Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Conflict of International Adoption Reform: Why Are Agencies Trying to Stop It?

I am pro-adoption, and have four adopted kids of my own.
I am pro-international adoption, when it's done the right way.
I have lived 18 years in African countries, including 12 in Tanzania.
I have witnessed first-hand the corruption in international adoption.

Please keep these these things in mind as you read this.

If you are in international adoption circles, you probably have heard about the adoption reforms currently being proposed by the US Department of State.  Your agency might have circulated a petition on social media for you to sign, protesting the new regulations.  You might have read an article insisting that the new regulations will ruin international adoption.

So today, I hope you'll read this article, where I give my support for these new regulations.  

This is why.

1.  The new law would give the State Department the control to accredit agencies for specific countries.

Imagine you are a consular officer working in a United States embassy overseas.  You know that international adoption is illegal in your country, or that it is full of corruption.  Yet, when an application for a US visa for an adopted child comes across your desk, there is very little you can do besides grant the visa.  If some of the documentation looks fraudulent, as long as there is a genuine adoption order included, you really can't change anything.  And if you do try--let's say you launch an investigation that delays the visa--then the American family will promptly call their local US government representative--who will make your life hell.  Yes, this is how it works.

Many people don't realize that adoption agencies routinely work in countries where they are not licensed by that government or where adoption is blatantly illegal.  Or, in some countries, a government will license a few agencies, but then dozens more unlicensed agencies will work "under" each licensed agency.

Up until this point, it has been extremely rare for the US government to shut down adoptions in a particular country, even if corruption is rampant.  They just haven't had that power.  This new regulation would give them the authority to regulate which agencies (if any) work in a particular country.  This is needed and necessary.

2.  The new law would prevent agencies from paying orphanages for the care of children matched for adoption.

Imagine you are the manager of an orphanage in a third-world country where international adoption is booming.  Fundraising is difficult and time-consuming.  But every time a child in your orphanage is matched for adoption, you receive $300 a month until that child goes home (which can take up to a year).  Awesome!   What a great source of dependable funding....especially since most people in the country live on less than $2 a day!

This is a massive conflict of interest.  

When orphanages get paid for adoption, then why would they do to the more difficult work of reuniting children with their families?

When adoption becomes lucrative (especially in a poor country), then children become a commodity.  When children become a commodity, then orphanages go out and "search" for more children to fill their beds.

Sure, I get why adoptive parents are anxious for their referred children to have excellent care during the months they are waiting to bring them home.  But what they don't realize is that many times these "mandatory donations" (now that's an oxymoron!) are actually counter-productive.  Once greed and corruption sets in, that money is much less likely to actually go to their child's care.  Money should never be a motivator for orphanages to participate in adoption.  If they can't get their funding a different way, then they shouldn't be caring for children at all.

Countries approved by the Hague convention already ban this practice--and for good reason.  I wholeheartedly approve our government's decision to stop it across the board.

3. The new law would require more levels of accountability for agencies over the people that they work with (and pay) overseas.  This would also allow the US government to regulate what agencies are paying their overseas "partners."

What most people don't understand is that agencies must be accredited in the United States, which requires them to have certain standards for potential adoptive families, to have a certain level of financial transparency, etc.  But that accreditation only regulates the American side of adoption.  There are no regulations for what those agencies do in other countries.  They have absolutely no accountability for what they do--unless the other country regulates them.  But when these agencies come into a country with their massive money, the other country is pretty much going to let them do whatever they want.  And this is where corruption, abuse, child trafficking--etc--all run rampant.

This is why six US agencies (maybe more) are working to facilitate adoptions in Tanzania--despite the fact that international adoption is illegal here and that there is no way to license an agency in this country.

Honestly, I don't know if this particular law is the answer to the problems in international adoption.  There are other parts to the law--like requiring parents to attend foster care classes in their state--that might not be good solutions.  But this I do know:  The US government needs to be able to regulate the activity of US agencies overseas--because no one else is.  Whether or not this law is the answer to that problem, I'm not sure.  But this conversation needs to happen.  And the international adoption community needs to listen.

I can hear the protest:  What if this means less children get adopted?  

I hear that, and I feel it.  What it means is that we need different solutions.  We need to understand that international adoption is a solution for a very small percentage of the world's vulnerable children.  Maybe we need less adoption agencies and more "family reunification" agencies.  Maybe we need less orphanages and more community development programs.  Maybe instead of pushing foreign governments to allow Americans to adopt more of their children, we need to instead push them to promote domestic adoption.

Now that would be something worthwhile to fight for.

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