New proposed regulations will make it harder for American families to adopt children outside of the U.S., according to a group of U.S. adoption agencies protesting the rules. The State Department released proposed amendments to its intercountry adoption regulations in September and is accepting comments until Nov. 7.
The last time the State Department issued broad intercountry adoption rules was when it adopted the Hague Convention agreement, a set of regulations developed in the Netherlands in 1993 that went into effect in the United States in 2008.
U.S. adoption agencies generally applauded those rules, formed after years of input. But the new rules have caused an outcry among accredited U.S. adoption agencies, who argue the regulations will place heavy burdens on adoption agencies to acquire additional accreditation for intercountry adoption, cap wages at an undisclosed “reasonable” amount for intercountry adoption workers, and require prospective intercountry adoptive parents to undergo additional State Department training.
“The proposed rules, which we believe are unnecessary and discriminatory against accredited adoption agencies and foreign child welfare officials, represent an attempt by representatives of the State Department to exercise subjective and anti-adoption influence and control over the field of intercountry adoption,” states a letter signed by 70 accredited U.S. adoption agencies.
The letter, addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry and the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs and posted to the website Save Adoptions, decries the “unprecedented overreach” of the State Department’s new rules.
Overseas adoptions in the U.S. have plummeted since their peak in 2004—down from 22,989 in 2004 to 5,647 in 2015, a 75 percent drop. Many criticize the State Department for playing a role in that decline.
“[State Department officials’] lack of leadership and their lack of proactivity has resulted in a decline in numbers and an inability really to open up new doors of opportunity for orphaned and abandoned children,” National Council for Adoption’s president Chuck Johnson told me.
The proposed regulations would not only ignore opportunities to reopen doors to currently closed countries, but would also overburden still-standing U.S. agencies and contribute to a further drop in intercountry adoptions, Johnson said.
The rules propose a “country-specific accreditation,” or CSA, a required additional designation for every designated foreign country on top of already-existing accreditation.
“The countries that will require a CSA are undefined. The measurements an agency will be weighed by to obtain a CSA are undefined,” Johnson said. “It’s ripe for favoritism and bias. It seems to favor larger agencies over smaller agencies.”
Agencies would also face “potentially unlimited and uninsurable liability” for overseeing workers in foreign countries, according to the Save Adoptions group. They argue that liability would drive the cost of providing an intercountry adoption out of reach.
The new rules would also increase training requirements for couples seeking to adopt. Johnson said agencies already provide training for intercountry adoption that surpasses what a strained and often bureaucratic State Department can provide: “I think [the new rule] is a little antiquated, because the pre-adoption education that many, many agencies are offering their families today is superior.”
The new rules draw on a 2008 paper titled “The Failure of Promise” by Trish Maskew, now the head of the State Department’s Adoption Division.
In her paper, Maskew criticized the Hague Convention for not going far enough with regulations and accused adoption agencies of corruption. The State Department rejected her recommendations in 2008 because “they were considered to be too burdensome or really impossible to regulate,” Johnson said. Those recommendations are now contained in last month’s proposal.
“We supported the Hague Convention. We supported every reasonable step the U.S. government has implemented to try to bring clarity and transparency to adoption,” Johnson said. “These are not positive reforms, and they need to be pulled. We need to go back to the drawing board. They need to work with the professional adoption community to really create meaningful reform, instead of, I think, whims and fancies of a few people.”
— by Samantha Gobba