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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

“The Economist” Editorial: Blind to the Realities of International Adoption

The Economist, the British-based weekly news magazine, missed a valuable opportunity to present much-needed solutions for children without families. Instead, it glossed over recent history and current realities around international adoption, sounding uninformed and starry-eyed.

All children deserve safe, loving families. International adoption is one means of helping, but there are many other much-needed actions as well. Too often, people romanticize the notion of adoption without understanding its realities. Think “Annie.”

The Economist recently published two articles on international adoption. I was among many folks interviewed for Sarah Esther Maslin’s article, “Home Alone: Fewer Families Are Adopting Children From Overseas.” She addresses the issues of fraud and corruption in Romania and Guatemala, among other countries, noting the frustration that some folks have with the bureaucracy around the adoption process: “Such sluggishness infuriates overseas parents. But many sending countries say critics underestimate the difficulties of building a robust adoption system—and ask why, if people in rich countries really care about poor children in poor places, they do not fund domestic programmes to keep families together instead.”

Indeed.

Maslin’s article explains why international adoptions have decreased so significantly in recent decades, and it’s important that this information get out into the world at large. (I wrote about the issue in this post: “Lamenting the Decline in International Adoption? Take Action.”)

In addition to Maslin’s article, The Economist also published an editorial, “Babies without borders.” The editorial was superficial at best, failing to speak out to its 1.3 million readers about genuinely effective ways to help children have families.

Adoption can benefit some children and families. However, there is a bigger picture around child welfare advocacy that must be addressed.

Here is the Letter to the Editor I sent to The Economist:

In urging that international adoptions be made easier, The Economist’s editorial “Babies without borders” is naïve, clichéd, and shallow. It includes the following:

  • A stunning amount of faith that the Hague Convention has rooted out fraud and corruption, and thus it is now safe to move faster in processing adoptions.
  • A failure to mention how many adult adoptees have discovered the extent of deception in their adoptions.
  • A cavalier dismissal of the loss of culture and history when children are internationally adopted.
  • A noticeable silence about several countries’ efforts to promote in-country adoption and to reduce the cultural stigmas around it.
  • An astonishing exhortation that U.S. evangelical Christians specifically should not be stopped on their happy way to adopting.
  • A lack of awareness about the current paucity of post-adoption services which has led to tragic re-homing situations, as well as to international adoptees being placed, for example,  in the U.S. foster care system.

As an adoptive parent, I know the power of adoption. International adoption, though, helps very few of the children who genuinely need help. Increased family preservation efforts and child/family sponsorships via reputable organizations are only two of the possible  solutions to ensuring that many more children have safe, loving families.

Unfortunately, The Economist was busy humming Little Orphan Annie’s “Hard Knock Life,” and quoting it, rather than examining realities and proposing thoughtful solutions.

 

 

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Please read both Sarah Maslin’s article and the editorial, and share your thoughts with The Economist. You can e-mail letters@economist.com. Include your mailing address and a daytime telephone number.