Intercountry adoption is never easy in the best of times, but sometimes there are state regulations that make it even more difficult and time-consuming. Illinois has been one of those states that adds a level of bureaucracy to an already-difficult process. One of the biggest hurdles Illinois families have to face is the requirement that a home study, already written and approved by a state licensed social worker, must be approved once again by the Intercountry Adoption Coordinator in the Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
This step if frustrating for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is time-consuming. While the approval process is supposed to take no more than 21 days, many families have waited far longer than this as the Intercountry Adoption Coordinator asks for more documentation above and beyond what was in the home study. In a process that can already be frustratingly slow, it adds unnecessary time. Time that a child could have spent with his or her new family.
The second frustration of the process is that the approvals seem to come at the whim of the Intercountry Adoption Coordinator. By law, the holder of this position is not bound by a positive home study and can deny approval if he or she decides that an otherwise-approved prospective adoptive family should not be adopting. While the law states that the purpose of this position and subsequent approval is to ensure that all Illinois adoption regulations have been fulfilled, it often becomes more than that. In our own experience, we had our home study denied twice and were asked to provide additional information that was clearly outside the bounds of fulfilling Illinois regulations.
This approval process and the resultant stories of time wasted and frivolous extra requirements has been standard Illinois practice for years. In 2012, there was a bill introduced before the Illinois House that sought to eradicate the Intercountry Adoption Coordinator position and the subsequent need for the second review and approval of the home study. Though many adoptive parents wrote telling their stories of difficulties with the process, the bill never made it out of committee.
Three years later, Illinois families have reason to be hopeful. In March of this year, Rep. Keith Sommer introduced an adoption reform bill to the Illinois House. It seeks to accomplish two things. The first is to simplify the readoption process. Currently, in order to readopt a child whose adoption was finalized overseas, the child must have a Guardian ad Litem assigned to them and a social worker must submit a formal court report. This makes the readoption process costly. Many lawyers (and you need a lawyer) charge at least $1000 to facilitate a readoption. In contrast, many other states allow the parents to file the papers themselves, with the cost running closer to the $30 range. The second goal of this reform bill is to eradicate the position of Intercountry Adoption Coordinator and the need for home studies to be approved by the state. This would save families time and frustration in bringing a child into their family.
The bill was heard in a House committee on March 25. It was unanimously passed and sent onto the House, where at its vote on April 15, it was also unanimously passed. If you remember your School House Rock lesson on how bills become laws, you’ll know that the battle was only half finished, as it also had to go through the same process in the Senate.
Senator Don Harmon is the primary Senate sponsor of the bill, with two other sponsors also having signed on. It will be heard in the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, May 5 and voted on. Many families have contacted the senators on the Judiciary Committee and Sen. Harmon says, “The stories of negative experiences were very compelling.” If the bill is approved, it will then move on to the Senate for readings and a vote. When asked why he signed on as the lead sponsor, Sen. Harmon replied, “If we can make adoption in Illinois easier by making laws more commonsensical, it helps families across the state. The stories of bureaucracy coming out of the system are frightening. I want to help adoptive families to sleep a little easier at night.”
Illinois families are hopeful that HB 3079 will continue to make its way through the legislative process. The families and children of Illinois deserve better than the current law and the time it robs from families and their adoptive children.