Why Is the U.S. State Department’s New System For Accessing International Adoption Stats So Terrible?

The U.S. State Department had changed its International Adoption Statistics page so that it is unwieldy, time-consuming, and frustrating.

Terrible optics: it’s almost as if the Department were trying to make information about adoptee immigrants difficult to access.

There are two descriptors, both somewhat misleading: “All Years Adoption Statistics” and “Total Adoptions.” Both are shown as 278,745.

However, and this has been the case for many years, State publishes its international adoption stats only from 1999. Adoptions began in significant numbers after the Korean War, in the early 1950’s. I don’t know why the thousands of adoptees in the 64 years between, say, 1955 and 2019 are not included by State in the “All Years Adoption Statistics.” It means that tens of thousands of adoptees are simply not included, contributing to the invisibility of adult adoptees and the silencing of their voices.

A bold new feature on State’s site is a vaguely interactive map, as if the hemispheric location of a country of origin is the main point of interest. On brand for the State Department, I suppose, but not so much for understanding the complexity of international adoption. When you click on a country name, it shows up on the map with a blinking pink outline that then fades. The color of the country depends on how many children were placed for adoption from it. There is an alphabetical listing of sending countries, each of which has a little sorta quadrilateral shape next to it that ranges in color from yellow to orange to brown. What does that signify, you ask? Click on the house shape at the upper right of the map to find out. (Spoiler: The legend explains that the colors correspond to the number of children adopted, greater/equal to 81637, then greater/less than 6421, then greater/less than 235, and so on. Yes, those are the actual numbers used.)

Anther new feature about that alphabetical listing of countries (and whether they are Hague signatories or not) is that you must go through the entire list EACH TIME you are looking for a piece of data, say adoptions by year in Guatemala, or, heaven forbid, Zimbabwe. You will start each time with Afghanistan (sometimes Albania). This will be true if you are looking at 2015 stats for China, then want to switch to 2016 stats for China. Start with Afghanistan… and keep on scrolling.

Another option as a source of the numbers of international adoptions is a non-governmental site, the Johnston Archives. with loads of footnotes and a caveat from the researcher William Johnston: “Data are from multiple sources, sometimes using inconsistent methods or reporting periods (e.g. fiscal year vs. calendar year) such that time series may not be uniform. Some data are incomplete.” It’s a fascinating list nonetheless. As you scroll down the pages, you see how international adoption exploded globally in the 1980’s onward.

And that brings us back to the unfortunate fact that the Adoption Statistics page of the U.S. State Department only shows the past 2 decades. There are tens of thousands of adoptees now in their 40’s, 50’s, and older. But they appear nowhere on the stats page. They should. There are ramifications on citizenship issues, for example. (More on that soon.)

There are links to the State Department’s Annual Reports, which began in 2008. That’s the year (on April 1) that the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption went into effect for the U.S., and the annual report became mandated. The FY2008 report is filled with adorable photos of children, plus about 4 pages of a list of adoption agencies. The FY2019 Annual Report is 10 pages of text and tables. One blurry cute kid photo.

In the FY2019 report, there is no list of agencies, though there is a link to the agency info on the sole accreditor (IAAME, the International Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity) page; the list of agencies is 176 pages. It’s not that there are thousands of agencies; they space out the list of the countries where each agency works plus the addresses of the offices.

Interestingly, on the same link as the list of agencies, IAAME also has a “Substantiated Complaints and Adverse Action Report” which is 188 pages.

Adoption is a complex set of numbers. I am no statistician nor historian, yet I find this information fascinating. It’s quite a rabbit hole, as we say in the U.S., a path of information that if followed leads to more and more things to follow. Information is power, after all, though it’s what we do with it (learning context via interviews, research, and reports; critiquing and citing sources; double checking!) that is vital. When what should be public information is difficult to access or even find, we do a disservice to the people involved.

I’ll close with another controversial point: I realize that the State Department has information/reporting mandates which it meets per the Hague adoption convention. Still. Information on iU.S. international adoption should include statistics on birth/first families as well as on adoptees, and they (not only adoptive or prospective parents) should be involved, encouraged, and welcomed to comment on not only the statistics but the policies over a lifetime.

woman draw a light bulb in white board
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Another Adoption Agency Worker Pleads Guilty to Fraud: This Time, In Uganda

You may be aware that, in 2014, the U.S. Justice Department brought charges of fraud and corruption against the staff of International Adoption Group for their work in Ethiopia. The three U.S. employees (Mary Mooney, James Harding, and Alisa Bivens) ultimately pleaded guilty and were sentenced in 2017.

This week, the Justice Department announced that Robin Longoria pleaded guilty to “Conspiracy to Facilitate Adoptions from Uganda Through Bribery and Fraud.”

Longoria was an adoption agency worker most recently with A Love Beyond Borders, a COA-Hague accredited adoption agency based in Denver, CO. She is still listed on their staff page.

Longoria pleaded guilty for “her role in a scheme to corruptly facilitate adoptions of Ugandan children through bribing Ugandan officials and defrauding U.S. adoptive parents and the U.S. Department of State.” The Justice Department notice says Longoria “managed aspects of an international program in an Ohio-based adoption agency.” Longoria worked for the now-closed agency European Adoption Consultants (EAC), based in Ohio.

The U.S. State Department debarred EAC in 2016, and upheld the debarment in 2017. In February 2017, the FBI raided EAC, “as part of an ongoing criminal investigation. According to LinkedIn, Longoria joined A Love Beyond Borders (ALBB) in February 2017.

ALBB has apparently removed Robin Longoria’s Staff profile from their page. I took the screenshot this morning.

Yesterday, Robin Longoria pleaded guilty in the Northern District of Ohio court to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) to commit wire fraud and to commit visa fraud.” Sentencing will take place on as yet unnamed date.

An FBI Special Agent said “We are pleased that Ms. Longoria has accepted responsibility for her role in facilitating an international adoption scam.”

All of us who have been involved in international adoption are also pleased about that. I find it significant that the Justice Department brought IAG to justice for their Ethiopia programs, and now Longoria has pleaded guilty to crimes in Uganda. I have no inside information, but feel confident that this guilty plea came as the result of some intensive investigations by the Justice Department over the course of years. “This defendant has admitted to playing a part in a conspiracy in which judges and other court officials…were paid bribes to corrupt the adoption process,” said a Justice Department attorney. Another said, “The defendant compromised protection for vulnerable Ugandan children…”

There are “co-conspirators” mentioned in the Justice Department press release. which suggests that others could be named. Longoria and her co-conspirators agreed to pay bribes in Uganda that were disguised as fees to corruptly influence “adoption-friendly judges;” they also concealed these bribes from the adoption agency’s clients, the adoptive parents. Further, Longoria and her co-conspirators created false documents for the State Department “to mislead it in its adjudication of visa applications for the Ugandan children being considered for adoption.”

Fraud, corruption, and deceit all underly the adoptions which Longoria and her co-conspirators facilitated. Their actions, along with those of the IAG staff, create storm clouds over other adoption agencies, and over the Hague Adoption Convention accreditation process. IAG staff lied to the Council on Accreditation on their application for Hague accreditation. COA renewed EAC’s accreditation in April 2016 for a period of four years.

COA no longer oversees the Hague accreditation process. As of August 2017, the sole accrediting entity is IAAME. Several adoption agencies have lost accreditation either temporarily or permanently since then; others have voluntarily given up their accreditation.

These legal and accreditation issues are important. They don’t, however, convey the heartache caused by these crimes: the Ugandan children and their original families, and the U.S. adoptive families. The damage done to them will remain forever. I have no doubt that a lot of people helped bring this case to fruition, and that the investigation took a lot of time and money. I am grateful for the integrity of those willing to pursue these cases, and I appreciate the work of the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. State Department, and everyone involved.

Among those are the tireless folks of Reunite, which helps to preserve families and reunited those who have been separated by illicit adoptions in Uganda. Reunite sees this as “a first step in a much longer journey,” and hopes that justice will come “to all those in America and Uganda who were involved in these corrupt and unethical adoptions.” I hope so too.

Four International Adoption Agencies Lose Accreditation Status

Update: Another international adoption agency, Chinese Children Adoption International (CCAI), has had its accreditation temporarily suspended, according to a March 15 email from the U.S. State Department.

The US State Department announced today that two international adoption agencies (Journeys of the Heart and La Vida International) have failed to renew their Council on Accreditation (COA) accreditation under the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. State also announced that Voice for International Development and Adoption (VIDA) has had its COA accreditation cancelled, and Adopt Abroad Inc has been temporarily suspended by COA.

That’s a lot of loss in international adoption business. Is it a trend? An augur?

COA had announced last October that it was no longer going to accredit adoption agencies under the Hague Convention. The State Department has been working with a new accreditor, IAAME, which is supposed to be up and running soon. IAAME’s website can be viewed here. There has been a lot of tension among IAAME, the adoption community, and the State Department over the accreditation process and its costs. The news today that four agencies have lost or not sought renewal of accreditation is daunting. It arguably decreases the pool of adoption agencies who will be accredited under IAAME, and that could have an impact on international adoptions, as well as the costs overall and the work of the new accreditor.

State Department announcement about Journeys of the Heart and La Vida International

State Department list of agencies debarred or cancelled for Hague (needs to be updated)

National Council For Adoption information about advocacy on accreditation

Article ¬†“Tension Between State Department, Accreditor over Intercountry Adoptions”

COA website information about accreditation