Universal Accreditation Act
The Intercountry Adoption Universal Accreditation Act (UAA) of 2012 was signed into law by on January 14, 2013. The law becomes effective on July 14, 2014. The Act extends the safeguards provided by accreditation to orphans as defined under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) section 101(b)(1)(F), their adoptive parent, and birth parents. This is accomplished by ensuring that adoption service providers are all held to the same federal standards. Such accreditation ensures ongoing monitoring and oversight of adoption service providers to verify their compliance with federal accreditation standards. This holds accredited providers accountable for failure to be in substantial compliance with the standards.
Safeguards under the UAA are universal because the UAA applies Hague Adoption Convention-compatible standards to both Hague Convention and orphan cases. The IAA is intended to protect against illicit activities and practices of the past that threatened the best interests of children.
Key protections include:
- Children may not be obtained for adoption through sale, exploitation, abduction, and trafficking;
- Parents receive training in advance of the adoption to understand what to expect when raising an adopted child and prepare them for some of the challenges;
- The agency or person must ensure that intercountry adoptions take place in best interests of children;
- Fees must be transparent for services performed both in the United States and abroad and may not result in improper gain for the service provider;
- U.S. Department of State-appointed accrediting entities monitor and assess accredited agency compliance with federal standards;
- Accrediting entities ensure accountability when accredited agencies do not comply with the standards by taking appropriate adverse actions against them and may suspend or cancel their accreditation;
- Accrediting entities ensure that accredited agency personnel are qualified and appropriately trained and provide adoption services in an ethical manner;
- Accredited agencies must respond to complaints about their services and activities and may not retaliate against clients who complain.
Introducing Federal Standards to Intercountry Adoption Practices
Before the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 (IAA), adoption service providers in intercountry adoption were exclusively regulated by state law. State licensing authorities in the 50 states have different standards; some have few specific standards governing intercountry adoptions, especially relating to agencies’ conduct abroad. Many state licensing authorities have been unable to hold service providers accountable for illicit practices in intercountry adoption cases. State laws may not apply to the activities of licensed agencies outside the United States, and states often lack the resources to investigate and take action against agencies involved in such cases.
The UAA provides for uniform standards and accountability for service provider conduct regardless of whether the case falls under the Hague Adoption Convention or under the orphan process.
In this context, accreditation is the evaluation and certification process of recognizing that an adoption service provider’s practice substantially complies with federal standards of practice. It is a transparent process involving assessment of the agency’s or person’s compliance with the accreditation standards, a site visit by the accrediting entity, and other inputs. More information on the accreditation process is available on the COA website.
Who Must Be Accredited?
Starting July 14, 2014, any agency or person providing adoption services in intercountry adoption cases involving orphan children (as defined under INA 101(b)(1)(F) - scroll down to letter (F) in this link), and Convention adoptees (as defined under INA 101(b)(1)(G) - scroll down to letter (G) in this link) must be accredited or approved, or be a supervised or exempted provider. The only exception concerns cases covered by the transition rule. See the question on grandfathering, below.
The Definition of Adoption Services
- Agencies and persons not credited or approved, supervised, or exempted by the regulations, may not provide any of the named adoption services after the UAA effective date. The six adoption services are:
- Identifying a child for adoption and arranging an adoption;
- Securing the necessary consent to termination of parental rights and to adoption;
- Performing a background study on a child or a home study on a prospective adoptive parent(s), and reporting on such a study;
- Making non-judicial determinations of the best interests of a child and the appropriateness of an adoptive placement for the child;
- Monitoring a case after a child has been placed with prospective adoptive parent(s) until final adoption; or
- When necessary because of a disruption before final adoption, assuming custody and providing (including facilitating the provision of) child care or any other social service pending an alternative placement. 22 CFR 96.2
The regulations make clear that “an agency or person may not offer, provide, or facilitate the provision of any adoption service in the United States…unless it is:
- An accredited agency or an approved person;
- A supervised provider; or
- An exempted provider, if the exempted provider’s home study or child background study will be reviewed and approved by an accredited agency pursuant to 22 CFR 96.47(c).” 22 CFR 96.12(a).
Agencies or persons that continue to provide adoption services without accreditation, supervision, or exemption, are subject to the civil and criminal penalties in the IAA. Civil penalties include fines up to $100,000 and criminal penalties include fines up to $250,000 or imprisonment up to 5 years or both. IAA Section 404.