The United States Court for the Western District of Washington recently issued a preliminary injunction that effectively suspended a directive from the Department of State to the Council on Accreditation, which had ordered the COA to stop processing the renewal applications of three international adoption agencies.
Faith International Adoptions, Adopt Abroad, and Amazing Grace Adoptions had all been paralyzed from providing adoption services because of the Department of State’s directive. The COA can now begin processing the renewal applications of the agencies based upon their merits.
Early in 2017 Faith International Adoptions a Tacoma, Washington, (an adoption agency) began its routine reaccreditation process. Faith served families interested in adopting children from countries like China, India, and Panama. They had begun the process early to make sure there was no lapse in the amount of time families had to wait to bring their children home. Faith began the paperwork 14 months prior to the date their accreditation was set to expire. The agency is required to renew every four years.
“The Council on Accreditation sent us three different reports,” reports Kelsey Melvin, assistant director of Faith International Adoptions. “It was nothing new. But the last report was sent to us only one week before our accreditation was set to expire. We were working around the clock to get it in before the expiration date.”
Yet, the review for their renewal was deferred until two weeks after the accreditation was set to expire, frustrating for the agency, since they had begun the process so far in advance. Families had to be notified and were given the opportunity to withdraw or transfer their adoption applications.
One day prior to the expiration date, March 31, 2018, Faith International Adoptions received a shocking call from COA at four o’clock in the afternoon. It was Easter weekend. The Department of State in Washington had instructed the COA that they could not defer accreditation, and that if Faith International Adoption, Adoption Abroad, and Amazing Grace Adoptions did not have their renewals granted by their expiration dates, they would be considered unaccredited.
This was in contradiction to past practice, when the COA was permitted to defer a decision.
The COA had recently stood up to the Department of State in Washington, who had begun implementing a series of new regulations that would make it more difficult for agencies to help families adopt. As a result, the State chose a new accreditation agency, IAMME, who was chosen as a new accreditation agency on the same date that they became incorporated as an organization. IAMME has fees tremendously and did conference calls among agencies that the State Department was dictating.
IAMME would not take Faith’s case and said that if their accreditation had expired, they would need to get permission from the COA, start a new application with IAMME, and begin the process all over again.
“We were in a grave situation,” recalls Melvin. “Reapplying would close the agency. We had been in process for over a year, had done our sight visits, paid our fees, and were 99% done. Starting over was absurd.”
On April 2, the State Department issued an official statement that Faith International Adoptions, Adopt Abroad, and Amazing Grace Adoptions were considered refused to renew.
Over 90 families were in-process with Faith International Adoptions when the State Department issued its directive. Other agencies had to be found for the families to transfer to, and this could not happen overnight. All adoption services needed to be halted.
In the hearing by the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, the DOS was considered to have “acted unlawfully,” and found to be dishonest about how it has interpreted regulations in the past.
According to Ryan Hanlon, Vice President of Education on the National Council for Adoption, “it was likely unlawful, and there is a strong indication that [the agencies] will win another hearing.”
The directive is an example of a nationwide trend toward a decline in international adoptions, with a 75% decrease in those adopted abroad since 2004.
According to Hanlon, there are a number of reasons for this. “Some are country-specific, and some have to do with the Department of State’s more aggressive posture toward adoption agencies. There have been a number of policies implemented, and one new set of federal regulations, effective on April 1, 2008.”