The difference between the state's evaluation of Celebrate Children and the Council's assessment reflects in part a challenging and confusing regulatory landscape.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:
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.
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.)(Kinda hard to argue that adoption isn't a business with board minutes like these, huh?)
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.
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.