On a recent trip to Washington DC, I read a book someone had given to me titled: Until We All Come Home. It is one woman’s harrowing tale of her international adoption experience. Ironically, I was traveling to meet with Kathleen Strotman, the president of the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute, regarding a bill to support safeguards against dangers related to international adoption.
Every child deserves a safe, loving home, and for approximately 10,000 children annually from countries outside the United States, adoption provides that opportunity. Unfortunately, international adoption can become a nightmare for the child and the adoptive parents, particularly when all measures of preparation are not taken. Senate Bill Number 3331 sponsored by two Republican and two Democrat senators would go a long way toward protecting all parties in the international adoption process.
Commonly referred to as “intercountry universal accreditation,” this bill would require any adoption agency in the United States that facilitates international adoptions to become accredited by the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and operate within their standards. Currently, these standards only apply when U.S. adoption agencies facilitate adoptions with other nations who have signed the Hague agreement. An agency working to adopt from non-Hague countries such as Russia or Ethiopia would not need to be accredited, opening the door to unethical adoption practices. This bill would require every agency in the United States to be accredited if they provide international adoption services for an orphan under the age of sixteen.
Why is this change in the law so important? One of the primary reasons is that the accreditation standards aim to prevent the abduction or trafficking of children. This bill will require all adoption agencies to adhere to reasonable standards that will protect children. Hague accreditation also protects adoptive families by requiring agencies to provide an adoption services contract that spells out agency policies, fees, history, and relationships it has with adoptive families. The contract must itemize adoption services being offered and the cost for those services. Non-Hague countries are not required to do this, often resulting in adoptive families running into conflicts over fees or being misled about the child’s past.
Hague-accredited agencies must also:
• Receive from the country of origin certification that the child is actually eligible for adoption.
• Provide medical records of the adoptive child.
• Provide a minimum of 10 hours of parental education to adoptive parents.
None of these are required in non-accredited countries.
I believe Senate Bill 3331 is a major step in the right direction to protect adoptive children from other countries. It will help to ensure safe, ethical adoptions as well as sustain international adoption as an excellent option for providing permanent, loving homes for vulnerable children.