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Failed adoptions stir outrage; reforms are elusive

First Published      Last Updated Oct 06 2013 10:50 am
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Though the State Department doesn't have direct responsibility for international adoptions once they're completed, Susan Jacobs expressed interest in working with others in the adoption field to improve support services.

"We need to help parents to find resources when they are having trouble ... so they don't turn to the Internet to get rid of their kids," she said. "This is a horrible practice that can only lead to abuse and neglect."

During the pre-adoption process, Jacobs said, parents should be given accurate information about a child's medical and psychological condition to minimize the chances of frustration later on.

"A lot of people say they have a heart for adoption. But you also have to have a head for it," Jacobs said. "You think love will solve everything. It doesn't."

Under State Department policies, U.S. agencies that arrange international adoptions are subject to accreditation by the independent Council on Accreditation. Its president, Richard Klarberg, wants to tighten the standards for how the agencies screen and educate parents, notably in cases involving children with special needs.

"Our goal is to force or cajole the providers to demonstrate they are providing very intense training and preparation," Klarberg said.

He acknowledged that screening is challenging.

"It's sometimes very difficult for agencies to pick up on the signals that would lead them to believe, 'Uh oh, this family is going to be abusive,'" he said.

While the State Department helps process international adoptions, domestic adoptions are under the states' jurisdiction. There are financial incentives for states to increase the number of adoptions out of their foster care systems, but often there's little or no funding to support families who encounter difficulties afterward.

A leading think-tank, the Donaldson Adoption Institute, has issued reports in recent years making the case for expanding post-adoption support and tightening oversight of now-unregulated adoption transactions conducted via the Internet.

Yet the institute's executive director, Adam Pertman, and some of his counterparts with other organizations are frustrated as many states, rather than increasing post-adoption support funding, are cutting it.

"Policymakers and politicians are great at paying lip service — always saying children are our most important resource," Pertman said. "Where are the actions to support the words?"

In Washington state, there was an effort to respond substantively to Hana Williams' death — namely the task force comprised of top child-welfare experts and advocates.

In May 2012, the task force issued recommendations, including a proposal for more rigorous screening and training of parents before they could complete any adoption, domestic or international.

The bill that emerged contained little of the recommendations' substance. It proposed new procedures for tracking failed adoptions and said prospective adoptive parents should be questioned about their approach to child discipline — but not disqualified unless their planned practices were illegal. Despite its modest scope, the bill died.

Among those expressing dismay was novelist David Guterson, a resident of Puget Sound's Bainbridge island, the author of "Snow Falling on Cedars" and the adoptive father of an Ethiopian child.

"Current laws are patently insufficient and in dire need of overhaul," Guterson wrote last month in a Seattle Times op-ed.

Guterson and Roberts, the sponsor of the failed bill, said future efforts should focus on better pre-adoption screening. Both cited the legal hurdles in the way of any mandatory post-adoption scrutiny.

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