Center for Adoption Policy
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Speaking for Children

Legislative Input:

CAP research and expert advice provided vital information resulting in the passage of the Help Haiti Act of 2010.

CAP was also involved in the work which led to the introduction in the 113th Congress of the Children in Families First Act.

CAP is currently involved in the efforts to pass The Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2015, introduced on November 10, 2015 as S. 2275.

Discussion Memorandum, dated November 25, 2013,
Enhanced Protection for Internationally Adopted Children

We believe that enhancing requirements for potential adoptive parents through the mechanism of USCIS I-600A and I-800A prerequisites provides an uncomplicated and efficacious way to increase protection for internationally adopted children as well as improves the educational processes for potential adoptive parents (PAPs). It would seem that these changes could be accomplished administratively rather than through legislation.

These are the changes and/or additions we suggest.

  1. Require PAPs to furnish USCIS with copies of all post-placement reports that were or are required by either U.S. state or federal entities or the national or provincial authorities of countries of origin or third countries which have or had jurisdiction over earlier adoptions or foster care placements that were required for children who have previously joined the PAP family, through adoption, foster care, guardianship or any other placement proceeding or arrangement.

  2. Require PAPs to answer the questions: "have you ever discussed a home study for this or any previous adoption or foster care placement with a social worker that was not begun or completed? If yes, please explain" and "were you ever advised not to begin a homestudy for this or a previous adoption or foster care placement?" This is an expansion of No. 131.

  3. Require physical examinations of all PAP children under the age of 18 or over the age of 18 and living fulltime in the home of the PAP family as well as adults. As No. 5 explains, physical examinations of adults are already required. Requiring physical examinations of children ensures that doctors who are mandated child abuse reporters will have examined children already in the PAP's family. These assessments should, as with adults, include an assessment of the children's emotional and mental well-being.

  4. Require PAPs to disclose the arrest record of any juveniles living in the home.

  5. Require PAPs to disclose any previous adoption, guardianship (formal or informal) or foster care disruption or dissolution.

  6. Require PAPs who wish to be approved for a special needs child placement to compose a detailed treatment plan for each medical need listed. This treatment plan should include but not be limited to
    1. identity and location of doctors and hospitals which are qualified to treat this condition;
    2. explain childcare arrangements for existing children while parents are attending to the new child's medical needs; and
    3. demonstrate an understanding of the nature of governmental and non-governmental support services available to APs with children presenting these issues and a knowledge of the process needed to obtain such services.

  7. Require PAPs who wish to be approved to adopt two or more unrelated children to demonstrate an understanding of the differing needs of two unrelated children of similar or different ages and experience and the time management requirements of such an adoption plan.

  8. Require at least 24 hours (a current requirement for various state foster care programs) in person pre-placement education prior to any international adoption or guardianship through the I-600 or I-800 process. Include home visit by PAPs to families who are parenting past the age of the child to be adopted. Also include meetings with families who have adopted or fostered children with any medical condition for which the PAPs have are seeking approval to parent or, in the case of a PAP family which is seeking to adopt two or more unrelated children, a family which has so adopted.

We welcome any questions or discussion of this memorandum. Please contact Diane Kunz at


Rvsd. 11-25-13

1 References in this section are to USCIS Form M-738, "Hague Adoption Home Study Tip Sheet."

Testimony of Dr. Diane B. Kunz, Esq. before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, March 14, 2013.

Madame Chair and Members of this Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify. I am appearing here today on behalf of the Center for Adoption Policy.

We are here to ask this Committee to make changes to the Department of State's FY 2014 budget to ensure that it correctly makes use of its resources dedicated to international children's issues. We believe that the Department is not currently doing so, and is, in fact working counter to U.S. policy.

In December 2012, the U.S. Government launched the first fully coordinated international Action Plan on Children in Adversity. One major goal of the Plan is to provide all children with protective family care, whether through family preservation, reunification, or adoption (either domestic or international). The Plan, based on cutting edge scientific understanding of the damage to children who live in institutions or without parents, explicitly focuses on the importance of ensuring timely, permanent family care for all children.

We at the Center for Adoption Policy applaud the strong focus in the Action Plan on family permanency, which represents the best thinking of the U.S. Government writ large. However, if we examine the record of the Department of State over the last decade with respect to children's issues and particularly international adoptions, we can see that the resources allocated to these issues in the Department of State have not been used in support of finding permanent solutions for children, as envisioned by the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 and now by the Action Plan. We are here to urge a re-focusing of the Department of State's mission and a reallocation of its FY 2014 resources to ensure that it implements U.S. policy toward children. Let me explain.

Currently within the Department of State, the Office of Children's Issues, with responsibility for international child welfare and adoptions, is buried deep within the Bureau of Consular Affairs, which in turn is a component of the Department's Management Secretariat - the part of the Department that oversees budgets, motor pool, foreign buildings, personnel, payroll, etc. Consular Affairs focuses mainly on visa issues and American citizen services overseas, and historically has served as the exclusionary gatekeeper whose success is measured not by things like how many children find permanent families but rather by how many visas are denied.

Since 2004, international adoptions to the United States have declined by over 60%, from 23,000 to 8,600 in 2012. Ironically, during the same period, the staff of the Office of Children's Issues has grown from 4 to over 100.

These results speak for themselves. Even though the number of families in the U.S. seeking to adopt internationally has not declined, fewer and fewer children are finding permanent homes through international adoption. The Department of State has focused relentlessly on finding fraud in other countries' adoption procedures. While problems of fraud and malfeasance enter into any immigration program, the response is never, except in the case of international adoption, a decision to completely shut down the program. Indeed the Department of State has in recent years dedicated its efforts to stifling or closing adoption programs in country after country. Consider this: every country that has joined the Hague Adoption Convention since the U.S. became a full partner in 2008 has been found by the Department of State not to be in compliance with the Convention, thus stopping all adoptions from that country. This "gotcha" approach has done nothing to improve programs or build capacity in partner countries.

At the same time, representatives of the Department of State, starting with Ambassador Susan Jacobs, special advisor on international children's issues, profess themselves completely unconcerned with the dramatic decline in international adoptions. They state publicly, over and over, that there is no "right" number of adoptions, even as the number continues to approach zero and the number of children living without family care increases every day. These children face irreparable damage, sickness and even death on a daily basis. The Department of State, in its Office of Children's Issues, shows a blatant disregard for the urgency of the orphan problem. We see one result of this policy in the plight of Russian orphans now.

We call on Congress to guide the Department of State in reallocating currently available resources for FY 2014 to ensure that the work of the Department, both policy and operational, supports the principles, goals, and implementation of the Action Plan on Children in Adversity and the Intercountry Adoption Act. We further suggest that the Bureau of Consular Affair, Office of Children's Issues, based on the results of the last decade that I have described, is not the appropriate venue within the Department to be charged with the responsibility for this critical human rights mission - to ensure that unparented children have the essential protection and nurturing of a permanent family.

Thank you so much. I welcome your questions.

Pathbreaking Research on Institutionalized Children

Dr. Charles Nelson of Harvard University has published this recent article on the Bucharest Early Intervention Project. If anyone needed definitive empirical proof on the mind crushing effects of institutionalization on children, this is it. Click here to download the article.

Tragic Development Concerning U.S.-Russian Bilateral Adoption Agreement

Russia announces intention to withdraw from Russian-U.S. Bilateral Agreement on Intercountry Adoption. The Russian government announced that effective January 1, 2013 it was exercising its option to give one year notice of termination under the Agreement, effective January 1, 2014.

Russian-U.S. Bilateral International Adoption Agreement.

On October 16, 2012 USCIS and the Department of State announced that the Bilateral Agreement between the United States and Russia on international adoption would go into effect on November 1, 2012. The text of the Agreement and related FAQs may be found by clicking here.

USCIS Deferred Action Helps Adoptees Without Citizenship.

The Obama administration's decision to grant deferred action on immigration, applications which were available on August 12, 2012, gives protection from the threat of deportation and the opportunity to work for certain categories of children and youth. The Deferred Action Plan (or "DACA") will, under certain circumstances, provide help for adoptees who never received citizenship. To download a detailed fact sheet, click here. 10-1-12

Help Haiti Act

CAP was central to the successful fight to create legislation which would ensure that Haitian children in the process of being adopted by U.S. potential adoptive parents and who came to the United States after the Haitian Earthquake in January 2010 had a path to U.S. citizenship. The Help Haiti Act of 2010 was signed by President Obama in December 2010. The USCIS implementing regulations may be found by clicking here.

CAP Announces Revised TB Technical Instructions: September 18, 2009

The Center for Adoption Policy announces that a campaign by CAP and other stakeholders has led the CDC to change its Technical Instructions for TB Testing. Click here to download and read the CDC Statement.

Response to
Donaldson Institute Call for Amendment of the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) to Reinstate use of Race as a Placement Factor

CCAI Briefing
Dirksen Senate Office Building

by Elizabeth Bartholet
Professor of Law and Faculty Director, Child Advocacy Program, Harvard Law School

I am here speaking on my own behalf, but I am also authorized to speak on behalf of the National Council on Adoption, the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, the Center on Adoption Policy, and Harvard Law School's Child Advocacy Program, for which I serve as Faculty Director. We all join in urging you to resist any attempt to amend the Multiethnic Placement Act, an Act that took a hugely important step forward to protect black children from delay and denial of adoptive placement, an Act which the Department of Health and Human Services has only recently begun to vigorously enforce, an Act which has begun to make an important difference for children.

I have devoted a good deal of my professional life for more than two decades to studying issues of transracial adoption. I wrote what is generally considered the leading law review article, in which I dealt extensively with the social science related to transracial adoption, and also with the evidence as to the impact on black children of pre-MEPA race-matching policies, policies which resulted in holding children in foster care for months, years, and often their entire childhood, rather than placing them in other-race homes.1 I have written many articles and book chapters since, bringing that research up to date.2

It is that research, and that evidence, which I have followed over the years to date, that led me to the position that we needed MEPA in exactly the form we have it today, in order to protect black children from the devastating damage that delay in adoptive placement causes.

As a result I worked closely with Senator Metzenbaum and those in Congress supporting him in the struggle to get MEPA passed in its current form. I'm very familiar with the goals of the MEPA legislation, both the 1994 version, which is the legal regime that the Donaldson Institute wants us to return to, and the reasons that Sen Metzenbaum and others felt it essential in 1996 to amend MEPA to give us the law that we have today.

I have also testified at the Congressional hearing held to investigate problems with MEPA enforcement in the early years. And this past fall I testified at the hearing held by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission on the very same topic raised by the Donaldson Inst. Report - whether there is any need to amend MEPA. Notably the CRC has not called to date for any legislation amending MEPA, and I think, based on the tone of that hearing, it is exceedingly unlikely it will. I urge you if interested in the CRC's views to consult with the Chair at that hearing, Abigail Thernstrom.

The Donaldson Institute Report at issue in today's briefing (5/27/08) calls for a change in MEPA so that it would again allow what MEPA was designed to prohibit -- the use of race to delay or deny adoptive placement. Congress should ignore this Report, and I assume it will have the sense to do so. The requested amendment to MEPA would return us to a regime in which social workers try to "match" foster children waiting for homes with same-race parents, delaying and denying adoptive placement as occurred pre-MEPA.

By authorizing state officials to use race to decide important issues regarding family formation, this amendment would fly in the face of our nation's body of civil rights law, and almost surely be found unconstitutional by the courts. Federal and state civil rights laws uniformly forbid any use of race as a factor in official decision-making. MEPA in its current form is consistent with that great body of law. MEPA regulations make clear that race can only be used in truly exceptional cases and consistent with what is known in constitutional law as the "strict scrutiny" standard. This is exactly what is called for to satisfy the U.S. Constitution, which forbids the use of race by official decision-makers except in an extraordinarily small category of cases.

A great deal of work and thought went into the development of MEPA, and into the regulations and guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services interpreting and applying MEPA. Similar work and thought has gone into implementing MEPA throughout the land, with the first major enforcement decisions issued in 2003 and 2005.3 We now finally have civil rights law governing foster care and adoption that is consistent with the rest of the nation's civil rights law and with the federal constitution. The burden of proof is on anyone who at this stage, when we are finally beginning to reap the rewards of this process, wants to roll the law back. The Donaldson Report has done nothing to meet that burden.

The Donaldson Report consists of little more than a series of false and misleading claims. First is that the Report is a "research-based" publication, and that the Institute is "the pre-eminent research" organization in the field. The Donaldson Institute is well-known in the adoption area as an advocacy organization committed to the idea that birth and racial heritage are of central importance, and this Report is an advocacy document, endorsed by organizations with well-known hostility to MEPA. There is nothing wrong with advocacy. But nobody should be deceived that this Report contains a fair-minded, unbiased assessment of the facts or the social science research.

A second Donaldson claim is that MEPA is not working to enable increased numbers of black children to find adoptive homes, as it was supposed to. The fact is that transracial adoptions have increased post-MEPA, although not yet as much as we might hope. But it takes time for laws to have an impact, and it is only recently that the federal government began serious implementation efforts, issuing its first enforcement decision in 2003, with that decision not upheld on administrative appeal until 2006.4 In any event, there is certainly no reason to think that recreating a barrier to transracial adoption as the Donaldson Report calls for will do anything other than make it harder to find homes for waiting children. The fact is that more than half the kids in foster care are kids of color, and the overwhelming majority of the population of prospective parents is not color-matched for these kids. Recreating race as a reason to disqualify prospective parents, and deter them from even applying, is not the way to find more homes for the waiting children.

A third claim is that MEPA harms black children by preventing social workers from adequately preparing transracial adoptive parents to raise black children. However MEPA allows such preparation as any fair reading of the law and the HHS Guidelines makes clear. Many many agencies throughout the land are currently engaged in educating and socializing prospective parents regarding racial issues pursuant to this law and these Guidelines. Nothing in the current law requires that social workers operate on a race-blind or color-blind basis in helping prospective parents understand the challenges involved in transracial parenting, or in preparing prospective parents to meet those challenges, or in enabling prospective parents to decide if they are capable of appropriately parenting other-race children. Nobody that I know in the large group of those who support the current MEPA regime do this because they believe in an entirely "race-blind" system or because they don't think race matters. Of course race matters, and of course social workers should be free to talk about racial issues as they educate and prepare prospective parents.

What MEPA forbids is segregating the transracial from other prospective adopters, and subjecting transracial prospective parents to a pass-fail racial attitude test, a test in which they can be disqualified if they don't give the state-determined "right" answer to complex issues about how to address children's racial heritage. It also forbids otherwise using race as the basis for eliminating prospective parents. History tells us what would happen if social workers were again empowered to use race in making adoptive decisions, even if they were to be authorized only to use race as "a factor," as the Report argues.

I'll mention just two pieces of that history. First, the fact is that from the 1970's until MEPA's passage the federal Constitutional rule was that race could be "a factor" but not the determinative factor in adoptive decision-making, the same rule the Donaldson Report calls for, and in the name of that rule state agencies engaged in rigid race-matching, often locking black children into foster care for their entire childhood rather than placing them across racial lines. The 1994 version of MEPA forbid the use race to delay or deny placement, but permitted the use of race as "a factor." Senator Metzenbaum came out of retirement to help pass the 1996 amendments to MEPA because he and others had concluded based on seeing how the 1994 MEPA was working, that it was not working, that allowing social workers to use race as "a factor" meant that they were continuing to use it systematically to delay and deny placement, and accordingly the 1996 amendment changed the law to forbid social workers from any use of race as a basis for decision-making.

The second bit of history I'll mention are the cases in Ohio and South Carolina that triggered the Dept. of HHS's first two MEPA enforcement decisions. I urge all who might even contemplate the idea of following the Donaldson recommendation to amend MEPA to read these decisions for themselves. These decisions show in horrifying detail how social workers who thought they had the power to use race as "a factor" in screening prospective transracial parents used that power. The decisions describe case after case in which black foster care children with serious disabilities were denied homes with eager transracial adoptive parents based on decisions that the parents had the wrong friends, or the wrong paintings on their walls, or went to the wrong church, or lived in the wrong neighborhood, with the children then relegated to waiting in foster care yet longer for that needed permanent home.

A fourth Donaldson claim is that there is new research demonstrating, in contrast to prior research, that transracial adoptees have "problems." The fact is that the entire body of good social science still provides no evidence that children suffer in any way by being placed in a transracial rather than a same-race home, and it provides lots of evidence that children suffer by being delayed in finding permanent homes, as they are when we reduce the number of eligible homes by using race as a placement factor. The alleged "new and different" research relied on in the Report shows only that different parents may have different parenting styles, and that different parenting styles may have an impact on children's attitudes including some of their ideas about racial matters. This is hardly surprising or new, and it says nothing about whether children are better or worse off by virtue of transracial as compared to same-race parenting. Indeed despite misleading claims in the Report's Executive Summary, the relevant section in the body of the Report concedes that the research does "not provide sufficient basis for reaching conclusions about the level of problems experienced by Black children in foster care who are adopted transracially compared to those adopted by Black families." (P. 29)

The Donaldson Report also expresses concern that there has not been enough recruitment of prospective parents of color so that their numbers would match the kids of color in the foster care system. The fact is that such recruitment has gone on for decades, with the result that black Americans adopt at the same or higher rates as whites, which is surprising given the socio-economics of race and the fact that it is usually the relatively more privileged who feel capable of stepping forward to do the volunteer parenting that adoption represents. In any event, MEPA in its current form already provides for the kind of recruitment that the Report calls for, so there is no need to amend MEPA in order to enable such recruitment.

The reality is that most of the children needing permanent homes in this country and in the larger world are children of color, while most of the people in a position to step forward to adopt are white. The additional reality revealed by the research on transracial adoptive families is that love works across color lines. If we want children to have the permanent homes they desperately need, we must recognize these realities. I urge the CCAI and Congress to reject these calls to move backward in time, and instead to embrace MEPA in its current form.

  1. "Where do Black Children Belong? The Politics of Race Matching in Adoption," 139 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1163 (1991).
  2. "Commentary: Cultural Stereotypes Can and Do Die: It's Time to Move on With Transracial Adoption," 34 J. Am. Acad. Psychiatry Law 315(2006); "The Challenge of Children's Rights Advocacy: Problems and Progress in the Area of Child Abuse and Neglect," 3 Whittier J. Child & Fam. Advoc. 3 (2004); NOBODY'S CHILDREN: ABUSE AND NEGLECT, FOSTER DRIFT, AND THE ADOPTION ALTERNATIVE (Beacon Press, 1999); "Private Race Preferences in Family Formation," 107 Yale L.J. 2351 (1998); FAMILY BONDS: ADOPTION, INFERTILITY, AND THE NEW WORLD OF CHILD PRODUCTION (Beacon Press, 1999), originally published as FAMILY BONDS: ADOPTION & THE POLITICS OF PARENTING (Houghton Mifflin 1993).
  3. These decisions appear on my website at under Adoption Resources, MEPA Decisions.
  4. Id.

Road to foreign adoption grows longer

March 18, 2008
Kristin Collins, Staff Writer

It seemed like a simple transaction when Tamara Lackey brought her adopted son from Ethiopia to Chapel Hill four years ago: The child had been living in a spartan orphanage, and Lackey was willing to provide a loving home. She filled out paperwork, and five months later her bright-eyed, smiling baby was home.

Hundreds of other families in North Carolina and around the country are discovering that it's no longer so easy to take in the world's neediest children.

Just as international adoption has become a mainstream way to build a family -- helped by celebrity adoptions such as those of Angelina Jolie, who has children from Cambodia and Ethiopia -- the practice is in crisis. Allegations of baby-selling haunt some countries, and some say international adoption's popularity may be creating a worldwide backlash. Adoptions have recently become difficult or impossible in China, Guatemala, Kazakhstan and Vietnam -- four of the main countries that send orphans to the United States. Hundreds of adoptions are in limbo.

"Everything is so volatile right now," said Gail Stern, founder of Chapel Hill-based Mandala Adoption Services, which arranges inter-country adoptions. "If you called me today and wanted to adopt a child, I would tell you to sit on it. We cannot in good conscience tell people that if they start today, things will be smooth."

Concerns about corruption have previously halted adoptions from Romania and Cambodia. But Stern and other experts say they've rarely seen so many countries having problems at once. On Monday, Kazakhstan unexpectedly shut down adoptions with little explanation. China, the largest sender of orphans, has recently scaled back its program so severely that couples might wait more than five years, said Diane Kunz, a Durham lawyer who founded the non-profit Center for Adoption Policy, which promotes adoption. The country now excludes prospective parents who are single, recently divorced, over 50, on antidepressants or overweight -- restrictions that Kunz says ruled out about 60 percent of Americans looking for Chinese children.

Guatemala, another top sender, recently closed adoptions after allegations that babies were sold or stolen. Similar concerns have also arisen in Vietnam.

Those awaiting Vietnamese children are facing months-long delays as the U.S. government investigates each case. The government is threatening to deny some adoptions because investigators can't get the children's hospital records.

In the meantime, families who have invested as much as $20,000 or $30,000 are wondering whether they will ever see the children they hope to adopt.

Delays, no explanation

William Zuercher of Durham said he and his wife began trying to adopt a Vietnamese child in May 2006. They had seen friends adopt a Vietnamese infant, and they were drawn to the idea of helping a child who would otherwise languish in an orphanage or be doomed to street life. "It seemed like a good thing to do in the world," said Zuercher, 36. "There are these kids out there that need love, that need families. We thought, if we could give that, what a great thing that would be for them and for us."

With that sentiment came an added benefit: International adoption was generally easier than domestic, which often requires foster parenting or years on a waiting list. Until recently, applicants to foreign countries frequently had their children before their first birthdays. But nearly two years after applying, Zuercher and his wife don't know when they will get the baby girl whose pictures arrive in the mail.

They have no explanation for why the Vietnamese government hasn't approved them. Once they get that approval, they will be subject to a U.S. government review that could take months. Jill Cunnup of Siler City is in the same situation. In 2004, after years of infertility, she adopted a son from Kazakhstan, who came home at 10 months old. Last fall, she decided to adopt a child from Vietnam, thinking the process would take about nine months.

"I thought the second time would be easy," said Cunnup, 29. "Now, I still have hope that I will finish the adoption, but I have no idea when."

The U.S. government has recently become concerned about the selling and stealing of babies in Vietnam, and investigators are poring over each case to ensure each child is actually an orphan. "These protective measures have been put in place to ensure the integrity of the adoption process in Vietnam," said Peter Vietti, a spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

Stern, who runs the Mandala agency, said she believes corruption exists only in a tiny portion of cases. While investigations drag on, she said, children suffer. In the past month, Stern said, six babies set to be adopted by Americans died when a virus swept a Vietnamese orphanage.

International adoption, all but unheard of at the end of World War II, has become a mainstream phenomenon in the past two decades. Each year since 2002, Americans have adopted more than 20,000 foreign orphans, according to the State Department.

As its popularity soars, so does pressure from international groups such as UNICEF, which believe that children should be removed from their home countries only as a last resort.

Fears of baby-selling

"Lack of regulation and oversight, particularly in the countries of origin, coupled with the potential for financial gain, has spurred the growth of an industry around adoption, where profit, rather than the best interests of children, takes center stage," UNICEF states in a position paper on its Web site. "Abuses include the sale and abduction of children, coercion of parents and bribery."

However, among U.S. adopters, those allegations have gained little traction. They focus on the benefits.

Foreign orphans come with scant chance that a birth parent will attempt to reclaim the child or seek a reunion. And some say that foreign-born children, relinquished most often because of poverty, are less likely than U.S. orphans to come from mothers with substance abuse problems. Without adoption, many foreign orphans face a future without governments that will save them from starvation or ensure medical care.

Lackey, 36, a photographer, said she and her husband decided to adopt after an around-the-world trip through more than a dozen impoverished countries. In the orphanage where their son lived, children didn't have basic supplies such as toothpaste or Tylenol. They used rags for diapers and slept several to a crib.

She says the boy they named Caleb has so enriched their lives that she decided to adopt another child. This time, she is waiting for a toddler from Ecuador -- an option open only to couples willing to accept older children and to spend up to two months living in the country. She said she hopes the delays and uncertainty won't discourage people from opening their homes to the world's children.

"It's opened up a whole door that we didn't even realize we were missing," said Lackey, who also has a 6-year-old biological daughter. "These issues that we're talking about are government issues. The children are still there."

USA Makes Adoption Harder
By John Stossel

Do you want to rescue an abandoned child and give him a loving home?

Don't even try, says the U.S. State Department.

That's not exactly what the bureaucrats said, but it's close. The State Department says the Guatemalan adoption system "unduly enriches" so-called baby brokers and that "Guatemala has not established the required central authority to oversee intercountry adoption."

"Central authority"? This from our government? They sound like Soviet apparatchiks.

Last December, the U.S. consul even butted his way into the Guatemalan Congress to make sure a sweeping new adoption law was up to American standards. The law is designed to put those profit-making brokers out of business by making adoption a government monopoly. But to thousands of kids awaiting adoption, a government monopoly could be a death sentence.

Yes, there have been horror stories about adoption fraud. Some children were stolen from families. This is horrible, but far from the norm. Out of more than 100 cases of alleged "baby stealing," only five were confirmed as true, says Guatemalan journalist Marta Yolanda Diaz-Duran. That's five crimes versus about 4,000 legal adoptions from Guatemala in 2006 alone. Guatemala has been the second leading source of adopted children coming to America -- after China and ahead of Russia. The adoption-broker system -- which relied on entrepreneurs providing a service for a fee -- worked well enough that Guatemala was an adoption success story.

American adoption agencies (charging a fee) worked with Guatemalan adoption brokers (also charging a fee) to match willing couples with the right children. There was a near-perfect safeguard against baby stealing: two rounds of DNA tests to prove the biological mother gave consent.

The process wasn't cheap -- parents paid $25,000 or more, and brokers who spent months or years jumping though the bureaucratic hoops -- made, horrors, profit! Hence our State Department's outrage about adoptions that "unduly enrich." The sentiment was captured perfectly by a UNICEF representative who huffed to The New York Times that adoption "has become a business instead of a social service."

Oh, yes, everyone loves "social service." But when adoption was a government-run social service in Guatemala, the results were disastrous.

I happened to be in Guatemala City last month visiting the Americas' most free-market university, Universidad Francisco Marroquin. UFM's president took me to visit Ines Ayau, a nun who runs an orphanage that was formerly in the hands of the government. The children are well cared for now, but before her church took over, Ayau said, the government staff had forced some children into prostitution. The orphanage itself was rat-infested and without electricity, and the government used the facility to funnel money to cronies. "Thirty-six persons were working, (but) 105 were on the payroll,"

Yet U.S. officials want adoption back in the hands of government?!

There's little reason to expect the current government to do much better. Guatemala is one of the more corrupt nations in the world, 111th out of 179 countries, says Transparency International.

Even if the new bureaucracy isn't corrupt, there's little chance it will process adoptions as quickly as the brokers did because without profit, it has no incentive to move the kids through the cumbersome adoption process. When other countries have put adoption in government hands, adoptions slowed or stopped. Paraguay went from sending more than 400 kids to the U.S. in 1996 to sending zero in 2006.

That's a tragedy.

It may make some people uncomfortable that a middleman charges $5,000 to arrange an adoption, but profit isn't evil.

Someone has to be compensated for arranging the DNA tests and leading hopeful parents past the government's obstacles. The orphanages need funds. If some Americans are willing to pay even $50,000 to adopt, that's not a bad thing. NGOs, politicians and bureaucrats may call it disgusting "human trafficking," but I call it finding love for children who desperately need it.

Guatemala has followed America's lead, and now thousands of abandoned Guatemalan kids face spending their childhood in orphanages. Many could have found a home in the U.S. if only government -- American and Guatemalan -- had stayed out of the way.

John Stossel is an award-winning news correspondent and author of Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity: Get Out the Shovel--Why Everything You Know is Wrong.

More Information.

Relative Choices: Adoption and the American Family

The New York Times is running a series of columns about adoption written by people with a personal connection to adoption. Writers include Dr. Jane Aronson, a leading adoption medicine specialist and adoptive mother, authors Jeff Gammage and Tama Janowitz and Hollee McGinnis, founder of Also-Known-As and policy director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. The series can be accessed at

Slamming the Door on Adoption
Depriving Children Abroad of Loving Homes

By Elizabeth Bartholet, Washington Post
Sunday, November 4, 2007; Page B07

Last month, Guatemala was effectively shut down as a country from which children can be adopted into the United States. While the shutdown is officially temporary, it is likely that even when new laws are in place, Guatemala will follow the path taken by many South American countries in recent years: eliminating the private agencies and intermediaries that facilitate the placement of children who need homes and substituting government monopoly over adoption, which will reduce to a trickle the number of children escaping life in institutions or on the streets.

In recent years, Guatemala has been a model for those who believe in adoption as a vehicle for providing homeless children with permanent, nurturing parents. It has released significant numbers of children to international adoption, many at young ages, before they suffered the kind of damage that results in attachment disorders and other life-altering limitations. Ironically, these policies are why Guatemala attracted the attention of UNICEF and other human rights organizations that, along with our State Department, have been pushing for adoption "reform." These official "friends of children" have created pressure that has led to the cessation of international adoption in half the countries that in recent decades had been sending the largest number of homeless children abroad. Until recent years, the number of international adoptions into the United States had been steadily increasing, but the numbers are dramatically down. Why close down international adoption? The real-world alternatives for the children at issue are life -- or death -- on the streets or in the types of institutions that a half-century of research has proved systematically destroy children's ability to grow up capable of functioning normally in society. By contrast, we know that adoption works incredibly well to provide children with nurturing homes and that it works best for those placed early in life. Critics of international adoption argue that children have heritage rights and "belong" in their countries of birth. But children enjoy little in the way of heritage or other rights in institutions. The critics argue that we should develop foster-care alternatives for children in the countries they are from, and UNICEF's official position favors in-country foster care over out-of-country adoption. But foster care does not exist as a real option in most countries that allow children to be adopted abroad, and the generally dire economic circumstances in these nations make it extremely unlikely that comprehensive foster care programs will soon be developed. Nor is there any reason to think that children would do as well in foster care as in adoptive homes. Indeed, for decades the research in countries that use foster care, such as the United States, has shown that such care does not work nearly as well for children as adoption does.

Critics also condemn adoption abuses such as baby-buying. But there is no hard evidence that payments are systematically used in any country to induce birth parents to surrender their children. In any event, the right response to such abuses is stepped-up enforcement of the overlapping laws prohibiting such payments, which would rightly result in the lawbreakers being penalized. Closing down international adoption, however, wrongly penalizes all those homeless children who could otherwise find nurturing adoptive homes, condemning them to institutions or to the streets.

Policies restricting international adoption replicate the same-race matching policies that used to exist in the United States. In the mid-1990s, Congress passed the Multiethnic Placement Act, rejecting the notion that children should be seen as belonging only within the racial group into which they were born. Our lawmakers recognized the harm children suffered by virtue of being held in foster care rather than being adopted transracially. Congress, the State Department and the human rights organizations that purport to care for children should similarly reject the notion that children in other countries must at all costs be kept in their communities of birth. Children's most fundamental human rights include the right to be nurtured in their formative years by permanent parents in real families.

Elizabeth Bartholet is a law professor and faculty director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School. She is the author of the books "Family Bonds" and "Nobody's Children."