Think Twice Before Signing That Petition About International Adoptions

Why wouldn’t everyone sign a petition to increase international adoptions? Don’t we all want orphans to have families?

Well, there are many reasons not to sign.

One is because many of the children in orphanages (and placed for adoption) are not in fact orphans at all.

Another is that there are multiple ways besides international adoption to help vulnerable children, many of which are far more cost efficient and could help many more children.

Another reason is that essentially emotional petitions like this ignore the horrific treatment of too many first parents, who were often misled about the realities of having all rights severed, and in any case receive no post-adoption counseling or resources whatsoever from the adoption agencies who support the petition.

I’m going to argue, though, that the main reason not sign this petition is this.

You shouldn’t sign the petition because of who is behind it: adoption agencies and adoption lawyers. I am not attacking them. It is, after all, in their interest to increase international adoptions, and some indeed have a genuine desire to help children.

My focus is on the fact that there are virtually no international adoptee groups who support this petition. There are no international birth parents.

That’s right: No adult adoptee groups have endorsed the petition, with the exception of a small, inactive group that is affiliated with the adoption agency previously headed by the main person behind the petition.

I understand the obvious difficulties in logistics of having birth/first parents participate. It’s not impossible, though. As it is, international birth parents are not even mentioned in this ostensible effort to promote international adoptions. That is very telling, and may be the biggest reason not to sign the petition.

Until there is vocal, vibrant support from international adult adoptees and from birth parents, why should any of us support a petition to increase international adoptions? This petition is merely the product of adoptive parents, adoption agencies, and adoption attorneys, and that is not acceptable.

If you need additional reasons not to sign, here are a few more.

The petition fails to even mention one of the most burning issues in international adoption today: the need for retroactive citizenship for all international adoptees. Imagine if all these website owners, adoption agencies, and adoptive parents put their money, time, and energy into demanding that all international adoptees be granted citizenship. Imagine.

The petition fails to mention another burning issue in the adoption community: the re-homing of internationally adopted children, whether done illicitly, or through Second Chance adoptions, or via the US foster care system. How can adoption agencies and adoption attorneys call for more adoptions when there are children whose adoptions are being dissolved and who are being re-traumatized by losing another family?

The petition also fails to mention the ongoing incidents of fraud and corruption in international adoption. Agencies have been investigated, indicted, shut down. Adoptees have found that they were not orphans, contrary to what the adoption agencies told the adoptive parents. How has the industry addressed these realities, even as they are calling for more adoptions?

The petition itself was created by Nathan Gwilliam, the founder and CEO of adoption.com, and Board member of the National Council For Adoption. You’ll see the initials “N.G.” on the petition site. Though not personally connected to adoption, he has used his site to heavily promote the petition, as well as appearing on conservative venues such as the Lars Larson show. Gwilliam also appeared recently on the Glenn Beck show with Ron Stoddart, who is touting the petition heavily on the site Save Adoptions.

The petition is the result of the simmering disputes between the State Department and international adoption agencies. The simplified bottom line is this: The State Department wanted more rigorous standards for adoption service providers. The erstwhile accrediting entity, the Council on Accreditation (COA), felt that the standards were too burdensome/unnecessary, and announced it was withdrawing from accrediting under the Hague Convention. The State Department designated a new entity, IAMME, which will charge more and have 20 paid staff (COA had 4 staff people, and used volunteers from adoption agencies to facilitate the accreditation of other agencies). Adoption agencies and State have been at loggerheads for months over the standards and the fees. Agencies argue that State is trying to end international adoptions, and State argues that more stringent standards are necessary and that the fees will not be as burdensome as the agencies suggest.

Here’s the petition’s mission statement:

We the People, recognizing a child’s right to a family when one is not available in his/her birth country and the loving character of American families, ask President Trump to investigate the causes of the 80% decline in intercountry adoptions since 2004 and to solve the U.S. international adoption crisis. The leadership of the Office of Children’s Issues (at the US Department of State) has been unresponsive to collaborating with the adoption community to solve problems and continues to reinterpret regulations in ways unintended by Congress in the Hague Intercountry Adoption Act. We need pro-adoption leadership who will increase the number of ethical adoptions. The adoption community stands ready to work with the Administration to implement various achievable solutions to help orphans find loving, permanent families.

Ron Stoddart is listed on Save Adoptions as the Contact for the petition. Stoddart is an adoptive parent, is an attorney, and was the executive director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, an adoption agency licensed in several states. The agency is Hague-accredited, and offers domestic adoption services as well as international adoption programs in 18 countries. They also offer Snowflakes, their frozen embryo adoption/donation service. Stoddart is currently on Nightlight’s Board of Directors.

Ron Stoddart of Save Adoptions

Among the Partners listed on Save Adoptions web page are some 80 adoption agencies and attorneys. The lone adoptee group is Adopted For Good—The Coalition of Adoptees. It is clearly closely affiliated with Stoddart’s agency, Nightlight Adoptions. Stoddart is on the group’s Board of Directors, along with the VP of Operations for Nightlight. The group itself appears inactive. The last post on its Forum was in 2015. That’s it for international adoptees as “Partners.” I found no indication that there are any international birth parents as partners for Save Adoption.

Also, at least three adoption agencies listed as Partners are no longer accredited for international adoption: Amazing Grace Adoptions, Faith International, and Adoption S.T.A.R. The State Department announcements on these and four other agencies whose accreditation has expired is available here and here.

International adoptions have declined, not just in the U.S. but around the globe, for many reasons. Several sending countries (for example, Russia, Guatemala, Ethiopia) have closed or cut back on the number of children sent abroad for adoption. Fraud and corruption have grabbed headlines. Sending countries have expressed grave concern that the U.S. does not grant citizenship automatically to all international adoptees, and indeed has deported some. Some countries are working to promote in-country adoption. Evangelical Christians who once heavily promoted adoption are now revamping their approach toward orphan prevention. The abuse and deaths of internationally adopted children have made sending countries deeply troubled about the well-being of their children. The failure of adoptive parents to send in post-placement reports has caused sending countries to slow or end adoptions.

None of that is mentioned in the rationale for the petition.

Instead, the petition declares that the cause is the Office of Children’s Issues, a narrow focus indeed. This fight between State and adoption agencies may not be settled for a long time. IAMME needs time to do its accreditation work, even as more adoption agencies seem to be opting out of accreditation and adoption every week. The State Department is throwing down more gauntlets around adoption practices such as soft referrals, and agencies are pushing back. State, IAMME, and adoption agencies are scrapping over the new fees that IAMME is implementing. Regulations for monitoring and oversight are especially contentious, which is no surprise, given the vagaries and history of intercountry adoptions. One of the hardest and most important responsibilities of adoption agencies is ensuring that they are closely monitoring their staff on the ground in the countries from which they are placing children.

To wrap up: (1) We all want to help vulnerable children, and we all agree that children deserve safe, loving families. Adoption is not the right solution for all children by any means. The far greater emphasis should be on family preservation, sponsorship programs, literacy, clean water, electricity, job training, medications, and all the other benefits of life in the countries to which children are adopted because they and their families don’t have those benefits in their home countries.

(2) This current debate has the echoes of CHIFF, 2015 legislation ostensibly designed to streamline the adoption process. The CHIFF proponents are almost all the same folks now clamoring for this petition. CHIFF failed miserably for many reasons:  Adoptees and birth parents were not included in policy discussions or as supporters. CHIFF proponents hammered away at the State Department through personal and emotional attacks, ultimately alienating many people who could have been partners. Apparently, the petition folks did not draw any lessons from the CHIFF debacle.

(3) Don’t sign the petition. Until the adoption community genuinely places adoptees and first/birth parents on the same plane as adoptive parents in terms of resources, respect, and visibility, and until the adoption industry addresses issues such as citizenship, re-homing, fraud, and corruption, we cannot move ahead to meaningful policy in international adoption.

The petition, by the way, is aiming for 100,000 signatures; they have about 30,000 now, with one more week to get the remaining 70,000.

 

Post script: For more information about the current tensions between the Department of State and adoption agencies, please take a look at adoptionintegrity.com for several detailed explanations about these and other issues. They have several solid analyses about accrediting entities and an informative, balanced video about the tensions. 

 

 

State Department/CIS Stakeholder Call on Adoptee Citizenship Issues

The Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) of the U.S. State Department and the Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) held a “Stakeholder Meeting Call” Monday primarily to discuss citizenship as related to international adoption.

My takeaways:

  • I give credit to State and CIS for holding these public stakeholder conversations.
  • Surely adopted children, who grow up and are now (adopted) adults, must be considered to be the primary and most essential stakeholders in calls and conversations like this.
  • I believe that there were three adult adoptees who called in. I appreciate their sharing their time and voices, as well as personal expertise. There were also agency service providers and at least one adoptive parent (me).
  • The U.S. federal agencies involved with intercountry adoption are understandably focused on adopted children and the legal process for their adoption and citizenship. That said, there is a large community of now adult international adoptees who need the assistance and resources of the federal government to become citizens after their parents failed to do so.
  • The Department of State and the United States Citizen and Immigration Services need to better coordinate their services with and for international adult adoptees. Adoptee groups should receive the same attention and outreach as adoption service providers and adoptive parents. That attention should be evident on their web pages. Their officers should be better educated about the Child Citizenship Act, the Adoptee Citizenship Act, and the genuine experiences of adult adoptees. There should be consistent information provided by State and CIS staff across the country about citizenship issues for adoptees.
  • While there is voluminous information available about how to adopt on the State Department website, the information for adult adoptees is sparse indeed. In fact, the page for adoptees has not been updated since November 2014. It references on-line resources, but there are no live links. I hope they update the page soon, so it is actually helpful for adopted adults.

Here is my unofficial summary of the phone call, with the caveat that there were a number of folks from State and from CIS on the call, and I wasn’t always sure who they were and who was speaking.

General Information Not Related to Citizenship

State has authorized a new accrediting entity, Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity. IAAME joins the only other organization approved for Hague accreditations, the Council on Accreditation (COA). IAAME emerged from the Partnership for Strong Families, a child welfare organization in Florida. State and IAAME are still working out the distribution of labor, and IAAME is not yet accrediting international adoption agencies.

Suzanne Lawrence is taking over for Susan Jacobs as the new Special Advisor for Children’s Issues at State. Ms. Lawrence spoke briefly about her career as a consular officer and how she looks forward to this new position.

Trish Maskew, who handles adoption issues at the State Department, then responded to previously submitted questions:

Croatia: Adoption service providers (ASPs) may soon be authorized to work in Croatia.

China: New regs have not yet been released by China’s Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption on the hosting program and on the one-on-on partnership between ASPs and orphanages.

Ethiopia: It remains unclear why Ethiopia closed adoptions in May 2017, and they continue to work on “cases in progress.” It is unclear what “cases in progress” means, and State is actively seeking more clarity.

Kazakhstan: The Kazakhstan government continues to request post-adoption reports from adoptive families before they will reauthorize agencies to work there. There are some 225 families who have yet to submit post-adoption reports.

Citizenship Questions From People Who Called In

The State Department staffers then took questions live from callers. One question was about a family which dissolved an adoption before finalizing and before getting citizenship for a child who arrived on an I-4 visa. State said that the child would be ineligible to apply for citizenship for two years (I guess that time frame means the child has to be placed with a new family for two years before he/she becomes eligible for citizenship.)

Another question was whether international adoptees needed both a passport and a Certificate of Citizenship (CoC) as proof of citizenship. The State Department said that no federal law requires a citizen to bear proof of citizenship. That said, a U.S. passport is proof of citizenship, as is the Certificate of Citizenship. Someone from State said that one was not better than the other.

That is technically true, I would agree, but in practice, many adoptive parents and adoptees have found that the Certificate of Citizenship (which is approved by the Department of Homeland Security) is increasingly requested to prove citizenship, whether at the Department of Motor Vehicles or to obtain insurance or for other circumstances. I wish the State Department had been more forceful about this, but given that they are the ones approving passports, they may not have strong feelings about the CoC. Anecdotally, we are seeing many adoptees needing the CoC as proof of citizenship. It never expires. It’s well worth getting.

The most powerful question came from an adult adoptee from Iran, who has worked with the Adoptee Rights Campaign (ARC). The State Department folks asked about ARC, saying they did not have their contact information. This shocked me, as ARC is a well-known group leading the charge on citizenship for all adoptees. The State Department folks said they’d be happy to hear more about ARC, and gave the adoption@state.gov email address.

The Iranian adoptee asked how to bring the lack of citizenship to people’s attention—how to create a sense of urgency. She shared that her adoptive father is dead; her adoptive mother is 80 and could die soon. The adoptee is worried about working, about keeping her job, about her finances, and about retirement. She noted that many people working in immigration are unfamiliar with the Child Citizenship Act, and said to the State officials, “We (adult adoptees lacking citizenship) need your department to step up.”

State responded that they held a Congressional briefing a week ago. (I’ve had trouble finding information about the hearing; if anyone has a link or attended the briefing, please let me know.) Maskew said that the Office of Children’s Issues is very proactive on the issue of citizenship for adoptees, and has heard that Congress is planning to reintroduce adoptee citizenship legislation.

Maskew emphasized that State has offered to help adult adoptees, and that they have heard from adoptees with a range of scenarios including children who came here as visitors, or for medical purposes, and then were adopted. State said they cannot respond to hypothetical situations. (I would guess that would be questions like What if I get arrested? Or What if someone tells ICE that I don’t have citizenship?) State said they are doing all they can, and again provided their email address: adoption@state.gov.

A staff person from Hope International agency in Texas asked about the processing times for Certificates of Citizenship. What is the average timeframe for DHS to issue them? Carrie Rankin of CIS told the caller to refer to the website where people can check their case status. Processing times vary by office, she said.

I am hearing that the issuance of CoCs is taking many months, sometimes well over a year. The CoCs currently cost $1,170. Information on how to apply is available here.

A caller asked which federal department tracked the number of intercountry adoptees who are not citizens. Neither the State Department nor CIS has these numbers. The caller asked if there is a list of adoptees deported since 1954. She was told that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) might have a list like that.

The best source that I am aware of for that information is Pound Pup Legacy, which has a wide range of data around international adoption, including deported adoptees.

Then it was my turn. I started by saying I was surprised that the State Department and CIS didn’t know about the Adoptee Rights Campaign, per the earlier conversation with the Iranian adoptee. I reiterated the sense of urgency for citizenship for all adoptees, especially in our current political climate where immigration status is so complex. I then said I was puzzled about why the citizenship issue for legally adopted people is such a controversial issue. Maskew responded that the controversy seems tied to the criminal activity that can result in anyone who is not a citizen–which can include adoptees–being deported. She noted that the numbers of adoptees in need of citizenship are numbers that the adoptee community has put forward–some 15,000 to 35,000 people. Some in Congress may conflate the number of adoptees needing citizenship with the numbers who have committed crimes. I’ve posted many times about the absurdity that international adoptees, whose immigration to the United States was agreed to and overseen by both the U.S. and the sending country, are not all automatically U.S. citizens. It is a shameful part of our government’s responsibility not to provide citizenship to all international adoptees.

I also asked about the comment that the Certificate of Citizenship and the passport being equal, and said that we are hearing increasing examples of adoptees needing their CoC, and not just the passport, as proof of citizenship, for insurance, for the Department of Motor Vehicles, for sport travel team purposes, and for other situations. State and CIS noted again that both are proof of citizenship, but the CoC never expires. I noted also that the CoC is issued by the Department of Homeland Security, and the passport by the State Department. The two databases are not shared, and increasingly the CoC seems to be requested as proof of citizenship. I have written about this issue multiple times as well; information is available here.

A caller from the Korean adoptee group also-known-as asked if there is a clear set of guidelines for adoptees to use in order to get citizenship, beyond sending an email to the State Department. CIS said there are resources available on-line, and suggested that folks should also consult an immigration attorney.

The caller then suggested a case management system for adult adoptees trying to get citizenship, which I think would be a great idea. My take: State and CIS provides resources to Adoption Service Providers and adoptive parents–why not equal resources for adoptees, who are Adoption Services Recipients?

I had the sense, listening to this caller, that he was asking specifically about adult adoptees, but that State and CIS were responding as if to an adoptive parent. State and CIS referred the caller to their website for Adoption News information for adopted children. They said there is a list of low-cost and no cost attorneys, and that there is a CIS office in almost every state. They provided a CIS phone number to call: 877-424-8374, which is the National Benefits Center.

They noted that most legal issues are handled by the Department of Homeland Security, and not so much by State. That is certainly true, as it is officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which falls under DHS, that are in the news for deportation raids and other actions.

An adopted person from Haiti called in, asking when adoptees stop being adoptees. She noted that she is in her late 30’s, and when she is dealing with immigration issues, it is as if she is coming to the U.S. for the first time, not as someone who was adopted as a child by U.S. citizens. Her experience has been that immigration officers often do not understand adoption, or the experiences of internationally adopted adults, and often are unable to help.

The caller also asked about post-adoption reports: Were they supposed to be from adoptive parents or from the adopted persons themselves? My take: I’m pretty certain the caller knew that post-adoption reports are to come from parents, but her point in suggesting that adoptees submit post-adoption reports is an excellent one. It would be great if both the U.S. government and the sending countries were genuinely open to receiving such reports, if not in fact making them mandatory.

Information on post-adoption reports to the State Department is available here.

I welcome comments and responses, especially from others who listened in or participated on the call.

Re-homing: Treating Adopted Children Like–No, Worse Than–Dogs

Source: Reuters article "The Child Exchange" Sept. 9, 2013

Source: Reuters article “The Child Exchange” Sept. 9, 2013

Have you heard of re-homing? It’s kind of nice-sounding, usually used for dogs and cats to find new homes.

Recently, though, “re-homing” has been used in the human adoption community, to describe moving an adopted child from one adoptive home to another. There may be good reasons for moving a child. But it should never be done lightly, never without exhausting all other resources (respite, therapy, counseling, etc.). Never via a Yahoo group.

That said, in too many places, post-adoption services (never mind high-quality post-adoption services) may not be available. While there are some parents who give up easily on children, there are many who struggle mightily, financially, physically, emotionally, for long periods of time, trying to find help for their children.

Surely though the transfer of a child shouldn’t  be arranged over the Internet, with no real legal, adoption agency, or government oversight, with children essentially being handed off to strangers in a parking lot. Right?

Read this Reuters/NBC News article: Americans Use The Internet to Abandon Children Adopted From Overseas.

If you ever wondered if the international adoption process needs more oversight–better screening and rigorous training prior to adoption, plus accessible, thorough post-adoption services, plus genuine legal protection for children–this article should convince you.

Send the article on to your state and federal elected officials, asking if they are okay with children being “exchanged” with no oversight, potentially to people who have been convicted of child pornography, to people who will tell a child to dig her own grave, to people who will disappear with the child, ending in who knows what fate.

Insist to our elected officials that (at a minimum) more legal oversight is needed for the safety of children.  Ask them to support increased funding for pre-adopt and post-adopt services.

If you have been moved by the horrific trial for homicide, manslaughter, and assault of the adoptive parents of Hana Alemu and her adopted Ethiopian brother, read the article, and send it on with your comments to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Information on contacting your federal elected officials is here for the House and here for the Senate.

You can also contact the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, and the National Council on Adoption, both of which work with adoption agencies and with federal and state governments.

Ask the US State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues what public and comprehensive action they will take to protect children, since that’s their job in overseeing international adoptions. Here’s a quote from their web page:  “In this work, we are fully committed to protecting the welfare and interests of children.” That must include an oversight and enforcement role after the children arrive here. 

State Department contact information is available here.

As an adoptive parent of two sons from the US and two daughters from Ethiopia, I am deeply saddened and outraged by the information in the Reuters article–but not surprised. These tragic stories have been happening for far too long, though they haven’t received the attention they deserve.

We don’t want bad things happening to dogs. Surely these tragedies should not ever happen to children.