Hague Accreditation: What Does It Mean for the Practice of Outbound Intercountry Adoption?

Richard KlarbuergRichard Klarberg
President and CEO, Council on Accreditation

Summary: When it comes to ensuring the best interests and well-being of children, the importance of the Hague accreditation process is every bit as significant and life-changing for the small number of outgoing adoptions—children from the US being adopted overseas—as it is for the larger number of incoming cases.

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When we think about the impact of Hague accreditation on intercountry adoption, we tend to focus on incoming cases. When Title 22 Part 96 of the federal regulations implementing the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 were being drafted and redrafted, scant discussion focused on those sections relating to children emigrating from the US. The reason for this can be summed up in one word: volume. While there often were more than 20,000 incoming cases annually, the number of outgoing cases was not even tracked.

Recently, however, this has begun to change. The US Department of State reported that “Seventy-one outgoing adoptions, both Hague and non-Hague, have been reported to us since we began keeping track,” and that “concerning the processing of outgoing Hague Convention cases, we are following 35 open cases.” Although this represents less than 1% of the adoptions governed by the regulations, from the perspective of the Council on Accreditation (COA)—the sole national accrediting entity—the importance and impact of the accreditation process is every bit as significant and life-changing for the small number of outgoing cases as it is for the large number of incoming cases. In both instances, the purpose of Hague Accreditation is to fulfill the primary goal of the convention: protecting the best interests of children. In that regard, COA has sought to ensure that the review process is as rigorous for the adoption service providers (ASPs) that primarily focus on incoming cases as it is for those specializing in outgoing activity.

Certain sections of the regulations, however, are critical to an effective accreditation process for ASPs involved in outgoing cases. The first is Section 96.53(a). It requires that the ASP take all appropriate measures to ensure that a background study is performed that includes information about the child's identity, adoptability, background, social environment, family history, medical history (including that of the child's family) and any special needs of the child.

Validating the aggregation of the information required by 96.53(a) is also important in meeting the requirements of 96.54(f). That section provides that when particular prospective adoptive parents have been identified, the ASP takes all appropriate measures to determine whether the envisaged placement is in the best interests of the child on the basis of the child’s background study and the home study on the prospective adoptive parent(s).

Additionally, Section 96.54(g) provides that the ASP demonstrate to the accrediting entity that it has in place processes to prepare the child for the transition to his/her new country—including a cultural, religious, racial, ethnic or linguistic adjustment. Reviewing the procedures that the ASP takes to fulfill this section is significant in helping prepare the child to adapt to her new environment.

In addition to evaluating the foregoing pre-placement standards, the accrediting entity is also charged in Section 96.54(h) with ensuring that the ASP has a process and practice to identify whether the entity in the receiving country will provide post-placement supervision and reports.

While all of the above are straightforward and non-controversial, there is one issue that is the subject of some debate. Sections 96.54(a) and (b) and 97.2(b)(3) and 97.3(c) require the ASP to demonstrate that it makes reasonable efforts to recruit and make a diligent search for a prospective adoptive parent in the US before an outgoing adoption of a child can be approved. Exceptions to these sections can be made if the birth parent has identified the prospective adoptive parent(s) without the assistance of the ASP or its agents. Monitoring this exception by an accrediting entity is difficult. In addition, it can be argued that the exception is inherently inconsistent with the spirit and letter of the convention, which requires that due consideration has been given to the child’s adoption in its country of origin without exception. This is an issue that warrants further review in the future.

In summary, although Hague accreditation with respect to outgoing cases is a small part of the overall efforts of COA as an accrediting entity, the importance of the role that the process plays in protecting the rights, safety and well-being of American children is significant.

 

Editor’s Note: Richard Klarberg has been the president and CEO of the Council on Accreditation (COA) for the past eight years. He is an attorney by training and has more than 30 years’ management experience in the nonprofit field. COA is the sole national Hague-accrediting body designated by the Department of State.

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