Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Whose Standards?

An interesting article, Whose Standards?, about the difference between state accreditation of an adoption agency and Hague accreditation of an adoption agency, focusing on Celebrate Children International, a Florida-licensed agency denied Hague accreditation based on serious allegations of improper practices.  The Florida department licensed the agency despite receiving the same complaints that prevented Hague accreditation:
The difference between the state's evaluation of Celebrate Children and the Council's assessment reflects in part a challenging and confusing regulatory landscape.

As a practical matter, state licensing agencies can't send their investigators to countries such as Ethiopia and Guatemala to check out complaints about suspect adoption practices. In addition, Florida and other states are hamstrung by state laws written decades before Americans began adopting large numbers of children from abroad.

"International adoption was never on the legislatures' radar screens," says Joni Fixel, a Michigan attorney who has represented a number of prospective adoptive parents in lawsuits against adoption agencies. "They were really focused on what do we need to do to make sure our domestic adoptions are done absolutely correctly, and there's huge gaps because there's this no-man's land called international adoption," says Fixel.

The Council's refusal to accredit Celebrate Children also reflects the difference between the state's standards for compliance and the Hague standards, however.
 So how does this agency stay in the business of international adoption if they are not Hague-accredited?  By dealing with non-Hague countries like Ethiopia, of course:
Information in the agency's licensing file shows that Celebrate Children has turned to Ethiopia as adoptions from Guatemala slowed and eventually ground to a halt. Guatemala became the No. 1 source for children adopted overseas by Americans in 2008 but closed its borders to adoptions in 2009 after reports of widespread corruption, violence and fraud. (While Guatemala implemented the Hague Convention in 2008, the U.S. government doesn't consider it to be Hague compliant.)

In 2007, Celebrate Children reported gross receipts of $5.152 million to the Internal Revenue Service, with 84% of that revenue derived from adoptions in Guatemala, according to an audit. By 2008, Celebrate Children's gross receipts dropped to slightly more than $2 million. One year later, in 2009, the agency's board reported that Celebrate Children was "surviving off Ethiopia" and "Sue agreed to take a pay cut to stay open."

By 2010, Celebrate Children was on better financial footing. "The company is as financially sound and profitable as it was back in October of 2008," minutes from a March 14, 2010, board meeting state. "Ethiopia as a country program has been very profitable to date. Approximate cash balances are $625,000 in the country fee account ... and $115,000 in the office account." "Sue is back to full salary," the board reported.
(Kinda hard to argue that adoption isn't a business with board minutes like these, huh?)

One proposed solution to this problem of minimal licensing requirements is to make state licensing requirements the same as Hague accreditation requirements:

Nistri [spokesperson for the Florida Department of Children and Families, which licenses agencies] acknowledges that the Hague standards are more stringent than the state's. She says she'd welcome a change in state law to make Florida's standards conform with Hague. "We always would prefer to align with a larger federal organization like that, a federal accreditation like that. Their expertise in the development of the Hague has to do with knowledge and exposure to international practice, so we would love that."
My proposed solution, which would show a genuine commitment to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, would be for the U.S. to prohibit adoptions from countries that are not Hague signatories. Until we take that step, more and more international adoption will be from countries with questionable commitments to doing adoption right, through agencies who are only minimally regulated.


Von said...

Very strange to be dealing with organisations you have not visited!Still, the profit's the important thing!

Sandy said...

I have always wondered why the states would allow adoptions from non-hague countries. Seems like it is saying it is OK for some but not for others which allows for major power imbalances and opens the doors wide for corruption. The more I read the more concerned I get about Ethiopia...

Profit or funneling profits from non-profits to other sister companies or donations - especially donations to groups/organizations who actively lobby and fight adoptee rights legislation is wrong end of story. It makes us a product, plain and simple.

SassyCupcakes said...

It's interesting to see this discussed from a US perspective. In Australia you can only adopt from Hague countries. There's no guarantee of an ethical program, and some people would prefer to adopt from countries not on the list, but I'm not sure you can really complain about a limitation like this. I wonder how America changing over to Hague only countries would effect the non-Hague countries.

Anonymous said...

look, anyone is naive to think that adoption isn't a business. very few will bring to prespectives ap's countries with established corruption00 and just look how many adoption agencies drop ap's once they have returned home. we have adopted twice and never once received a follow up call.

we refused to adopt from guatemala or eithopia because reports of corruption had pretty much been well established. i think ethics starts with being informed and adjusting your expectations to reality.