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U.S. Proposals on Adoptions Abroad Get Mixed Reviews

Backers say rules would protect children and parents. Foes see higher costs, agencies folding.

November 14, 2003|Ann M. Simmons | Times Staff Writer

A proposal by the federal government to step up regulation of international adoption agencies has divided child advocacy and adoption groups, with some warning that the new rules would make adopting children overseas more costly and difficult.

Supporters of the regulations say they are needed to safeguard parents and children from unscrupulous operators.

The business of international adoptions now brings 20,000 foreign children a year to American families. But the system has often been marred by allegations of fraud, baby trafficking, coercion of birth mothers to relinquish their children and profiteering by some adoption agencies. Prospective adoptive families face a sometimes daunting task of choosing from hundreds of agencies and programs in a largely unregulated multibillion-dollar business.

Greater regulation is needed because "children and their families deserve to be protected," said Adam Pertman, executive director of the New York-based Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. "It's about time that we take children and families seriously, that we have a systematic framework in place to protect them."

The goal of the proposed regulations is to fix the process so "the interests of U.S. prospective adoptive parents are ensured," said Kelly Shannon, a spokeswoman for the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs. "We need to try and ensure that the child is not trafficked."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday November 18, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
International adoptions -- An article in Friday's Section A said that the public had until Nov. 14 to submit comments on proposed rules for international adoptions. The deadline has been extended to Dec. 15.

The State Department is the lead agency on the regulations, which are designed to implement an international treaty known as the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. So far, 48 nations have signed the treaty, which requires countries to create a central authority to supervise foreign adoptions, institute measures to guard against illegal baby selling and ensure that adoption agencies are accredited.

The regulations were proposed in September. The public can submit comments until today, after which the government will consider the regulations further before making them final.

Foreign adoptions by American parents are booming. The State Department processed more than 20,000 immigrant visas for orphans last year, up from 7,377 a decade earlier. Department officials were unable to provide the exact number of visas granted for orphans so far this year.

Adoption agents say adopting from overseas is increasingly popular because doing so at home is often more expensive and time-consuming. Moreover, domestic adoptions involve numerous restrictions, such as a 40-year age limit for prospective adoptive parents and requirements in some states that they be heterosexual and married.

Kevin Kreutner, 33, a marketing specialist from the Bay Area city of Pittsburg, and his wife, Sheila, are adopting a 6-month-old girl from Guatemala, currently in foster care there.

Among the reasons they chose the foreign route, he said, was their worry about the ability of American birth parents to reclaim a child within the first few months of an adoption. But the high costs of domestic adoption also were a factor.

"We just wanted a normal, healthy baby to start our family," said Kreutner, noting that, so far, he has been impressed by the efficiency of the adoption procedure in Guatemala, in contrast to the disorder often associated with that nation.

Adopting a foreign child typically costs $15,000 to $25,000, according to various representatives of international adoption agencies.

The price of acquiring a newborn American infant with the help of a private adoption agency sometimes hits $50,000.

Some agencies say the new rules would drive up the costs of international adoptions.

If the proposed rules become law, they say, many smaller agencies may be put out of business. And because a chunk of the additional costs would have to be shouldered by prospective adoptive parents, many might rethink their decisions to adopt foreign children, depriving scores of needy youngsters the opportunity of finding new families.

One concern about the draft regulations involves provisions that would make U.S. agencies responsible for the actions of people they hire abroad. The agencies would become responsible for clerical errors, medical misdiagnoses or inaccurate documentation by foreign contractors even if the errors were the contractors' fault.

That would be unfair, some agencies say, because they generally have little meaningful control over their foreign counterparts, who might be working in countries where medical training, health care, record keeping and legal services are often of poor quality.

"American agencies cannot reasonably be expected to visit every orphanage, attend every doctor's visit, file every paper for every child eligible for international adoption," the New Jersey-based agency Reaching Out Thru International Adoption said in comments submitted to the State Department.

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