US State Department Seeks Information About Complaints Against Adoption Agencies

The U.S. State Department seems to be looking for ways to improve the process by which adoptive families file complaints against adoption agencies. That could suggest State has concerns that complaints are not being handled well, and that agencies are retaliating against families.

International adoption is a long and complicated process, entangled with a lot of money and bureaucracy. The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption was established, at least in part, to reduce illegal practices in adoption. In the U.S., if an agency wants to provide adoptions internationally, and in particular in countries who are signatories to the Hague Convention, the agency needs to be accredited. The only accrediting body is the Council on Accreditation.

From COA’s web page:

As a status, Hague Accreditation or Hague Approval signifies that an agency meets the standards founded in the Convention, the Intercountry Adoption Act, and the Universal Accreditation Act.  This status indicates that COA has concluded that the agency or person conducts services in substantial compliance with the standards, and that COA monitors and oversees its performance, but is not a guarantee that services in any specific adoption were or will be provided in full compliance with the standards. (Emphasis mine.)

So–no guarantees.

From COA: “We are honored to work with the U.S. Department of State to make certain that adoption service providers (ASPs) have put in place safeguards to ensure intercountry adoptions take place ethically, in the best interests of children.  Since 2006 COA has served as the only national accrediting entity authorized by the U.S. Department of State to provide Hague Accreditation and Approval. Currently COA accredits around 200 adoption service providers.”

When adoptive or prospective adoptive parents have complaints about their ASP, they have some options. They can start, of course, with the agency itself. They can contact the state licensing board. They can contact COA to report concerns about an ASP who is Hague-accredited by COA.

They can also file a complaint with the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions Complaint Registry at the State Department. “The U.S. Department of State is committed to upholding the ethical standards, professional practices, and principles set forth in the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 (IAA), and the Federal implementing regulations. The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions Complaint Registry will forward your complaint to the appropriate Accrediting Entity for action, and the Department will monitor complaints about accredited agencies or approved persons after receiving information from you.”

Recently, the State Department has reached out for more specific assistance, it seems, in handling complaints about agencies.

Did you file a complaint with the Council on Accreditation regarding an adoption agency (Adoption Service Provider) between October 2013 and December 2016? If so, the U.S. State Department would like your feedback. If you fall into that timeframe of having filed a complaint with COA, you can fill out their survey here.

I am not sure why State is looking into that particular timeframe. It does include the years when the U.S. Justice Department was investigating the fraud and corruption crimes committed by International Adoption Guides, whose indicted staffers are now awaiting prison sentencing. Many families filed complaints with COA about IAG. It also includes the time when the Democratic Republic of the Congo suspended adoptions and families in the U.S. protested widely, when the Joint Council on International Services closed, when Hana Williams’ adoptive parents were convicted of her death (and whose agency Adoption Advocates suddenly closed due to bankruptcy), when the number of adult international adoptees being deported has increased, and when more adoptive parents have become aware that the stories told to them about their children’s histories (and reasons for needing to be adopted) were false.

The survey itself is fairly straightforward, focusing on the behavior of COA when complaints were filed, how easy it was to file the complaint, how helpful COA was, how long the process took, that sort of thing. Two questions stood out to me: Did the agency retaliate after the complaint was filed? and, Knowing what you now know, would you file a complaint on the Complaint Registry?

Many adoptive parents don’t complain during the process, probably because they are concerned about provoking the people who may provide them with a child. I think it’s important that adoptive parents know that there are options to complain, and, that by complaining, perhaps some change will occur.

In recent decades, I would guess that the number of complaints (justified and unjustified) against adoption agencies has increased, for many reasons: we are an increasingly litigious society overall; adoptive parents who felt since they were paying so much money they could make unrealistic demands and ignore laws/policies that they found unsatisfactory; agency workers cut corners or failed to take the time to complete due diligence in the U.S. and in the countries where they were working; the belief by agency workers that they were doing God’s work and thus could gloss over legal requirements; adoption agency staff in sending countries who were not properly trained or supported by their agency; adoption agencies who lied to their clients (the adoptive parents); and adoption agencies that stopped returning client phone calls, later abruptly closing. There are no doubt more reasons.

In the future, I would not be surprised if adult adopted persons will complain or litigate as a class with the State Department and/or the Council on Accreditation. And imagine if first/birth parents were allowed a role in voicing their treatment before, during, and after an adoptive placement. Imagine a complaint process registry, in their global and local languages, were available that prompted an inquiry into the actions of an agency, accrediting entity, or government.

For now, I hope many people will respond to the State Department survey, and that State will share the results as soon as possible.

 

 

 

 

Today’s State Department Call About Suspension of Adoptions in Ethiopia

The U.S. State Department held an hour-long, public conference call today “to discuss the current suspension of intercountry adoptions in Ethiopia.”

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Ethiopia suspended adoptions to all countries as of April 21, 2017. I wrote about it here. The State Department officials on the call were clear that the Ethiopian government has not yet released the reasons for, or the potential length of, the suspension. State emphasized several points:

  • The State Department is working with adoption-related Ethiopian government officials to move the adoption cases which had children matched with parents as of the date of the suspension, but it is unclear what will happen to those cases.
  • The State Department will continue to promote intercountry adoption. The U.S. will continue to work on processing adoptions on the U.S. side but cannot control what the Ethiopian government will or will not do in terms of processing on their side.
  • The Ethiopian government recently approved a policy to promote adoptions within Ethiopia. The State Department is getting more information about this.
  • Families in process (those who have had children matched with them) are encouraged to send their case information to the State Department at adoption@state.gov and consadoptionaddis@state.gov. The State Department will try to help those families by providing information and working to move their cases through the system, even as the Ethiopian courts are apparently not hearing adoption cases anymore.
  • The State Department urged families to work with their adoption agencies (adoption service providers). State cannot provide legal advice as to what legal or political steps families should take.

The State Department answered questions from about 20 people who called in. The majority were prospective and adoptive American parents of Ethiopian children whose legal status is in flux as a result of the suspension. My understanding is that some of the children could be the legal children of their adoptive parents, but who do not have, as a result of the suspension, the Ethiopian government signatures needed to get the documents (passports, birth certificates) to leave the country.

One parent asked about contacting Congressional representatives for help. State noted that parents were of course welcome to do so, that State cannot advise parents about doing that, and that the Congressional offices often reach back to State for information. Another parent asked in vague terms about taking legal action against Ethiopia. State reiterated it cannot give legal advice, and suggested folks seek the advice of a local attorney. My sense is that we Americans often lean toward hiring lawyers and pressuring our way into getting the outcomes we feel are deserved: sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. I would think there is little that American lawyers could do to pressure Ethiopian government officials, given the complexity of international law and the differing political philosophies of other countries. My hope is that everyone is transparent, and looking for the best outcomes for the children–that may be overly optimistic, I realize.

One caller said she had heard there are some 225 cases “in the pipeline.” State did not comment on that number. State reiterated their suggestion that all families with matched children are the priority right now, and to contact them at adoption@state.gov with information and questions. They noted that the cases of matched children have the best chances of being acted upon by the Ethiopian government.

There was a question about a “soft match,” cases where prospective parents have identified/selected a child they would like to adopt via an agency’s list of children, but legal formalities (including a home study) have not been completed. State suggested, given that there is no concrete information on how long the suspension will last, that the family send their information to adoption@state.gov so they can look at the situation more specifically. State sympathized with another caller who asked about families who are in the process but not yet matched, and suggested they work with their adoption service provider who may be in the best position to guide them.

I asked if the State Department would consider urging the Ethiopian government to invite adult adoptees to share their perspectives and experiences with the government. My personal hope is that the Ethiopian government would do this on their own, in some way reaching out to the thousands of adult adoptees around the world to hear their stories. Would it be possible for the State Department to suggest this? State said it was a good suggestion, and they are interested in hearing the views of all stakeholders.

One large and unfortunately realistic fear is that American and other adoptive parents will have legal custody of and responsibility for Ethiopian children, but not be able to take the children out of Ethiopia, for months or longer. I hope that the Ethiopian government will move these pipeline cases quickly. If the receiving country’s paperwork is all in order, and if the Ethiopian government has signed off on the adoptions far enough to give the adoptive parents custody, then let’s not leave these children in a legal limbo for months or years, unable to be adopted by anyone else, and unable to be with the parents whom the Ethiopian government has approved to raise them.

I applaud the Ethiopian government’s possible plans to increase in-country adoption. I also know that is a very long road to fruition, potentially involving intense, expensive, and long-term staffing, outreach, and education, if such an initiative is to succeed. Family preservation has to be a centerpiece of any effective child welfare policy, especially in a country where so many children in orphanages are not orphans at all.

So many emotions, laws, precedents, and policies are in play right now. So much money entangled in the business that is adoption, money flowing from parents to adoption agencies to comparatively impoverished countries. In the middle of it all: vulnerable children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

New Research Recommends Big Changes In Counseling For Expectant Parents Considering Adoption

The Donaldson Adoption Institute has released an important new study by Baylor University advocating substantive improvements to the current ways expectant mothers are counseled about adoption.

A team of researchers worked with 223 birth/first mothers who had placed a child for adoption within the last 25 years, as well as with 141 adoption professions who counsel and facilitate adoptions. A second phase of the research included interviews and more detailed analysis with a smaller group.

A few of the findings, according to a Baylor University press release:

  • It was common for birth mothers to express concern about their lack of financial stability during their pregnancies. Financial concerns were often cited as reasons why birth mothers first considered, and ultimately elected, adoption.
  • While some of the women had very positive experiences during their decision-making and relinquishment process, others indicated that the information and support they received from the agency or attorney was insufficient to help them fully consider their options and make the best choice for their child. For these birth mothers, the decision to place their child has had a lifelong impact on them and is one they greatly regret.
  • Much of the information that adoption professionals reported discussing with new expectant parents focused on adoption-related concerns rather than full consideration of all of the parents’ options. Less than half of adoption professionals specifically mentioned discussing information related to parenting their child or methods for helping expectant parents problem-solve how this might occur.

The Baylor report, based on two years of work, provides several policy recommendations, including these:

• Mandate adoption agencies and adoption attorneys to develop and/or provide free access to pre- and post-relinquishment services for expectant and birth parents. These services should include individual and family counseling provided by a licensed clinical professional.

• Mandate that adoption agencies and adoption attorneys must provide expectant parents with a standardized, informed consent that details the possible outcomes associated with relinquishing parental rights to a child for adoption, as well as potential outcomes that the child may experience.

• Increase and standardize education for expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents about the strengths, limitations and legalities of post-relinquishment contact, including the rights of adoptive parents to decrease or eliminate contact in some states.

• Mandate biannual ethics in adoption continuing education for adoption professionals. This curriculum should address ethical challenges related to working with expectant parents, birth parents, extended family members, prospective adoptive parents and other adoption professionals. The curriculum should also emphasize the importance of options counseling, including full informed consent and access to supportive services.

The adoption professionals themselves called for additional training on grief and loss related to relinquishment. That is revealing.

The Baylor press release quotes one birth mother who “felt pressure to sign papers immediately after having the baby. ‘It was horrible,’ she said. ‘I can tell you right now, if the lawyer hadn’t shown up in my room when I was in kind of a haze from giving birth, I don’t know if I would’ve signed the papers. I should’ve had time.”

U.S. states vary on the amount of time parents have after birth to give consent to placing their child for adoption: 16 states allow consent any time after the birth; 30 states have a waiting period of 12 hours to 15 days before the consent can be given. There is a lot of variation among the states.

“Revocation of consent” refers to the ability of the parents to change their minds about placing the baby for adoption. The time period also varies among states, from 3 days to 180 days. More information on consent and revocation times is available here.

I am on the record opposed to birth mothers signing papers in the delivery room and handing their baby over to the adoptive parents without a decent time to recover after birth and ensure that adoption is the right decision. I’d challenge anyone who has given birth or had any significant surgery/medical procedure to consider whether they’d feel fine about signing significant legal papers right after the delivery or surgery, especially if they were pressured to do so, and especially if the papers related to one’s child being permanently removed, oftentimes with no further contact ever.

As an adoptive parent, I find this university study and the policy recommendations a breath of fresh air in adoption practice. I hope that this information gets to many of the law firms and adoption agencies working with expectant mothers, and that prospective and current adoptive parents insist that the law firms and adoption agencies are aware of this research.

I believe adoption can be a viable option, and the right decision for the first/birth parents, the adoptee, and adoptive parents, if it is done with transparency and integrity. Acknowledging the power (economic, in particular) in adoption held by adoptive parents is critical.

We have a long way to go in improving services and counseling to expectant mothers in the U.S. who are considering adoption, and especially those who are in a temporarily difficult situation but could keep their children if they had better (any) counseling and better awareness of other resources.

And imagine if this level of services and counseling were mandated to be provided to mothers around the globe who place their children for international adoption–because we are way behind on equitable treatment for them.

 

If you missed the link at the beginning of this post, the Donaldson Institute-Baylor University study Is available here.

 

 

http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Understanding-Options-Counseling-Experiences-in-Adoption-Qualitative-Study.pdf

The Long Road to Sentencing For International Adoption Guides: Still Not There

In February 2014, four employees of International Adoption Guides were indicted by the US Department of Justice for bribery, falsification of documents, and more, based on a multiyear investigation of Ethiopian adoptions. James Harding, Mary Mooney, and Alisa Bivens, the three American IAG defendants, all pled guilty to various counts about two years ago. They are still awaiting sentencing, three years after the indictment. The one Ethiopian defendant, Haile Mekonnen, as best I know is still in Ethiopia and has not been in court.

According to the 2014 DOJ press release, ” ‘The defendants are accused of obtaining adoption decrees and U.S. visas by submitting fraudulent adoption contracts signed by orphanages that never cared for or housed the children, thus undermining the very laws that are designed to protect the children and families involved,’ said Acting Assistant Attorney General Raman. ‘As today’s indictments show, the Justice Department, alongside its partners both here and abroad, will respond vigorously to these criminal schemes and will act to protect the many families and children who rely on the integrity of the adoption process.’ ”

Behind that legal language is astonishing loss and heartache for many children and their families in Ethiopia and in the United States.

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I recently came across a website, justiceformary.weebly.com, which seems to be written by Mary Mooney. While it mostly has password protected pages, it has a long list of the court documents from 2014 to 2016, including the plea agreements from the three defendants, as well as transcripts of several court appearances. The site mentions a court date in January 2017, but I have yet to see anything to confirm that.

In May 2016, the government recommended a sentence for Mooney of 51 to 60 months of incarceration, per this Memorandum in Aid of Sentencing.

A sentencing hearing was held in August 2016.

In November 2016, there was an order filed on Mary Mooney‘s case. My understanding, as a non-lawyer, is that in January 2015 Mooney had made a plea agreement: she pled guilty to making false statements for the agency’s Council on Accreditation process, and the government then dropped other charges, including those related to Ethiopia.

Mooney could, however, face a conviction on charges related to adoptions from Kazakhstan. Mooney’s co-defendant James Harding had operated World Partners Adoption, located in Georgia; he is an adoptive parent of children from Kazakhstan. WPA lost its accreditation to handle international adoptions in 2008. Harding and Mooney then arranged for Harding to take over at IAG, which still had accreditation at that time. Apparently IAG also has charges against it in relation to adoptions from Kazakstan, and Mooney could face a conviction as a result of those.

Any lawyers who want to weigh in would be welcomed. It is not clear to me whether this means that Mooney will face no punishment in regard to the bribery and falsification of documents in Ethiopia, but that could be correct.

Every month or so, I have called the office of Judge David Norton in South Carolina, the judge handling the case. A pleasant court official consistently tells me that, no, there’s nothing on the sentencing yet. He can’t comment on whether that’s unusual, or on any reason as to why sentencing would not have taken place. He says he will send my inquiry on to someone who might have more information. I’ve never heard anything back.

Unless I’ve missed it, I have not seen any outcry about this case from adoption agencies or from the National Council on Adoption.

The three defendants are, I believe, not in jail. I understand and applaud the value of a full and fair legal process. Still, I can’t help but feel deep disappointment in the slowness of this case, especially when the defendants pled guilty. Will the final sentencing be minimal, with the defendants getting jail time reduced?

I also can’t help but feel this long delay for sentencing is a slap in the face of the Ethiopian adoptees brought here via lies and deception. They have gone through so much, as have their families, in Ethiopia and in the US. What is the message for them about the American court system?

Where is the justice for the innocent victims?

 

 

The Beginning of the End of Global International Adoption?

Is there a perfect storm brewing that signals the end of international adoptions?

What would that mean for children who are genuine orphans, who need safe families, who have medical conditions that are untreatable in their home country?

Some facts/omens/bellwethers:

(1) International adoption has been on the wane for about a decade. Priceonomics published an overview asking “Why Did International Adoption Suddenly End?” It hasn’t ended, but it has definitively declined.

According to the Priceonomics article, he US, Canada, several western European countries, and Australia/New Zealand received some 40,000 children for international adoption each year from 2003 to 2007. In 2012, the global total was under 20,000. The decline has been significant around the world.

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(2) This week, an advisory group for the Dutch government said that “The Netherlands should stop allowing people to adopt children from abroad because it is not in the best interests of the child.” New recommendations state that “the interests of the child should always be paramount and these are better served if the child grows up in their own country with their own culture. Instead, more should be done to help the child’s biological parents ensure continuity of care.” Read the article from Dutch News here.

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The Netherlands adopted about 1200 children annually in the early 2000’s. In 2015, the total was 304, of whom 37 were from the United States, according to the US State Department FY 2015 report, Table 3.

Th Netherlands’ consideration of this approach is a big development, and one that bears monitoring closely.

 

(3) International adult adoptees have gone to court to annul their adoptions. Read more here.

(4) US adoption agencies have had their Hague accreditation status permanently suspended. One US agency has been indicted for fraud and conspiracy by the US Department of Justice; the staff people pled guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

(5) The US State Department has proposed new rules regarding intercountry adoption. Their summary: “The Department of State (the Department) proposes to amend requirements for accreditation of agencies and approval of persons to provide adoption services in intercountry adoption cases. The proposed rule includes a new subpart establishing parameters for U.S. accrediting entities to authorize adoption service providers who have received accreditation or approval to provide adoption services in countries designated by the Secretary, which will be known as “country-specific authorization” (CSA). Adoption service providers will only be permitted to act as primary providers in a CSA-designated country if they have received CSA for that particular country.

The proposed rule also strengthens certain standards for accreditation and approval, including those related to fees and the use of foreign providers. In addition, the proposed rule enhances standards related to preparation of prospective adoptive parents so that they receive more training related to the most common challenges faced by adoptive families, and are better prepared for the needs of the specific child they are adopting. These proposed changes are intended to align the preparation of prospective adoptive parents with the current demographics of children immigrating to the United States through intercountry adoption. Finally, the proposed rule makes the mechanism to submit complaints about adoption service providers available to complainants even if they have not first addressed their complaint directly with the adoption service provider.”

(6) Adoption agencies are pushing back against the proposed new rules. The National Council For Adoption has information here.

International adoption is an enormous, complicated issue. The convergence of children, money, reproductive rights, bureaucracy, international and state laws, money, race, immigration, economic inequity, health care access, and money is overwhelming. There are folks who see adoption as nothing less than trafficking. There are folks who just want to give a child a home. There are adult adoptees who are increasingly vocal on social media and in books, articles, and podcasts about their realities. We rarely hear from first/birth parents about their perspectives, but when we do, it’s often heartbreaking.

So what to do? Even if international adoption continues to decline, there will be children in need. Adoption may be a solution for some of them, but the costs and the controversies are daunting. I’ve made suggestions here: Lamenting the Decline in International Adoptions? Take Action.

And keep an eye on the brewing storm.

 

 

National Adoption Awareness Month Brings New Adoptee Voices

Increasingly, adult adoptee voices are being included in National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM), and this year is no exception. Today is the first day of NAAM, and two new resources have launched today.

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Reshma McClintock, an adoptee from India as well as a writer, producer, and subject of the documentary Calcutta Is My Mother, is the creator of Dear Adoption, a new site dedicated to “giving voice to those most affected by adoption: adoptees.” It debuted today, and has three compelling stories by adoptees, with the promise of many more to come. The site also has resources for adoptees (books, art, websites, films) and a section for adoptive parents. I hope the site gets lots of traction and attention.

 

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Also debuting today is Black Anthology: Adult Adoptees Claim Their Space. “A diverse exploration of the black adoptee journey,” the book is a collection of 16 essays by both domestic and international adoptees. from the US and other countries. Ruth McCoy, Ph.D, says in her review that the “writers’ visions, perspectives, and personal reflections truly provide excellent insight and awareness to all who have been personally touched by adoption.” I know several of the writers in the anthology, and look forward to reading everyone’s essay.

 

 

 

Al Jazeera’s Lost Opportunity on International Adoption

It could have been a compelling show about identity from an adoptee-centric perspective. Instead, it fell far short.

Here’s what a producer wrote in an email to Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora on September 22: “I’m with Al Jazeera English’s live daily show “The Stream” and working on a show about adoptees who return to their motherland to live for a short period or even for the rest of their lives. The show is next Thursday, Sept. 29 and airs live at 3:30 p.m. EST.
I wanted to find out if you know of any Ethiopian adoptees who decided to live in Ethiopia. Better yet, if they are still in Ethiopia.”

Great! A show about a rarely considered perspective in adoption, and a show intentional about having actual adult adoptees speak about their experiences. Ethiopian adoptee Heran Tadesse, who was raised in The Netherlands and now lives in Ethiopia, was chosen as a guest. She has a fascinating, important story.

The show, The Stream, tweeted a link to a New York Times article about Korean adoptees who have returned to live in Korea: “We’ll discuss more stories,” said the tweet. Two Korean adoptees, Hollee McGinnis (raised in the United States) and Kasper Eriksen (raised in Denmark), who have spent much time in Korea, were the other adoptee speakers.

When the show aired on September 29, the angle had apparently changed. It was billed on the website as “The challenges of international adoption: What happens when adoptees can’t adapt.”

What does that even mean?

Elizabeth Bartholet, a lawyer, adoptive parent, and founder of the Child Advocacy Project at Harvard Law School, was the fourth panelist. She is often noted as an advocate for adoption agency-supported legislation such as the Children In Families First (CHIFF) bill.

In fact, Bartholet’s Child Advocacy Project recently received $250,000 from Children of All Nations, a division of the Great Wall China Adoption agency. Great Wall has adoption programs in 15 countries. That quarter of a million dollars, from an adoption agency, will be hugely helpful to Bartholet’s mission, a press release said.

The show itself, which you can watch here, turned into breathless questions from the two hosts (Tell us a “nice, juicy story!”) that jumped around topics and had little focus. They showed a photo of Mia Farrow’s family, a photo that included Woody Allen. One of Mia Farrow’s adopted sons recently committed suicide, but that wasn’t even acknowledged. They showed a photo of Angelina Jolie.

Despite the original intent, the show lost the opportunity to discuss the interesting, evolving topic of adoptee identity as experienced by adoptees themselves.

Instead, we heard Professor Bartholet (not an adoptee) asked how she related to an adoptee’s struggle for identity. We heard her say to adoptees that she is “not somebody who thinks that there are major sorts of traumatizing, psychological issues built into the idea of being adopted.”

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L-Elizabeth Bartholet. R-Heran Tadesse

Heran raised the issues for international adoptees not knowing their names, their background, their parents, their culture: “I think this is not to be underestimated.” She noted that many children in orphanages in Ethiopia are not orphans at all, and called out the Western demand for children, along with the West’s wealth, as vital factors in problems in international adoption.

Having selected Heran for her perspective, the show never addressed the story of why she returned to her motherland to live after being adopted to Europe. Indeed, toward the end, one host asked Kasper Eriksen, “What are we missing” in what was discussed today? “Probably many things,” he answered.

If and when Al Jazeera’s The Stream does a follow-up that genuinely and effectively looks at the issues in adoption, perhaps they will take the time to hear Heran’s story, as well as those of other adoptees who have re-connected with their homelands.

Perhaps they could also include the perspective of the birth/first mothers in any show about international adoption. Their voices are even more marginalized than those of adult adoptees, and this show was no exception.

 

You can comment on The Stream’s page. I hope more adopted persons comment, as there are many adoptive parents who have weighed in. You can tweet to @AJStream and @AlJazeera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sentencing Hearings on IAG’s Fraud, Bribery (Finally) Held Today

Update: On October 20, 2016, I spoke with a clerk in Judge David Norton’s office who said that sentencing would not occur for at least another month. The clerk said that was because a different judge had originally heard the case. That judge has passed away, and Judge Norton “inherited” the case and apparently needs more time to decide on sentencing. The three defendants pled guilty about two years ago. The sentencing hearing was held August 29. The clerk said it is unusual for sentencing to take so long, but it was due to the previous judge’s death and a new judge in charge of the case. I am so sorry for all the families caught up in this. No such thing as closure.

 

More than two years after the staff of International Adoption Group (IAG) were indicted for fraud and bribery by the U.S.Justice Department, the three defendants finally faced a judge today for their sentencing hearing. Mary Mooney, James Harding, and Alisa Bivens, all of whom had pled guilty, appeared in court today before District Court Judge David Norton in Charleston, South Carolina. Judge Norton could make a decision on sentencing within the week, though the exact time frame is unclear.

Camille Smicz and her family are among the victims of IAG. Camille was present in the courtroom today, and provided a victim impact statement. Camille’s voice spoke for the many families, in the U.S. and in Ethiopia, harmed by the criminal actions of IAG.

Today, according to Camille, the judge mentioned his concerns with the delays in this case, including Mary Mooney’s effort to change her plea from guilty to not guilty, (That attempt was denied.) Minimum sentencing could be probation. Maximum sentencing would be five years in a federal prison. Once sentenced, the defendants have 14 days to appeal the decision.

The prosecution in this case called a forensic financial analyst as a witness, who spoke about the finances of the victims due to IAG’s actions. The prosecution is asking for restitution for some of the families. It is unclear how or whether that will happen.

Camille noted that Alisa Bivens had been a youth pastor at a church up until last month,  and recruited 26 people from her church who wrote letters on her behalf. There was at least one person from the church who plans to report back to the congregation regarding the sentencing hearing.

While it has taken an inordinately long time to reach this point, the case seems to finally be moving toward a sort of closure. I know families are exhausted from the emotional toll this has taken. The extent of the corruption, fraud, and bribery done in the name of helping children is unconscionable.

My thanks to Camille Smicz for sharing this information, and for speaking out for the victims. I urge you to read Camille’s victim impact statement.

As soon as I hear the judge’s decision, I will post again.

Podcast on Preventing Disruptions and Dissolutions in Adoption

Disruption and dissolution are such gentle words for the process by which an adoption is ended, either before or after legal finalization. A child moves out of the adoptive family, back to foster or private care, and a new family must be found. Disruption and dissolution  have the potential for a tremendous amount of trauma for everyone, most especially for the child, who’s already lost his original, first, biological family, and now has lost permanency yet again.

The likelihood of a disruption or dissolution increases when children are older at the time of adoption. When adoptive parents aren’t adequately prepared, are unrealistic about parenting a traumatized child, or fail to access resources for parenting, the odds increase as well.

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“The Truth About Preventing Adoption Disruptions” is a new podcast by Add Water and Stir. AWAS focuses on promoting foster care and adoption within communities of color, especially within the African-American community. The main speaker on the podcast is Beverly Clarke, LCSW-C, LICSW, the director of Project Wait No Longer, a program of The Barker Adoption Foundation. Per the website, Project Wait No Longer’s main goal is to find permanent, adoptive families for older children in public foster care. Most of the children are 10–17 years old, but some younger waiting children are part of larger sibling groups (three or more children) who desperately wish to stay together.

 

The interview with Bev starts about 8 minutes into the podcast. I’ve known Bev for many years, and, as usual, she is insightful and pragmatic. The key here is preventing disruptions, not waiting until too much damage is done.

 

 

Disclaimer: I worked for the Barker Adoption Foundation as interim executive director over a decade ago.