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.

 

 

 

 

After the Sentencing: Larry and Carri Williams, the Adoption Agency, the Children

I’ve written a lot about Larry and Carri Williams, about the murder and assault charges against them, about the 7 week trial, and about their sentencing hearing October 29. This may well be my last post about them, though I will continue to write about adoption reform.

Gina Cole, a reporter for the Skagit Valley Herald, covered the trial from the first day of jury selection. She’s done a great job. Follow her on Facebook. Her most recent article, “Decades in Prison for Williams Couple,” is available here.

Here’s an excerpt from Gina’s article:

Tuesday’s (October 29, 2013) sentencing hearing was a chance for the public to help argue for a harsher or lighter sentence. A few people addressed Cook in person; others, including the two oldest Williams sons, submitted letters.

“This incident regarding (the adopted children) was the result of the total unpreparedness of my parents to take in two children who were entirely unfamiliar with our nation, culture and way of life,” wrote Joshua Williams, who is stationed in Korea with the U.S. Army. He pleaded with the court to reunite his family. “… Is it not punishment enough to watch helplessly as your entire life crashes down around you?”

Joshua’s plea, arguing that his parents were totally unprepared, is haunting. (Referring to the abuse, torture, assault of Immanuel and death of Hana–Joshua’s siblings–as “this incident” startling as well.) Did the adoption agency, Adoption Advocates International of Port Angeles, WA, fail to educate Larry and Carri fully about the possible challenges of international adoption? AAI is licensed in Washington state, is a member of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, and is accredited by the Council on Accreditation for Hague Convention adoption. That COA accreditation is time-consuming and expensive; it is supposed to be rigorous and thorough. There is a place for public comment on the COA link above.

A lot of people have asked if the adoption agency was punished as well in this case. My understanding is that there is no legal reason or process for that. Hana and Immanuel’s adoptions were finalized–they were the full legal children of Larry and Carri Williams. As such, the adoption agency no longer had any legal responsibility for them. Larry and Carri, like any other adoptive family, did not have to talk with or answer to the agency after finalization.

Once the adoption is finalized, and the long process is over with, most families want to be treated like other families, without intrusive oversight or invasions of their privacy. For most families, that works, because they aren’t abusive.

In the case of Larry and Carri Williams, we may never know why they did not seek help when things started going so badly. Did the agency not make the case effectively for parents to call on them for post-adoption services? Did the Williamses make a conscious decision not to interact with other adoptive families or with the Ethiopian community, who might have been resources for them, Hana, and Immanuel? Was the AAI preparation process rigorous enough? Did the Williamses’ isolation as a home-schooling family mean they did not want to reach out for help?

So many questions. My hope is that, while the adoption agency does not face legal recriminations for the placement, that all international agencies will look long and hard at their screening of prospective adoptive parents, at having a rigorous pre-adoption education program, and at working as diligently as possible to encourage parents to get post-adoption help without shame or difficulty.

In response to Joshua Williams’ plea, Gina Cole notes, in her article, the judge’s response:

Judge Susan Cook saw it differently.

The Williamses’ track record, she said, was this: one child dead, one with PTSD, and seven who thought the kind of degrading treatment the other two endured was acceptable.

A tragedy all around.

Carri Williams is now in the Washington Corrections Center for Women, in Gig Harbor, Washington, about 115 miles from her Sedro-Woolley home. She is Department of Corrections Inmate 370021. Larry Williams is in the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, Washington, about 150 miles from Sedro-Woolley. He is DOC Inmate 370101. Both have indicated intent to file appeals. Unless they can make bail, both will remain in jail as their appeals go through the legal process. Carri’s bail is set at $1.5 million; Larry’s at $750,000.

I have heard via the Facebook page Remembrance of Hana Williams that the parental rights of Larry and Carri Williams were terminated for Immanuel. I haven’t seen it verified anywhere else, but I believe it to be accurate. I wish Immanuel good things in his future: healing, strength, safety. He struck me during the trial as a remarkably resilient young man.

I posted yesterday about Hana’s Fund, Hana’s Grave Marker. May we keep Hana and Immanuel always in our hearts.