The United States, the world leader in international adoptions, will join more than 70 nations committed to standardizing policies, procedures and safeguards to reduce corruption in the largely unregulated adoption marketplace.
When the United States ratifies the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption tomorrow in the Netherlands, it will establish federal oversight of adoption policies and policies overseas.
The multilateral treaty is designed to protect children, birth parents and adoptive parents from shady practices, including hidden fees and child abduction.
Each nation names a central authority — here, the State Department — to establish ethical practices, require accreditation for the agencies handling the adoptions, maintain a registry to track complaints and create a system for decertifying agencies that do not meet the standards.
In addition, once the treaty is fully put in place in April, parents seeking a visa for an overseas adoption must demonstrate to the State Department that a child has been properly cleared for adoption, that a local placement had been considered, and that the birth parents were counseled on their decision and have signed consent forms. Prospective adoptive parents also must show they are properly trained for what could be a rocky transition.
“Americans adopt more foreign-born children than all other countries in the world combined,” said Maura Harty, the assistant secretary of state for consular affairs. “As a Hague Convention country we can — we must — require reform and transparency in some countries or adoptions to the U.S. will stop.”
A sharp departure from current practice, the provisions of the treaty could slow the process and frustrate prospective parents. But many more may be spared the broken promises and broken hearts of the current system, which includes no federal oversight of agencies working overseas. The system also has no sanctions against agencies that lure families with photos of unavailable children and encourage them to bribe foreign bureaucrats to expedite an adoption.
“Who can anticipate?” said Regina Robb, the Guatemala program director for World Links, an agency in Scranton, Pa., that has applied for accreditation. “At the end of the day, having a system in place will help, but it will largely depend on how ready a country is to assume the rules of the Hague.”
Ms. Robb predicted the worst problems for adoptions from Guatemala, which has ratified the treaty but has not developed legislation to enact it. The United States has threatened to suspend adoptions from there because of accusations of corruption. Agencies working in countries that have ratified the treaty must be accredited, a process under way in the United States.
More than 300 applications have already been filed and others will be accepted until Feb. 15, 2008, when approvals and rejections will be announced. Among the criteria are the size and qualifications of the staff, the agency’s financial resources and its policies, which must include a transparent fee structure and mandatory training for parents about the physical and emotional condition of orphans.
With a federal registry of approved agencies, families will have access to information that is currently unavailable. In the last seven years, Americans adopted almost 120,000 children from overseas, according to the State Department, which recently released preliminary data for 2007 showing a decline for the third year in a row.
Adoptions dropped from a peak in 2004, with 22,884, to 19,292 in 2007. Experts attribute the decline to more stringent eligibility in China, the most popular place for intercountry adoptions by Americans, and to on-and-off suspension of the international adoption program in Russia.
China sent 5,453 children to American families in 2007, down from 7,906 in 2005. Russia’s total dropped to 2,207, from 3,706 in 2006. Adoptions increased from Guatemala (to 4,728 from 4,135 in 2006), Ethiopia ( to 1,255 from 732) and Vietnam (up to 626 from 163). China has ratified the treaty; neither Ethiopia nor Vietnam has signed it; and Russia has signed but not ratified it.
The United States will continue to process adoptions from countries not party to the convention. But prospective parents will know if an American agency is not accredited, a potential red flag.
SOURCE: New York Times