NEW YORK - The number of foreign children adopted by Americans plunged more than a quarter in the last year, reaching the lowest level since 1996 and leading adoption advocates to urge Congress to help reverse the trend.

Big declines were recorded for all three countries that provided the most adopted children in the previous fiscal year. In China and Russia, government officials have tried to promote domestic adoptions; in Guatemala, a highly corrupt international adoption industry was shut down while reforms are put in place.

Figures for fiscal 2009, released yesterday by the State Department, showed 12,753 adoptions from abroad, down from 17,438 in 2008 - a dip of 27 percent and nearly 45 percent lower than the record 22,884 in 2004. In 1996, there were 11,340 foreign adoptions.

China was the No. 1 source country - but U.S. adoptions from there dropped to 3,001, from 3,909 in 2008. China has been steadily cutting back the numbers of healthy, well-adjusted orphans being made available for adoptions; a majority of Chinese children now available to U.S. adoptive families have special physical or emotional needs.

Guatemala was the No. 1 source country in 2008, with 4,123 adoptions by Americans. But the number sank to 756 for 2009, virtually all of them in the final few months before the country's adoption industry was shut down while authorities drafted reforms. It is not known when adoptions to the U.S. will resume.

The biggest increase came from Ethiopia - 2,277 adoptions in fiscal 2009, compared with 1,725 in 2008.

Russia was No. 4 in the new listing with 1,586 adoptions, down from 1,861 in 2008.

Adoptions from Vietnam - where the industry, like Guatemala's, has been plagued by corruption allegations - fell from 751 to 481. The bilateral U.S.-Vietnam adoption agreement expired in September and has not been renewed.

Chuck Johnson, chief operating officer of the National Council for Adoption, said the new figures dismayed him and other advocates of international adoption.

"This drop is not a result of fewer orphans or less interest from American families in adopting children from other countries," he said. "All of us are very discouraged because we see the suffering taking place. We don't know how to fix it without the U.S. government coming alongside."