How to solve the U.S. issues with international adoption.
International adoptions by Americans have plummeted by 81% since 2004, from 22,989 in 2004 to 4,200 international adoptions budgeted in 2018 by IAAME, the international adoption accrediting entity. This is due greatly to crushing adoption regulations and the refusal of the Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) to collaborate with adoption service providers (ASPs). Instead of working as partners with ASPs, OCI has demonstrated contempt and hostility towards ASPs and is doubling down their efforts as they implement sweeping and crippling new reinterpretations of policies and practices that are projected to completely end international adoption in America by 2022.
Imagine if the U.S. highway administrator said that “preventing fatalities” was her only priority, so she prohibited 81% of the traffic on U.S. highways to achieve her goal, while completely disregarding the many essential benefits of highways, such as rapid emergency responder transportation, parents traveling to work to provide for their families, businesses transporting needed supplies and finished products, stores transporting food, and hospitals transporting medical supplies. People would die without emergency responders and needed medicines, parents would lose their jobs, businesses would be forced to shut down, and store shelves would be bare, but the highway administrator only cared about “preventing fatalities,” and she was implementing a new interpretation of highway regulations that were projected to completely abolish all highway usage within 4 years.
America would never stand for this myopic highway plan of action, and the highway administrator and her close leadership would be quickly removed from their positions and replaced with qualified and innovative leaders who understood the big picture benefits of U.S. highways, while a new system was quickly implemented to restore safe highway usage and prevent that unnecessary catastrophe from happening again. This example is similar to the U.S. international adoption crisis in which we find ourselves, and it is imperative that top U.S. leaders collaborate with ASPs to immediately take the same type of action, to solve the U.S international adoption crisis. Permanent families for children should be as important as highways.
Former United States Senator and former Co-Chair of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Mary Landrieu recently said: “Congress passed the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption believing that this action would pave the way for a more ethical, transparent and streamlined process for inter-country adoption… Sadly, several years later, it is clear that this decision was a tragic mistake. Instead of shoring up the process and providing support for sending countries, the State Department has twisted the intent of the treaty to close one country after another. The process has become far more cumbersome and far less transparent. American parents who want to help and lovingly raise a child are often made to feel like criminals. As a result, intercountry adoptions have fallen to an historic low, and they continue to decrease each year as the need of desperate, abandoned, and orphaned children increases. Major change is required now before it’s too late.”
Adoption Service Providers (ASPs) have lost confidence in Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) leadership. ASPs are the very organizations with which OCI should be working in tandem to help maximize the number of children that can be ethically adopted into loving, permanent families. Instead, it appears OCI is determined to ignore or contradict the vast majority of recommendations from ASPs, with the actual and/or projected end results being plummeting numbers of adoptions, ASPs closing, and the eradication of U.S. international adoption.
This document highlights some key issues that have caused this U.S. international adoption crisis, and proposes realistic solutions which can reverse the international adoption death spiral.
81% Drop in International Adoptions
According to UNICEF, 15.1 million orphans globally have lost both of their parents. However, international adoptions by U.S. adoptive parents decreased from 22,989 in 2004 to 5,370 in 2016. We believe international adoptions dropped to about 4,600 in 2017 (although the 2017 total has not yet been publicly released). The director of IAAME, the new Accrediting Entity, stated they are working under an assumption of only 4,200 intercountry adoptions in 2018. This is an 81% decline in international adoptions by Americans. If this trend line continues, international adoptions will completely end by 2022. The function of the Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) is to advance and promote legal and ethical intercountry adoption. Clearly, the OCI leadership has failed.
Huge Numbers of Children are Being Trafficked and Harmed in Other Ways
The Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) says they are implementing this re-interpretation of adoption regulations to protect children from child trafficking. However, OCI is completely ignoring the negative impact on the children who were not able to be adopted into loving, permanent families. A 2002 Russian case study followed approximately 15,000 Russian orphans who left institutional orphanages when they aged out of the system between 16 and 18 years old. The study found that two years after aging out of the orphanages, about 5,000 (33%) of the children were unemployed, about 6,000 (40%) were homeless, around 3,000 (20%) had committed crime, approximately 1,500 (10%) committed suicide, and roughly 50% of the girls had been forced into prostitution. (Source: “Christian Alliance for Orphans’ White Paper on Understanding Orphan Statistics”)
If the number of U.S. international adoptions had stayed constant at the 2004 level of 22,989, then 344,835 children would have been adopted between 2004 and 2018. Instead, using the statistics and estimates stated previously, the actual number of U.S. international adoptions during this period will be only 178,205. This means 166,630 children were not adopted who otherwise would have been adopted if the U.S. had retained the 2004 levels. Using the percentages from the Russian orphan case study cited previously, and assuming similar rates in other countries, we estimate that as a result of the epic failure of U.S. international adoption since 2004, up to 41,658 orphans will be forced into sex trafficking such as prostitution, up to 16,663 orphans will commit suicide, and up to 66,652 orphans will become homeless.
81 Million Americans Have Considered Adoption, but it is Too Complex and Too Expensive
81.5 million Americans have considered adoption (Source: Dave Thomas Foundation), but only a small percentage of these families actually adopted. Two of the key factors discovered were the cost of adoption and restrictions put in place for sending countries. U.S. international adoptions have become progressively more difficult, expensive, and in many cases impossible. Instead of acting as a worldwide leader to decrease the barriers to international adoption, Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) has generally done exactly the opposite by actively erecting new barriers to make international adoption more complex and expensive.
Hague Convention History
The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption (Hague Convention) was put in place to protect children and their families against the risks of illegal, irregular, premature or ill-prepared adoptions abroad. This Convention, which operates through a system of national Central Authorities, reinforces the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Art. 21) and seeks to ensure that intercountry adoptions are made in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights. It also seeks to prevent the abduction, the sale of, and/or the trafficking of children.
The Hague Convention took Congress many years to pass (possibly 12 or more), which is indicative of the concerns related to implementation that Congress had from the start. It was eventually ratified by Congress in 2006 and implemented in 2008. The Hague Convention says that each country must appoint a Central Authority (CA) for adoption. The U.S. CA was designated by Congress to be the Department of State (DOS). However, Congress said the DOS cannot be the Accrediting Entity (AE) of adoption agencies. So according to federal law, the DOS must contract with a separate AE. Historically, that AE has been the Council on Accreditation (COA).
Former United States Senator and former Co-Chair of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Mary Landrieu recently said: “Congress passed the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption believing that this action would pave the way for a more ethical, transparent and streamlined process for intercountry adoption. We were moved by the overwhelming number of abandoned children in the world and their obvious need for loving families. We pushed hard for passage, and the State Department was designated by Congress as the lead for implementing this important initiative. Sadly, several years later, it is clear that this decision was a tragic mistake. Instead of shoring up the process and providing support for sending countries, the State Department has twisted the intent of the treaty to close one country after another. The process has become far more cumbersome and far less transparent. American parents who want to help and lovingly raise a child are often made to feel like criminals. As a result, intercountry adoptions have fallen to a historic low, and they continue to decrease each year as the need of desperate, abandoned, and orphaned children increases. Major change is required now before it’s too late.”
Because the Council on Accreditation Refused to allow OCI to Bully them into Enforcing Re-Interpreted Regulations, OCI Helped Create a New, and Arguably Unqualified, Accrediting Entity
Trish Maskew, the State Department’s Chief of the Adoption Division within the OCI, gave COA a mandate to take actions against agencies which they deemed inappropriate (beyond the scope of their legal authority, or the Hague Convention’s authority), COA refused, then made the decision to step out of its role as an Accrediting Entity (AE). Christianity Today reported, “Last fall, America’s only active accreditor of international adoption agencies quit. The Council on Accreditation (COA) protested that the US State Department was requiring “significant changes” that would likely reduce the already record-low number of intercountry adoptions, put small adoption providers out of business, and prohibit prospective parents from pursuing such adoptions.” (Source: //www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/january-february/let-little-children-come-less-us-international-adoption.html)
In October 2017, COA sent out a statement that OCI was requiring “COA to make significant changes in the nature and scope of our work in ways which will fundamentally change our responsibilities and role as an accrediting entity and which are inconsistent with COA’s philosophy and mission.” In October, 2017, OCI posted a notice that COA was withdrawing from its role as an AE. Although COA expressed willingness to continue in its role until December 2018, OCI mandated that all monitoring and oversight activities transition to the newly formed Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity, Inc. (IAAME) on April 1, 2018.
Therefore, many believe that Trish Maskew created her own puppet accrediting entity (AE), called IAAME in clear violation of the law. Senator Roger Wicker said in a letter, “Our office has become increasingly concerned with the direction the State Department has taken regarding intercountry adoption. As you are aware, the Office of Children’s Issues recently designated the Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity, Inc. (IAAME) as the sole accrediting entity for intercountry adoptions. This was done despite objections from the adoption community that the designation did not meet certain requirements…” (Source: //saveadoptions.org/0266774336_sites/www.saveadoptions.org/files/wicker_letter_iaame_1.pdf)
IAAME is not qualified as a matter of law, experience or preparation:
22 CFR 96.4 – 96.6 states that the Accrediting Entity (AE) must be experienced. IAAME did not legally exist until OCI designated it as an accrediting entity. IAAME is a brand new entity and neither the leadership nor the entity have any experience with international adoption or accreditation.
22 CFR 96.8(c) states that “At the time of application, the accrediting entity must specify the fees to be charged to the applicant in a contract between the parties….” IAAME has no contract for agencies, although agencies have already been mandated by OCI to collect from hopeful adoptive parents and pay IAAME.
The Hague Convention requires that the Accrediting Entity (AE) not be an adoption agency, but several IAAME leaders work together for the same adoption agency, Partnership for Strong Families (“PSF”). It is believed that IAAME is a subsidiary of PSF, a “COA accredited child placement agency,” in the words of IAAME and PSF’s CEO. This is a clear conflict of interest and against regulations.
The Hague Convention requires that the AE be separate from the DOS/OCI, but OCI is clearly propping up and influencing IAAME. As an example, rather than having IAAME comply with the regulations and provide an agreement to the agencies who they will begin overseeing April 1st before payments were required to be made, Ms. Maskew asserted that the State Department has the power to require payments to IAAME without a contract, under the threat that the agency will lose its accreditation.
Huge Fee Increase Will Put Adoption Agencies Out of Business and Further Reduce Adoptions
The Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) has ordered Adoption Service Providers ( ASPs) to pay Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity, Inc. (IAAME) massive new fees. These fee increases are estimated to be up to 1,000% or more. COA’s annual total for management and operating (M & O) fees was $147,000, but the conservative estimate for IAAME’s annual total is approximately $2,500,000 or $2,353,000 in additional fees and/or expenses to be borne by adoption agencies and/or adoptive families.
Chuck Johnson, the President of the National Council for Adoption, said the following, “We’ve seen examples of 100 percent increases to over 3,000 percent increases to agencies based on size. One example that I’m looking at now shows they’ve been paying $18,000 over four years but their new fees will be $500,000 over the same period.”
As a result of these new fees, 20% of the remaining international adoption agencies are planning to stop offering international adoptions, or to merge with another adoption agency. Another 24% of agencies are not sure whether they will be able to continue to provide international adoptions. If immediate action is not taken, the U.S. could lose 44% of its international adoption agencies and all of the good that those agencies could have done.
How this hurts kids: It would be wrong to assume that if fewer agencies are in business, the same number of adoptions will simply shift to the other remaining agencies. The fact is, each agency has its own unique sphere of influence, reach, and ability to inspire families to adopt these children who are waiting for a family. Fewer agencies means less social reach, which means fewer people inspired to adopt, and fewer children adopted.
Senator Roger Wicker said in a letter, “On February 1, 2018 the State Department issued IAAME’s approved fee schedule. Since that announcement, many adoption service providers across the country have expressed their deep concerns with the updated fees. In some instances, service providers have claimed an increase of over 1000 percent … These dramatic increases are troubling, and, sadly, some providers have stated they will be forced to close their doors due to these increased fees. At a time when intercountry adoption is decreasing, these added fees are unacceptable.”
These exorbitant new adoption fees and the other regulations will almost certainly result in even more international adoption agencies closing and further reduction in the number of adoptive parents who are able to afford international adoption. Rural areas of America, often served by the home study-only agencies, will be hit the hardest, resulting in higher travel expenses for the surviving agencies (who will have to travel further to reach clients) that will be passed along to the adoptive family.
How this hurts kids: When OCI has been asked about the home study agencies forfeiting accreditation altogether, the response has been flippant… as if any agency can do an international adoption home study. However, since the implementation of the Hague Convention, most accredited agencies have demanded that all home studies only be done by accredited agencies. This is to secure the best education and preparation for adoptive parents. The notion that any agency can do a home study, and it doesn’t matter if the home study agency is Hague accredited, is unfair to children. It would represent a major downgrade in the level of preparation families receive, and a rollback of policy that is almost universally accepted by agencies.
The Office of Children’s Issues’ Actions Are Greatly Driven By Disproven Belief of Widespread Corruption by ASPs
The Office of Children’s Issues’ (OCI), Adoption Division Chief, Trish Maskew, testified before Congress in 2009 (before she became Adoption Division Chief) that “Adoption is one of the most unregulated industries in America today.” She believes that most agencies are corrupt. In fact, she testified, “I entered the world of adoption believing what I had always heard, that most agencies operated ethically and that there were a few bad apples. I no longer believe that is true.” So, the U.S. has an Adoption Division Chief who believes most agencies are corrupt, and the field is unregulated. As a result of this inaccurate and biased view of Adoption Service Providers (ASPs), the U.S. has seen a massive increase in strangling regulation, decrease in the number of agencies, and saddest of all, a decrease in the number of children who are able to find forever families through international adoptions. (source: //saveadoptions.org/0266774336_sites/www.saveadoptions.org/files/SA-TESTIMONY-OF-TRISH-MASKEW.pdf)
Trish Maskew’s inaccurate perception of ASPs has become the defacto U.S. international adoption policy, yet it has been clearly disproven. The Council on Accreditation (COA) contract was established to identify and stop corruption in adoption. Please note that 83% of accredited agencies have not had one substantiated complaint or adverse action against them. Of those agencies that have experienced an adverse action, the majority of the violations dealt with lax administrative procedures that did not affect the welfare of children or services to families. Not one instance of “abduction, the sale of, or the trafficking in children” has been proven. Trish Maskew’s perception of ASPs is unsubstantiated, inaccurate, and is simply not reality. Interestingly, as a strategic ploy, Trish Maskew has never once gone on record that we are aware of to correct or dispel media reports, public or congressional belief that child trafficking is in fact not taking place among US agencies when reported in the news, thereby allowing the myth to stand as fact and to further the agenda of a need for greater regulation at the expense of children’s lives.
The Office of Children’s Issues is Implementing New Policies through Re-Interpretation of the Original Regulations Which Adoption Service Providers Do Not Believe Are in the Best Interest of Children
In 2015, the Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) held a symposium, which approximately 100 agencies attended. During the symposium, OCI made promises for sweeping changes and collaboration. Agencies left hopeful that a new day was dawning in which they could collaboratively work with OCI to offer input on how to strengthen existing regulations and to improve practices.
Instead of honoring this commitment, OCI stunningly issued new, proposed, controversial regulations which included detrimental or impractical requirements of agencies in September 2016 with essentially no notice, collaboration, or communication with the adoption community, contrary to IAA, Title II, Section 203(a)(2). ASPs vehemently opposed the new regulations, along with strong public opposition from the National Council for Adoption, families, and the Council on Accreditation, which was the sole accrediting entity at that time.
In response to the proposed rules, the US Small Business Administration – Office of Advocacy found that the “certification of the rule was improper under the Regulatory Flexibility Act” because “the State Department did not consider and include all potential costs in the RFA section of the rule.”
Thankfully, with one of his first acts after assuming office, President Trump signed Executive Order 13771, which requires that “for every new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination, and that the cost of planned regulations be prudently managed and controlled through a budgeting process.” With this executive order in place OCI has not been able to obtain approval for their new regulations.
Although the regulations were ultimately withdrawn, OCI has continued to expand definitions and to arbitrarily and capriciously “re-interpret” current regulations to effectively implement rules that were withdrawn.
In December 2017 President Trump said, “I am challenging my cabinet to find and remove every single outdated, unlawful and excessive regulation currently on the books.” In response to President Trump’s request, we point at the “re-interpreted” regulations that OCI is using to cripple adoption organizations, as a prime example of the regulations he is referring to.
The adoption community does not trust the Office of Children’s Issues because OCI has misled, devalued, and worked against adoption community members. Instead of collaborating with the adoption agencies they should be serving, OCI continues to make closed-door decisions, ignores the concerns expressed by adoption experts, and barrels forward with their adoption-crushing agenda, without regard to the children they are charged to protect.
Ban on “Soft” Adoptions Will Severely Impact Adoption of Children with Special Needs
Commonly, international adoptive families find their child through an online adoption photolisting, and then a “soft referral” is made through application and communication between the agency representing the child and the child’s country of origin’s government to indicate that a potentially suitable family has been found for this specific child. If the child’s country agrees, the child’s file is pulled from the Waiting Child Advocacy Photolistings to allow the prospective family to complete required education, a home study, and to obtain the required USCIS approval in a timely manner, as determined by the child’s country of origin. On February 13, 2018, OCI issued an obscure statement with a mandate that “soft referrals” are not acceptable and could subject an agency to adverse action.
This new policy put U.S. adoption agencies in direct violation of standard waiting child protocols and/or wishes of countries such as China, Bulgaria, and Colombia. The ability to find families for children, specifically children with special needs, will be severely impacted, if not banned, by this new interpretation and overreaching of the regulations.
This is a hugely important point. For example, imagine a real estate site where photos, videos, and detailed descriptions of homes were prohibited. How successful would that site be at helping people fall in love with a home? Similarly, if adoptive families cannot easily see pictures and read bios of children waiting for adoption in adoption photolistings, it will be much more difficult, and often not possible, for hopeful adoptive parents to connect with a child. Adoption photolistings are a powerful tool for advocacy as well. It’s one thing to be told “there are 15 million orphans in the world”, but it means so much more to look into their faces, hear a little of their stories and learn about their particular needs.
The Family National Association in Bulgaria wrote on March 1, 2018, “On behalf of the Bulgarian accredited organizations facilitating the adoption procedures of persons with habitual place of residence in the USA, we would like to express our concern and dismay regarding the position of the Office of Children’s Issues that the process of ‘soft referral’ is not acceptable practice under the regulations and may lead to adverse action. With this petition we would like to defend the special measures program for the adoption of waiting children from the Republic of Bulgaria and to present you with our arguments in defense of the statement that advocacy and ‘soft referral’ performed through the cooperation between Bulgarian and US accredited organizations is a legitimate and transparent process that is in the children’s best interest … It is with the utmost hope that we ask you to consider the above information when discussing the way in which to interpret the practice of ‘soft referral.’ Otherwise, should the position that ‘soft referral’ is an unacceptable practice stand, not only will the US prospective adoptive parents’ rights be damaged, but the best interest and substantive right of every child to live in a family environment will be severely harmed, while ‘soft referral’ remains the waiting children’s only possible chance to be adopted and placed under the care of their forever families.”
The Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) is trying to force their misguided policies upon sovereign nations throughout the entire world, even though foreign countries and adoption service providers feel strongly that the OCI policies are not in the best interest of children, and are causing a substantial reduction in the number of international adoptions.
OCI says that international adoptions are down due greatly to issues with foreign countries, but OCI is playing a huge role in causing and/or not being a good faith actor in trying to solve the international adoption issues in those foreign countries. OCI needs to stop fighting against the adoption community in the US and in foreign countries and needs to become a collaborative partner to help more children find forever families through international adoption. Foreign central authorities have reported to adoption service providers that they have felt insulted when there is no understanding for the lack of adoption acceptance within the culture, demonstrated by being encouraged to create domestic adoption and foster programs where the public will surely accept the children for incentivized reasons, but not in the best interest of a child to love and nurture as an adoptive parent would.
The Office of Children’s Issues Doesn’t Really Care About Adoptive Families in Smaller Towns
On Sept 29, 2017, ASP leaders raised a concern to Trish Maskew that the OCI regulations continue to place unreasonable duties on agencies that never intended to be a “Primary Provider” (having their own overseas programs). Many of these home study-only agencies are in less-populated areas of the country and visit the homes of the potential adoptive parents to complete a home study, which those adoptive parents send to the larger adoption agencies in bigger cities to do the adoption. The new OCI regulations place additional administrative, legal, and financial burdens on these home study-only agencies that do small numbers of adoption home studies, so that many of these home study-only agencies will have to stop performing international adoption home studies. When this issue was raised to Trish Maskew, she did not seem to care, and was fine with these home study-only agencies stopping their international adoption services, saying that the bigger domestic adoption agencies can take over these international home studies.
This absurd idea under these regulations contradicts the very foundation of education requirements and training necessary for both social work staff and adopted families. The end result would be the undermining of the entire support system for families. This will add a substantial expense to Americans who live in less populated areas and will have to pay agencies from bigger cities to travel to their rural area to perform the home studies. Once again, the rural areas will be hardest hit as this will add a substantial expense to Americans who live in less populated areas by requiring them to pay agencies from bigger cities to travel to their rural area to perform their home studies. This is unacceptable, not best practice, and definitely not in the best interest of children and families. Trish Maskew is either void of understanding or her true intention is to end international adoption once and forever.
New and Unreasonable Foreign Supervised Provider Responsibility
In a conference call with adoption providers and NCFA, Trish Maskew presented new and confusing definitions of “facilitating.” She wants Foreign Supervised Provider (FSP) agreements to be signed by anyone who provides services to the adoptive parents. This could include taxi drivers, hotel desk clerks, translators, couriers, hosts, nannies, attorneys, orphanages, etc. Trish Maskew demanded that adoption agencies secure FSP agreements with entities that cannot and will not sign them; COA was then left to enforce an adverse action if the agencies did not provide them.
Because the word “supervised” is added to an agreement, this places the legal liability upon the agency for the actions of the person on the other side of the world. An ASP explained to OCI that there was no such coverage available for foreign employees or contractors and that should a suit be brought against an agency under the FSP relationship terms, the insurance coverage would not extend any legal defense. The ASP was asked by Trish Maskew and another Department of State contract worker to not mention this to anyone on the NCFA list serve to allow them time to investigate further. In the following stakeholder meeting which addressed the outstanding Foreign Supervised Provider Agreement questions, Trish Maskew announced that OCI would be moving forward with the foreign supervised provider requirement since only one agency expressed concern. This shocking event occurred despite evidence from multiple insurance carriers attesting that there is NO such coverage available. To place agencies under this requirement intentionally and maliciously sets agencies up for financial ruin with a single claim.
Our proposed solutions to the problems outlined above include the following actions:
1. Meet with President Trump: Adoption Service Provider leaders would like a chance to sit down with President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo and explain the U.S. international adoption crisis, along with our proposed solutions to fix U.S. international adoption policy.
2. Hire a Pro-Adoption Adoption Division Chief: Trish Maskew and all other anti-adoption staff should be immediately removed from the Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) in the Department of State (DOS). An innovative new Adoption Division Chief who is a strong pro-adoption advocate and who has 10+ years experience managing an adoption agency or adoption law practice should be hired, and should be allowed to build a new pro-adoption, innovative team. This new hire should bring COA back to the table as the Accrediting Entity (AE) and work closely and collaboratively with the US Adoption Commission. The success of the new Adoption Division Chief will be measured in great part by his/her effectiveness in implementing the U.S. International Adoption Policy. The Adoption Division Chief will work closely with the DOS to open foreign countries to international adoption, and foster stronger relationships with foreign country international adoption programs. The Adoption Division Chief shall serve for a term of 3 years. Towards the end of the 3-year terms, the Adoption Commission shall provide a recommendation to the DOS about whether the Adoption Division Chief should be retained or replaced.
3. President Sets U.S. International Adoption Policy: The international adoption policy in the U.S. needs to be clearly given from the President so that it cannot be set by an anti-adoption government employee with an agenda adverse to adoptive families and orphans. This new policy will be the benchmark by which government international adoption employees and policies are measured. Here is a proposed draft of the new U.S. International Adoption Policy:
Proposed U.S. International Adoption Policy: The United States of America strongly supports ethical and expeditious international adoption which is in the best interest of children. This is done by creating and implementing streamlined and effective international adoption policies and intercountry relationships to maximize the number of ethical international adoptions. Long-term institutionalization of children is not in a child’s best interest, and an institutionalized child should be reunited with his or her birth family or placed for adoption as quickly as is reasonably possible, whichever is in the child’s best interests. If an in-country adoption is not available for a child within a reasonable period of time, the child should be made available for international adoption as quickly as is reasonably possible. The U.S. will use all reasonable efforts possible to complete at least 25,000 international adoptions per year by 2022, and at least 50,000 international adoptions per year by 2026, and then to grow those levels if possible. Adoption helps prevent child trafficking. It is estimated that by 2030 U.S. international adoption will save 81,250 orphans from sex trafficking, will save 32,500 orphans from suicide, and will save 130,000 orphans from becoming homeless. The U.S. government will work in a collaborative, positive, and innovative manner with adoption service providers in the U.S. and foreign governments and agencies to help facilitate this critically important policy.
4. Remove IAAME and Retain COA: IAMME needs to be immediately removed as an Accrediting Entity (AE) along with their massive fee increase. Retain the Council on Accreditation (COA) again as the AE for international adoption. COA’s concerns regarding the role of the AE should be explored and considered, as COA is the undisputed leader in this regard. The guidelines for COA going forward will be clearly set so that they cannot be changed and manipulated by an Adoption Division Chief, OCI, or anyone else.
5. Adoption Commission: Establish a volunteer-based US Adoption Commission (USAC) comprised of adoption agency, adoption attorney and adoption digital media leaders. Licensed U.S. adoption agencies and attorneys will be able to nominate members of the USAC. The USAC will submit nominations when a new Adoption Division Chief needs to be hired, and will collaborate with OCI in creating adoption policies to achieve the U.S. International Adoption Policy and the policies for other types of adoption in the U.S. In other words, let’s let the people who know the most about adoption help develop the adoption procedures and regulations. USAC would not have the authority to make decisions, but could make recommendations as a trusted partner in this process.
6. Benchmarks & Accountability: Assistant Secretary Carl Risch shall be given thirty (30) days to implement a strategy to replace the leadership of the Office of Children’s Issues and to lay the groundwork for the formation of the Adoption Commission. If OCI and the new Adoption Division Chief have not made adequate, measurable progress in collaborating with ASPs to implement these solutions and increase ethical international adoptions in accordance with the new international adoption policy within 12 months, then the United States Central Authority (CA) under the Hague Convention shall be transferred from the State Department to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Adoption Division Chief shall be replaced. OCI should have accountability through regular public hearings. Changes to international adoption policy and procedures should be explored with ASPs in advance, should be open to public feedback, and should have a sufficient amount of time after they are announced before they are implemented.
7. DOS and OCI will Help Restart International Adoption in Various Countries: Instead of treating international adoption adversarially, the DOS and OCI should help diplomatically restart adoptions from countries that are currently not open to international adoption, such as: Guatemala, Cambodia, Nepal, Ethiopia, etc. Further DOS should assist in improving the relationships and adoption processes with countries that are open, and DOS and OCI should work against the efforts of organizations advocating anti-adoption policies.
8. OCI Must Collaborate: OCI must be willing to collaborate with ASPs to restore trust in support of ethical, transparent adoption services that focus on the best interests of children. This must be done before decisions are made, rather than after the fact. ASPs want to improve and welcome the opportunity to share best standards of practice, as well as possible solutions to challenges overseas; however, the current punitive environment, the unwillingness of the OCI to dialogue, OCI’s unwillingness to negotiate, and the general lack of trust makes this cooperation impossible.
9. No Country-Specific Authorization or Foster Adoption Training: OCI shall abandon the new concepts of country-specific authorization and foster adoption required training for families wanting to adopt internationally, which were set forth in the September 2016 proposed regulations.
10. No Responsibility for Foreign Supervised Providers: Abandon the requirement to insure and be liable for Foreign Supervised Providers.
11. Repeal Ban on “Soft” Adoption Matches: Allow adoption agencies to do “soft” matches with potential adoptive parents pending the completion of their adoption home study and adoption application approval, and continue to allow adoption photolistings when allowed by the child’s country of origin.
12. Right to Due Process: All adoption agencies shall have the right to speedy due process, to know allegations against them and have a chance to defend themselves (including an appeal) before they are disbarred or suspended. Adoption agencies shall be treated as innocent until proven guilty through the designated process. Independent arbitrators (not OCI) acceptable to both parties shall handle all hearings and independently make any decisions about adoption agency discipline without pressure from OCI.
13. Amend Human Rights Reporting to Include Child Institutionalization: To amend the foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to require the annual human rights reports to include information on the institutionalization of children and the subjection of children to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, unnecessary detention, and denial of the right to life, liberty, and the security of persons, and for other purposes. The bill on this topic proposed by Congressman Marino is a good example of how this could be implemented.
14. OCI Will Not Advocate Against U.S. Adoption Agencies and the Best Interests of Children in Foreign Countries: Neither OCI, nor any other U.S. government representatives, should ask foreign country representatives to curtail the agencies they approve, to raise the age of children referred for adoption, to restrict adoption to special needs children, or any other practice that advocates against U.S. adoption agencies, the best interest of children, or the U.S. International Adoption Policy. As the Central Authority representative for Intercountry Adoptions, OCI should advocate for the United States and adoption and not for UNICEF or Foster Care Programs.
15. Treat Rural Families and Home Study-Only Agencies Fairly: OCI will recognize that home study-only agencies are an essential element of the adoption ecosystem, especially in rural America, and establish fair and reasonable policies and fees for these organizations. A regulation requiring home-study only agencies to not accept a case transfer could be instituted to avoid default as a primary provider and lessen the burden of capacity.
On behalf of thousands of adoptive families, children, and adoption agencies, we thank you for your advocacy and efforts to help solve the U.S. international adoption crisis. The current leadership within the Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) has not fulfilled its responsibilities for U.S. international adoption as was intended by Congress. It is clearly NOT in the best interest of children for OCI to continue to reduce U.S. international adoption. Adoption prevents child trafficking and there are thousands of families in the United States who would love to provide homes for these children. Adoption service providers share OCI’s desire that adoptions be performed ethically and in accordance with the law and would like to work closely with OCI to help accomplish this objective. The trouble comes when “rooting out corruption” becomes the only priority and overly zealous administrators completely squeeze out the efforts of ethical adoption agencies and adoptive parents who are trying to help orphans find forever families.
The increased regulatory burden on international adoption is certainly driving up costs, driving adoption agencies out of business, and leading more families away from adoption as a means of family building. However, together this crisis can be averted, this downward trend can be reversed, international adoption can be saved, and we can radically increase the number of waiting children who are able to find loving, permanent families and be protected from sex trafficking.
How Can We Help Save International Adoptions?
Please visit https://adoption.com/save-adoptions to learn more about how you can help solve the U.S. international adoption crisis and change the world for orphans, by taking these easy steps today:
1. Sign Petition: Please sign our White House petition. The White House promises it will respond if the petition achieves 100,000 signatures in 30 days. https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/save-adoptions-reverse-80-decline-intercountry-adoptions-and-solve-us-international-adoption-crisis
2. Share: If you have a Facebook page, Instagram account, Pinterest account, Twitter account, email newsletter or any other way to help spread the word, please share the a link to the White House petition and to https://adoption.com/save-adoptions where they can learn more, and encourage your friends and followers to help save adoptions by signing our White House petition.
3. Contact Politicians: Please visit https://www.contactingcongress.org/ and contact your U.S. Congressman and Senators and ask them to please help save adoptions and solve the U.S. international adoption crisis. Please invite them to visit https://adoption.com/save-adoptions to learn more. Please also invite them to contact President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and ask them to implement the 15 solutions in this document to save adoptions.
4. Contact Media: Please contact your local newspapers and television stations and encourage them to create stories about the U.S. international adoption crisis, how we can save adoptions, and encouraging people to sign the White House petition.
5. Donate: Please consider making a donation (every little bit helps) to the non-profit organization Save Adoptions so we can spread the word to even more people and help save adoptions.
About the Authors:
Nathan Gwilliam is Founder & CEO of Elevati, which operates 30+ adoption-related sites, such as Adoption.com (the world’s most-used adoption site), Adoption.org, and AdoptionGifts.com. Nathan received the Congressional Angel in Adoption award and was inducted into the Adoption Hall of Family by Families Supporting Adoption.
Ron Stoddart has 34 years experience as an adoption attorney, including 18 years as the Executive Director of a Hague-accredited agency. Ron is the President of Save Adoptions, and past President of the Academy of California Adoption Lawyers. Most importantly, he is an Adoptive Father.
Robin Sizemore is Executive Director of Hopscotch Adoptions. She has 23 years experience in intercountry adoption for which she received the Congressional Angel in Adoption award. Robin serves on the Board of Save Adoptions, and as Co-President for NC Coalition of Licensed Private Adoption Agencies. Robin served as a volunteer Team Leader for the Council on Accreditation. Robin is the proud mother of three children, two through the blessing of adoption.
Tom Velie is an LMSW with 35 years work with out-of-home youth and adoption. Tom is the President of New Beginnings International Children’s & Family Services. Tom is a member of the National Council for Adoption Hall of Fame. He served as Adjunct in Social Work at University of Mississippi and University of Southern Mississippi. He is a recipient of the Congressional Angel in Adoption award.