The Questions and Losses When an Adoption Agency Closes

An Open Letter to Adoption Service Providers, the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, the National Council For Adoption, and the Council on Accreditation

Adoption is so much more than placement. The ethical responsibility of providers and practitioners stretches out for decades. 

Increasing numbers of adoption agencies are closing these days, especially those working in international adoption. Many of these agencies were paid and certified members of  JCICS, NCFA, and COA. Many international agencies have moved from country to country over the years, opening and closing programs (Romania, Guatemala, Uganda, Honduras, Ethiopia, etc.) While there are many reasons for the moves and closures, the only consequence most people think of is that fewer children will find families. That is  significant, but there are several other huge concerns.

I am writing today to ASP’s, JCICS, NCFA, and COA to better understand.

How are adult adoptees and first/birth families notified that an agency is closing or is gone? Adoptive families are notified via emails from the agency, or through Facebook groups, or through clicking on a web site and finding it….gone. How are the birth/first families, especially in other countries, notified? What happens when people search for information a year or a decade after an agency has closed?

What happens to the records? How does an adoptee track down his or her agency records when the agency (Christian World Adoption, Adoption Advocates International (WA), Adoption Ark, International Adoption Guides, etc., etc.) shuts its doors? Agency closures represent thousands of adoptions. How would a non-English-speaking birth/first parent with limited Internet access get any records about the placement?

When adoption agencies close their doors, or close a country program, what ethical responsibilities does the agency have to the birth/first families? Adoptive families and adoptees can find (admittedly often limited) post-adoption resources even after an agency closes: therapists, online information, magazines, other adoption agencies, conferences, parent groups, adoptee groups, Facebook groups. US first/birth parents have increasingly strong voices and roles in adoption policy, though they deserve much more recognition. What are the policies on post-adoption services for international first/birth parents?

Sometimes adoption agencies serve as liaisons between adoptive parents and birth parents. Letters and photos might be exchanged via the agency, for example. A birth mother might call the adoption agency on her child’s birthday, to see if there is an update. What happens to these liaison services when the agency closes?

I know of a birth mom in Washington state for whom Adoption Advocates International  was the liaison between her and the adoptive family. They do not know each other’s names. The agency had been forwarding photo updates twice a year from the adoptive parents to the birth mom. The child is about 10. In March 2014, AAI closed. The birth mom got no notice that AAI was closing. She doesn’t know how or whether she will ever hear about her daughter again. If anyone can help with this, please contact me:

An adoption agency that is closing often hands over active or pending cases to another adoption agency. Does that second agency also handle cases such as liaison work? What are the ethical and legal responsibilities of the second agency to the families of the first agency, especially over time?

Adoption agencies, JCICS, NCFA, and COA:  In the spirit of transparency and integrity, what happens not just legally, but ethically, after an agency closes? What are the thoughtful, enforceable, pragmatic policies to help adoptees and birth/first families?

If such policies do not currently exist, what are the strategies in place to create them? Who is at the table to create these policies: adoption agency staff, adoptive parents, adopted adults, and first/birth parents?

Some of you may wonder why I’ve included the Joint Council on International Children’s Services in this open letter. Didn’t they close back in June? Wasn’t that announced at the NCFA-JCICS conference? Why is there no mention on their website of closing, no announcement, no public disclosure at all? They still accept donations. They still accept donations. Are they still offering services? Thus, I decided to include them, and look forward to the response.


7 thoughts on “The Questions and Losses When an Adoption Agency Closes

  1. St. Vincent Maternity and Adoption Center in Coral Gables ,FL is no longer there. Cannot find where their records are stored. My son wishes to find his birth Mother, who wanted contact when he reached 18.

  2. I gave my child up for adoption 16 years ago. It is an open adoption. I haven’t heard from the parents since she was four. The agency I was using closed it’s doors due to stealing money from people looking to adopt. Can anyone help me figure out how to see if the adoption was even legal at this point. I don’t know what to do

  3. Pingback: A Gift Of Hope Adoptions | A MO Certified Child Placement Agency | Columbia, MO

  4. My agency closed. If the state has any idea what happened to the records, they sure aren’t willing to tell me about it.

    And to some degree, I get it. I work for a government office, and we’re overwhelmed and understaffed. I’ve worked with state archives in a few states and they are usually out of room and can’t take the state agency files they are mandated to take. So my guess is that a lot of these records end up in dumpsters. Our lives, our beginnings, end up thrown out.

  5. Washington licensing requirements for an adoption agency clearly spell out what the agency that closes is responsible for:

    “388-147-1720 | How do I maintain children’s records? (1) Your child-placing agency must retain a record of each child you place in permanent custody. This record must contain all available identifying legal, medical, and social information and must be kept confidential, as required by chapter 26.33 RCW.

    (2) If your agency closes you must make arrangements for a period of ninety-nine years for the retention of adopted children’s records who were not in the custody of the department. You must inform your DLR regional licensor about the closure of your agency and where these children’s records will be kept.”

    So if they followed the clearly defined process you should be able to find out where the files are from the Division of Licensed Resources – hopefully AAI followed the process and whoever has control of the files will honor the agreement in place. The alternative is to contact the Adoption Unit in Olympia for the next step.

    • Many thanks. Yours is the first response I’ve seen that spells it out so clearly. I am not certain if the mom placed her child through AAI, or if AAI was designated as the liaison, or if AAI followed the process. Enforcement is always an issue of sorts. Again, thank you very much. I will follow up with more information as soon as I hear anything.

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