There have been various changes over the last 6-8 months in regard to international adoptions. Families in the process or considering international adoption may feel like it is a vulnerable time to pursue adopting abroad. Although there have been substantial changes to the process and regulations surrounding intercountry adoptions since I first started working in the field in 2004 with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, currently those working to help children find their forever families are seeing changes that are disconcerting.

Lowest Number of International Adoptions

Intercountry adoptions are at an all-time low since 1973. The United States Department of State released its FY 2017 Annual Report on Intercountry Adoptions on March 23, and it revealed that American families adopted 4,714 children internationally from October 2016 through September 2017. This is a 12% decline from 5,372 children adopted internationally to the U.S. the previous year and a 79% decline since the peak of intercountry adoptions in 2004 when I first entered the field.

The U.S. Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues (COI) Is Having Issues

The U.S. Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues, which is under Consular Affairs, is requiring new reporting requirements on adoption service providers (ASPs) which is causing an undue burden to ASPs. Regulations which have been in place for the last decade regarding the accreditation of U.S. ASPs have been fully reinterpreted under this Administration. This substantial change is the latest in a long series of international adoption policy changed instituted by the Office of Children’s Issues since the ratification and implementation of the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect to Intercountry Adoption which entered into force April 1, 2008.

Part of these changes includes an Adoption Notice posted on March 16 in respect to “soft referrals.”  The Office of Children’s Issues is no longer allowing ASPs to inform prospective adoptive parents (PAP) of a specific child before PAP complete a home study or before confirmation of a child being eligible for adoption. Often “soft referrals” deal with children who are the most difficult to be placed for adoption, those usually with significant special needs, sibling groups, or older children. These changes may eventually mean that ASPs may no longer be allowed to seek parents for children with special needs by publishing their photos, allowing parents to pursue to adoption of a particular child while they complete their home study.  China’s Special Focus program is one example of how this process works to recruit PAPs for children with significant needs. A recent article by Jamie Metzgar in The Federalist, “Bucking Trump Deregulation Agenda, State Department Chokes International Adoption,” the author states that “adoption advocates point out that the Hague Convention allows a child’s native country to set standards such as when to share photos, and whether to temporarily hold a child for a certain family while they complete their home study. Further, the Hague’s guidance on best practices recognizes the need to actively recruit parents for hard-to-place children.” As the former program director for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute and Executive Director of Joint Council on International Children’s Services (during the ratification and implementation of the Hague Convention), it is clear that this practice is analogous to the posting of hard-to-place foster youth in the United States through photo listings. Adoption professionals have pointed to this U.S. practice and question why the Office of Children’s Issues would only make the change for intercountry adoptions. Prospective adoptive parents and professionals are asking the following: what has changed at the Department of State? If the Trump Administration is for deregulation and has shown to care about intercountry adoption and children finding their forever families, why is the Department of State adding an undue burden to children finding their forever families?

As a former professional who worked closely with many in the Office of Children’s Issues to ensure that the world’s most vulnerable population of children found their forever families through safe, transparent, and ethical adoptions, I too have been following these substantial changes closely. The current climate at the Office of Children’s Issues is one of fear, mistrust, and division. I find this most upsetting. Metzgar gives one hypothesis to anti-intercountry adoption climate, stating that “in every interview I conducted, a single name emerged as the primary source of this adversarial relationship: Trish Maskew, chief of the Adoption Division in the Office of Children’s Issues.” Maskew is a controversial figure, even during my time at CCAI and JCICS. Maskew has written and spoken extensively on intercountry adoption, making an argument against intercountry adoptions clear in a 2009 paper. These biases at the highest levels of the U.S. Department of State cannot be ignored in the current climate.

A New Accrediting Entity

The Council on Accreditation (COA) announced in October 2017 that they would terminate their role as a national accrediting entity under the Hague Convention (which they performed since 2008) due to the burden of new reporting requirements on ASPs and the reinterpretation of regulations that have been in existence for the past decade. Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity, Inc. (IAAME) was designated as an Accrediting Entity (AE) in July 2017 and will take over AE responsibilities. This has included an increase of fees.

Ethiopia Closes Intercountry Adoptions

The Ethiopian Parliament passed legislation to ban intercountry adoptions as of January 9, 2018. As the National Council on Adoption stated in their January blog post, “Ethiopia’s reunification and kinship placement efforts are limited, and there are not enough Ethiopian adoptive homes available to meet the needs of thousands of unparented children. This ban will leave them to languish in long-term institutional care or life on the streets, and many with special needs face death.”

What Can Be Done?

Many in the adoption community, those with a heart for orphans, adoptive parents and child welfare professionals are asking what can be done? Petitioning our current government to ensure that every child recognizes their basic human right to a forever family is critical. Your voice is critical.