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"Anatomy of an Adoption Crisis," ForeignPolicy.com, September 12, 2010

"The Baby Business," Democracy Journal, Summer 2010

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Experts Respond to
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Diane B. Kunz and Ann N. Reese
Center for Adoption Policy

September 27, 2010

The normalizing of international adoption (IA) as a respected method of family formation is full of happy endings. Those of us who work in this field and who are also parents by international adoption view IA as one of a panoply of answers to the question of how to find permanent, loving homes for unparented children. We do not believe that there are sufficient permanent domestic options for all unparented children today. But we believe that adoption is only a valid option if it is ethical, honest, and transparent. E.J. Graff, in her study of the Vietnam adoption process during 2007 and 2008, has spotlighted problem issues which we at the Center for Adoption Policy have long been working to solve. Can they be solved? Absolutely.

Graff focuses on the inability of the Department of State and USCIS officials to cope with what they believed was growing evidence of corruption in the Vietnamese process for identifying children available for international adoption. She quotes Ambassador Michael Michalak informing Washington in January 2008 that “orphanages and hospitals throughout Vietnam all report that prior to 2005 there were very few abandonments at these facilities.” Michalak attributes the rise in abandonments as evidence of corrupt practices. Given the limited number of U.S. government documents Graff has available to her, as well as the lack of Vietnamese sources, we actually cannot judge whether the U.S. officials’ concentration on corruption was correct or misplaced. The rise in abandonments in Vietnam, a nation with one of the world’s highest abortion rates, could just as well be derived from a birth mother preference for adoption over abortion, particularly given the long-standing if attenuated Roman Catholic influence in Vietnam.

The rise in abandonments in Vietnam, a nation with one of the world’s highest abortion rates, could just as well be derived from a birth mother preference for adoption over abortion...

The tool that  U.S. officials used to cope with the bad practices they believed they saw was, as Graff, correctly points out, a blunt and painful one. Once U.S. potential adoptive parents filed their I-600 form to bring a child home, DOS and CIS used the mandatory I-604 investigation to go behind the documents presented. Their goal was to ensure that the Vietnamese evidence of abandonment and relinquishment in Vietnam met U.S. standards for the documentation necessary for orphan visas. As Graff states, the timing of this process could not be worse—these investigations came only after U.S. families had already been referred a child whom they had emotionally adopted after spending thousands of dollars in the process.

Because we recognize the inherent difficulties and blunt nature of using the I-600 and I-604 process, CAP has long proposed that every adoption service provider (ASP) be required to furnish its clients with every notice and alert issued by DOS or CIS within the previous two years, prior to the potential adoptive parents’ ( PAPs) signing the contract for an adoption program. ASPs should continue to furnish these notices and alerts to any family who is part of the program. Such a requirement would greatly decrease the number of families trapped in the pipeline process which Graff so ably describes: families that have referrals from an adoption program which is under investigation and threat of closure.

Most of the people who work in [international adoption] are genuinely and benevolently seeking families for unparented children. Unfortunately, a culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell” surrounds many programs. [Prospective adoptive parents] routinely receive little information about the status of their adoption and are often afraid to ask, lest they prejudice the [adoption agency] against them.

These notices and updates are the building blocks of a system of transparency which has often been honored more in the breach than in the observance. Most of the people who work in IA are genuinely and benevolently seeking families for unparented children. Unfortunately, a culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell” surrounds many programs. PAPs routinely receive little information about the status of their adoption and are often afraid to ask, lest they prejudice the ASP against them. That this lack of information may arise not from malfeasance but from a Pollyanna-esque view does not make the situation less painful for PAPs caught in the tragic situation of loving a child whom they may never bring home.

Ironically, accepting for the moment the premise of Graff’s article about the degree of corruption in Vietnamese adoption, the extent of this problem in IA may be largely solving itself. As an official stated in another document disclosed by Graff states: “adoption fraud in Vietnam is a problem almost entirely concentrated in cases of infant adoption.” (Memorandum from Brett Blackshaw to Melissa Brown, et. al, December 27, 2007.) What was once the norm in IA—adoption of children under a year—is now the exception. IA has been largely transformed in the last five years into a waiting children program: that is, children who have identified, often serious, medical conditions or who are older, or part of sibling groups. In an attempt to ensure that no infant is adopted under questionable circumstances, these children are being left in institutions, while attempts are made to place those who already bear the scars of early deprivation.

This transformation brings with it new concerns. Older children or children with identified medical issues have more difficult transition and attachment issues. Deferring international adoption of children who have no realistic likelihood of permanent domestic placements creates a new crop of children with special needs. Moreover, when these children are placed, their PAPs need specific and in-person pre-adoption education and plentiful post-adoption support. Currently, the standards set for Hague adoptions (see below) for PAP education call for ten hours of general adoption education, all by webinar if desired. We urge that all PAPs be required to have appropriate education.

We urge that all PAPs be required to have appropriate education. Just as important is the post-adoption support.

Just as important is the post-adoption support. Too many times ASPs believe that their job is done when the child comes to the United States. But of course the adoption is only the beginning of the new family. And that new family needs dedicated support for the many issues: education, psychological, physical and emotional, that will now be part of its everyday life. This support can be funded by PAPs as part of the cost of their adoption. It will be little to pay for a good start toward a happy family life.

We also believe that ASPs must be held to the highest standards. Right now only ASPs who work in adoption programs from countries which have ratified the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption must meet federal accreditation standards. We urge universal accreditation for all agencies involved in international adoption and are working with Congressional offices on legislation to this effect.

As for fraudulent actors, we have also been involved in efforts to use existing federal legislation to combat malfeasance by ASPs. We have furnished the Department of Justice and Congressional offices with memoranda detailing how both the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and RICO statutes might be used to prosecute U.S. ASPs who have betrayed their calling by formulating, or aiding and abetting malfeasance.

Moreover, we call on ASPs to hold themselves to the strictest moral and ethical standards. It is a privilege to work in the field of adoption. Anyone involved in working to create families for children must recognize the unique nature of their work and be prepared to operate accordingly. Then, not only will there will be happy endings for children and families now in the process, but infants will be more likely to be considered for timely permanent placements before the effects of institutionalization cloud their chances for normal development.

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~Diane B. Kunz is Executive Director of the Center for Adoption Policy. Ann N. Reese is Executive Director of the Center for Adoption Policy. The Center for Adoption Policy (CAP) is a New York based 501(c)3 organization. Its mission is to provide research, analysis, advice and education to practitioners and the public about current legislation and practices governing ethical domestic and international adoption in the United States, Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa. CAP is an independent entity. It is not affiliated with any agency or entity involved in the placement of children.

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NOTE: This page from the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism website offers documentation of and background about serious irregularities in international adoption. For the systemic analysis of corruption in international adoption, please read “The Lie We Love,” Foreign Policy magazine, Nov./Dec. 2008, and visit our webpages dedicated to international adoption. For ideas about fairer policy solutions, please read “The Baby Business,” Democracy Journal, Summer 2010.


© 2008-2011 Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, 02454. All rights reserved.

Last page update: February 22, 2011