Who Is Responsible for the Decline in International Adoptions?

The U.S. State Department lays the blame on adoptive parents and adoption agencies. The adoption agencies, per the National Council on Adoption, say the decline is due to overly restrictive regulations and anti-adoption advocates. The voices we are not hearing enough of in this discussion are the birth/first parents and the adoptees themselves.

Last week, the State Department released figures showing the ongoing decline in numbers of children being placed to the United States for international adoption: 5372 children in FY 2016. You can read the report here.

The State Department cited three main reasons for the decline: adoptive parents failing to send post-adoption reports to the children’s country of origin; the incidences of adopted children being re-homed; and unethical practices by adoption agencies.

Post-Adoption Reports

The reports are a reasonable requirement. Sending countries want to know the outcome of children sent abroad for adoption, and adoptive parents are supposed to send the reports. Different countries have different requirements, which are essentially unenforceable once the adoption is full and final. The adoptive parents may have an ethical obligation, but their compliance is subject to their willingness. “Several countries have conditioned the resumption of intercountry adoptions on receiving post adoption reports from parents who previously adopted children from that county,” according to the State Department.

I’d be curious as to whether State has statistics on compliance, or has done research on why parents do not send the reports in. I’d guess a few reasons: Parents have so much going on with family life that the reports fall to the wayside. The parents are mad at the agency and refuse to work with them once the adoption is done. The parents don’t believe the country will ever read the reports. The parents don’t care about whether their failure to send reports will affect future adoptions. The parents are struggling with the child (or have disrupted the adoption, or have re-homed the child) but don’t want the country to know.

Some international adoption agencies have suggested to adoptive parents that the reports would also be sent to the birth/first parents. The birth/first parents may have been told they would receive reports. When the agency failed to get the reports to the families, which anecdotally I have heard many times, parents may have stopped sending them. Some send reports directly to the birth/first family, but not to the government.

Another aspect is the country of origin’s ability to maintain the post-adoption information in an archival, accessible way. That is, a country like China, Korea, or Ethiopia would potentially have received thousands of reports over many years. Does the government have the interest and the infrastructure to file and maintain the reports? Do they scan them and keep them well-organized?  The reports from the US are in English, and I doubt they would be translated into national or local languages. It is unclear to me whether the birth/first parents would have any access to the reports. However, I would argue there is an ethical obligation for the country of origin to provide it to the birth/first parents.

Unregulated Custody Transfer (UCT)

Unregulated Custody Transfer is a benign sounding phrase, but is frightening in its manifestation. The State Department equates UCT with “re-homing,” where adoptive parents hand over their adopted children, with little or no legal process or safeguards, to other people. It has happened more often than anyone would like to think, sometimes making the news, sometimes conducted in an underground. Reuters produced a significant report on the problem. Many US states have begun enacting laws and policies to reduce re-homing. The State Department has a UCT Working Group focused on “strategic for preventing UCT and for responding to UCT situations when they occur.”

Prevention, of course, is the best approach: better pre-adopt preparation, and better post-adopt resources and services.

Internationally adopted children also end up in US foster care, a legal means of moving a child to a new family. Some are listed on Second Chance, a program of Wasatch Adoptions. Both of these (US foster care and Second Chance) are technically not “re-homing,” because they are done through legal channels. Still, a great deal of controversy exists around internationally adopted children ending up in US foster care or with Second Chance.

There is, of course, an important link between the post-adoption reports and UCT, foster care, and Second Chance. Parents probably do not send reports when their children are moved from their original adoptive placement, whether legally or illegally. “Foreign countries frequently raise concerns about UCT whenever information about a child’s whereabouts is unavailable. These concerns impact their willingness to maintain intercountry adoption as an option for children,” says the State Department.

Adoption Service Provider Conduct

This issue–illegal or unethical practices by some Adoption Service Providers (ASPs) and about countries’ ability to appropriately monitor adoption activities–is far-reaching in time and complexity. The US Justice Department’s indictment of International Adoption Guides, and the subsequent guilty pleas by the top staff, for bribery and fraud is a well-known example. Other adoption agencies have been under scrutiny as well, some closing suddenly, even with full COA accreditation (i.e., Christian World Adoptions). European Adoption Consultants, an international adoption agency in Ohio, was raided in February by the FBI, with allegations around fraud and trafficking.

Agency workers in both the U.S. and in sending countries have been accused of misconduct. Facebook has regular comments in adoptive parent groups about false information about their children’s histories; adult adoptees have traveled to their home countries and found parents they had been told were dead, or mothers who had been deceived into placing their children in an orphanage. There’s no question that adoption agencies and their staffs have been under greater scrutiny in recent years than ever before, in part because of more adopted persons’ and birth/first parents’ voices being heard.

The State Department proposed new regulations last September that would attempt to address some problems in international adoption, around accreditation and other areas. Adoption agencies have been actively opposed to the proposed regs, saying that they are unnecessary, expensive, and rigid. Chuck Johnson, the head of the National Council on Adoption, told the Associated Press in January that “it was possible that under the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, the State Department might adopt policies more to the liking of the adoption agencies.” It’s still early in the Trump Administration to see exactly what direction adoption policy will take, though the State Department’s comments on the newly released adoption numbers give us some sense. Update: While the State Department refers to the proposed regs in the narrative about the statistics, including saying they are “reviewing comments from the public on the proposed regulations,” the regs were withdrawn by State in early April. I’ll post more information when I get it.

In any case, adoption agencies frequently see administrative and regulatory policies to be more responsible for the decline in adoptions than the three issues cited by State.

Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

The bottom line: A whole lot of work needs to be done, by a whole lot of folks (State Department, Office of Children’s Issues, adoption agencies, adoptive parents, state and federal legislators, international governments) if international adoption is going to continue in any meaningful way. Right now, there is a fairly strong current of anti-adoption momentum, via groups who view adoption as equivalent to trafficking as well as vocal individuals, primarily adult adoptees, who are demanding change.

And *if* international adoption is going to continue, adoption agencies and the U.S. State Department should make equity in pre-adoption preparation and post-adoption services to birth/first parents. Those 5372 children had families–we know that few children are actual full orphans, and many have grandparents and siblings. The birth/first families deserve excellent adoption services as much as U.S. adoptive parents do, to make sure adoption is the best option, and to encourage family preservation whenever possible.

International Adoptees (Immigrants): Proving Citizenship for Social Security

Yesterday a 28-year-old international adoptee went to the Social Security Administration (SSA) office to get a replacement Social Security card. The worker there told her that she was not listed as a U.S. citizen according to Social Security. What? She has a passport and a Certificate of Citizenship, and has been a citizen for decades.

The situation was resolved easily with the passport, and the SSA now considers her to be an American citizen. She will get her replacement Social Security card in a couple of weeks.

Still, it was a surprise, that a major U.S. federal agency did not know that someone with a U.S. passport and a Certificate of Citizenship had been a citizen for years.

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Adoptive parents and internationally adopted adults: Unless you show proof, the SSA may not know you’re a citizen. While it might not complicate things like the paperwork for college, financial aid, citizenship verification for jobs, tax matters–it surely could.

A few thoughts:

  •  You don’t have to be a U.S. citizen to get a Social Security number. A Social Security number does not prove or mean citizenship, though you do have to be in the U.S. legally (or born here) to get one. The SSN is primarily for job/salary/ income tax purposes. International adoptees, as children, can get social Security numbers prior to citizenship by showing their adoption records. Information from SSA is available here.
  • The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 made citizenship automatic for international adoptees under 18 who arrived in the U.S on an IR-3 visa; they receive their CoC automatically. Those who arrive on an IR-4 visa receive a “Green Card” and are lawful permanent residents who must complete their adoption in their state, and then will receive the CoC. You can read more about the process from the State Department site here.
  • When an adoptee becomes a citizen, or more precisely, has proof of citizenship, he or she needs to show that proof to the SSA, in order that the SSA lists the adoptee as a citizen for its purposes. The passport or Certificate of Citizenship (CoC) will work, and can brought in or mailed to the SSA office. I’d be nervous about mailing a passport or a CoC, but I recognize that a second trip (after initially applying for the Social Security card) to an SSA office can be time-consuming and difficult for some folks.
  • When the proof of citizenship has been seen by the SSA, the SSA will confirm in its records that the person is indeed a U.S. citizen.
  •  Federal government agencies do not appear to share databases (Department of State and Department of Homeland Security, for example). Federal, state, and local government agencies often use different policies and databases for proving citizenship and verifying identity.

That last point is important. As kids grow up, they need different paperwork for school, college, sports, internships, travel, and jobs. All adoptees should have proof of their citizenship. Adoptees who were over 18 when the Child Citizenship Act (CCA) became law because and so did not qualify for citizenship under the CCA should definitely make sure they have proof, since they are subject to deportation if they are not citizens. The Certificate of Citizenship, issued by the Department of Homeland Security, is considered by many to be the gold standard for proving citizenship. One government agency might accept a drivers’ license, and another might insist on a passport. Another might use the Department of Homeland Security database and only accept the Certificate of Citizenship. Different states have different requirements and databases.

Government paperwork has a lot of permutations: U.S. birth certificates are issued to international adoptees, listing adoptive parents as the ones who gave birth, and are not proof of citizenship; the certificates are legal fictions. Drivers’ licenses from some states will  no longer be accepted for airline travel in years to come: you will need REAL ID. Who knows how citizenship identity requirements will change in the future, for immigrants, for international adoptees–for everyone? I strongly recommend getting your paperwork house in order.

 

The deadline to apply for the Certificate of Citizenship before it doubles in price is December 23, by the way. I’ve written about it here: Internationally Adopted Children in Our Anti-Immigrant Culture. Info about the increase is here.