New Intercountry Adoption Standards Implemented in United States
By Derek Repp
A broad range of new procedures to ensure that foreign children being adopted into the United States receive the highest level of protection is being implemented by the U.S. departments of State and Homeland Security.
The new procedures follow the April 1 entry into force for the United States of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. More than 70 countries now are party to the convention.
The convention "will serve to provide greater protections for children and the families hoping to adopt them," Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, who serves as a co-chair for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, said in mid-April.
Former State Department Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Maura Harty said about the extensive U.S. effort to implement the convention, "We now have, for the first time, a set of national standards for adoption agencies."
Although Harty acknowledged that it took a long time to develop and implement the procedures, she said it was worth the wait. "We have moved carefully but unceasingly, because we recognize how critical it is that we get all of the pieces right: regulations, an accreditation system, and oversight mechanisms, all of which are critical to our success," she said.
The United States signed the convention in 1994 and domestic implementing legislation, the Intercountry Adoption Act (IAA), was completed in 2000. The IAA designates the U.S. Department of State as the central authority in the United States under the convention, with responsibility for, among other things, promulgating most of the federal regulations that implement the IAA.
The department designated two accrediting entities (AEs) to accredit adoption service providers that offer adoption services in adoptions covered by the convention. The two AEs are the Council on Accreditation and the Colorado Department of Human Services. From now on, adoptions between the United States and other Hague Convention countries normally will involve a primary adoption service provider that is accredited by one of these two AEs.
As part of the accreditation process, adoption service providers provide documentation on their ethical practices, professional qualifications and employee training and mechanisms for responding to complaints, among other things.
Congress also mandated that the State Department submit yearly reports on intercountry adoption that include vital statistics on various aspects of the adoption process.
As part of its oversight responsibilities, and to support the AEs in fulfilling their oversight responsibilities, the State Department established procedures for processing complaints against accredited or approved adoption service providers, and also created a complaint registry for receiving and tracking complaints about compliance with the convention, the IAA or the regulations implementing the IAA.
If an AE fails or refuses to take appropriate action against an adoption agency that has been found not to be in substantial compliance with relevant standards, the State Department can suspend or cancel the accreditation or approval of the adoption service provider.
Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a nonprofit adoption advocacy group, said the convention will act as an important framework for adoptions. "We regulate and monitor much less important things ... so imposing a framework for something so sensitive should help to bring about better practices and more humane treatment," he said.
President of the Joint Council for International Children's Services (JCICS) Tom DeFilipo, agreed. "The accreditation process of the convention helps agencies become more professionalized and give better service, which helps the parents and children alike," he said.
According to DeFilipo, even in some of the non-convention countries where JCICS works, governments are requesting that U.S. adoption agencies be accredited.
The convention, the IAA and the regulations implementing the IAA apply only to adoptions between countries that are parties to the convention. Although this includes popular sources for adoption like China and India, many other countries from which Americans adopt, like Ethiopia, South Korea and Vietnam, have not yet joined the convention. Countries like Russia that have signed but not joined the convention are not bound by it and have assumed no obligation under it.
Harty said the premise of the convention is that "transparency and ethical practice should apply to all children involved in intercountry adoption, regardless of their country of origin or country of reception. The convention can and should be in force around the world."
See also "U.S. Adopters of Foreign Orphans Undergo Tough Scrutiny ( http://www.america.gov/st/diversity-english/2008/April/20080422105136tdpper0.2417719.html?CP.rss=true )."
For more information see the Intercountry Adoption ( http://travel.state.gov/family/adoption/adoption_485.html ) section of a Department of State Web site.
Source: U.S. Department of State
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