is still not in place.
There were 49 domestic adoptions in 2012 but the majority of these were within families and just 16 involved non-relatives.
A delegation from the Adoption Authority had travelled to the USA following a number of concerns about the adoption process in areas such as Florida. They wanted reassurances about money changing hands, which was outside the limits of permitted expenses. There were also worries about the consent of birth mothers being fully obtained.
Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent