Last week we had the opportunity to participate in a conference call with USCIS, National Benefits Center, the Council on Accreditation (COA), and about 200 Adoption Service providers (ASPs) to learn more about the Universal Accreditation Act (UAA). On the 22 nd , there was also a call for adoptive families, so hopefully some of you were able to attend that.
The UAA is a bill that is taking effect on July 14 th , 2014 which will require that ANY adoption service provided for an international adoption be carried out by or supervised by a Hague Accredited Agency or individual. This applies even if the adoption is being carried out in a non-Hague country (For example our Ethiopia or Uganda programs). The purpose of this is to make sure that all adoptions are carried out ethically and held to the same standard across the board.
Many of you will wonder, what does this mean for me? Well that depends on where you are in the process. The good news is that IAN is Hague accredited and processes the bulk of our services by Hague guidelines already, so for the majority of our families, there will not be much of a change. If you are adopting through one of our Hague programs (Mexico or India), you will not need to make any changes to comply with this act. For the rest of you:
- If you filed your I-600a with USCIS before July 13 th , 2013 your case will in no way be affected, as you are grandfathered in under the old system. You can check the date on your I-171h approval notice to see the date on which you filed.
- If you filed after July 13 th , 2013 but before July 14 th of this year, you will only be affected if you did NOT use a Hague agency for your homestudy. In this case it is our understanding that this act will affect your process when it is time for you to update your homestudy. You will just need to switch to a Hague agency or individual to complete the update. In some cases, IAN may be able to ‘supervise’ the homestudy. We will determine the best plan of action on a case by case basis.
- If you have not yet filed your I-600a, starting now IAN is requiring that ALL homestudies be done by a Hague accredited Agency. This is because there will now be certain wording and requirements for homestudies that USCIS must have to give a family approval, and only Hague agencies will have the right certification to carry out these homestudies. If you have not filed your I-600a with USCIS, but have a completed homestudy, please contact your coordinator for further instructions as this will be handled on a case by case basis moving forward. So, to be clear, if you have NOT started your homestudy and are researching agencies, we ask that you please be sure to choose one that is COA Hague Accredited. Your coordinator can help you track down some options in your state if you are having trouble. You can also search here for Hague agencies in your state http://adoption.state.gov/hague_convention.php
Obviously not every family is going to fit neatly into one of these three scenarios, and its seems like USCIS itself if still working to figure out what changes will apply to cases in the different stages in the process. So we will do our best to navigate these changes with the information they are giving us at this time.
Based on what was discussed on the call, it seems like the adoptions that will be affected most by the legislation taking effect will be independent or kinship adoptions in countries where not many agencies have programs. It is now required that adoptive families have a supervising agency to facilitate the adoption process. Two concerns many agencies had about this was the cost for families who now are required to work with an agency or face a penalty, and the risk for agencies to supervise an adoption in a country where they know little about the adoption rules and regulations. So we will be following this closely to see how these types of independent adoptions are able to be carried out in the coming months as the new rules take effect.
If you would like to read more about the UAA Hague requirements and how the new requirements might impact your adoptions process here are some links for more information. If you have any further questions please contact your coordinator.
Adoption rumors and tall tales another edition of the IAN blog
There have been so many changes and additions lately that it seemed like it was time for another edition of the blog. I must forewarn you that after re reading this blog the first time, it is actually more of a novel than a blog. So if you are taking your work time to read this, just know you will be reading for about 20 minutes and I can write a note to your boss that you were really taking training on how to be a better employee!
Many of you have probably heard by now, that IAG in Georgia has been shut down. Employees of the agency are being accused of fraud. It seems that some employees on both sides of the process were producing false documents in order to bring children home faster. The arrest of the main employees and the shutdown of the agency left many IAG families in the wind with no hope. IAN has been lucky enough to be chosen to take on some of these cases. I’m sure you are saying to yourself “lucky? This means more work and my case might be pushed back.” If I were a family that would be my initial thought at least. However, we say lucky because MOWA only chose two agencies to take on these cases and we have been reaffirmed by MOWA to have an amazing reputation in Ethiopia (don’t mind us while we boast and pat ourselves on the back). Let me reassure you that IAN taking on these cases does not mean you will be held up. We have hired a new coordinator in the office, Chelsea Adams. Chelsea will be taking on some new cases and already existing cases, to ensure that all of our families and the IAG families are being helped appropriately. No, you’re not crazy, we do have two coordinators named Chelsea, so please be specific when you call in. Also, we have hired more staff in Ethiopia just to handle these cases as well. For any families that were on the IAG waitlist who choose to sign up with IAN, they must follow our procedures and be added to the bottom of our waitlist.
Unfortunately, this behavior has a trickledown effect to all agencies and families. For instance, MOWA and the US Embassy are now double and triple checking referral and PAIR packets before the green light is given for adoption. In order to do this, both MOWA and the court have placed some new rules into play.
Firstly, the court has determined that they will not assign a court date for at least 15 days after the case is opened. Our in country staff complete an application at the court in order to submit your case to court. Once that is done, the court registrar and the judge, determine an available date for the first court date to happen. Again, the first court date will not be assigned for at least 15 days after the case is actually opened in court.
Once that first court date occurs, this is typically the relinquishment date or the date in which we prove the abandonment of a child; Federal MOWA will not give their comment on the case for at least 10 days. Additionally, MOWA has stated that they will not comment on a case until a list is submitted to them from regional MOWA, stating which cases they have approved for International Adoption Purposes. This is all being set in place to prevent fraudulent documents from being submitted, as this is what has happened in one region already. Although rumors are going around that MOWA has completely stopped giving comments, the information above shows this is not necessarily the case.
Now if you noticed, I said at least. I say that because nothing is ever set in stone. Although I’d love to have a crystal ball that allows us to see into the minds of MOWA, we don’t have this ability. We also recently learned that there are at least 100 cases at court at some point in the court process. This high number could cause a slow down as well. It already seems like the quotes from court and MOWA are actually shorter than what is really happening.
What does all of this mean? It means more waiting. All of us recognize that this is not the news you want to hear. Especially in a time when you are hearing that other agencies are doing things much differently. We are here to tell you that we are following the guidelines of the US Embassy, MOWA, USCIS and the State Department. Therefore, if you hear from friends that they have had court, or anything of this sort, all we can say is that we are doing as we were taught. IAN feels that we as an agency must be doing something right, we have a total of 25 PAIR letters to date (pat us on the back again).
Oh hey speaking of PAIR (how many of you rolled your eyes when you just read that? I know I did as I wrote it), it seems to be the ever changing process. As stated above, we have 25 PAIR letters since September! Just a reminder that it is more plausible than not, that USCIS will send a request for more information. In a phone conference with USCIS, they stated that they have an 80% rate of needing additional documents. I believe we’ve shard this information before, but it is worth repeating. Embassy will often send an additional RFE because the staff at Embassy can read Amharic and other languages that are common in Ethiopia. Sadly, we at IAN cannot, nor can the staff at USCIS. The requests being made by both USCIS and Embassy cannot be ignored or skipped over. Embassy will 99.9% of the time, request an interview with a finder, police officer, relinquishing relative or the child depending on his or her age. Once again, we cannot bypass this part of the process either. Surely it seems that in many cases, the fact that the child is an adoptable orphan is as clear as crystal. At the same time, allowing Embassy and USCIS to fully complete their investigation is just another way to show that IAN obtains referrals legally and ethically. Of course, this investigation means more time that you are away from your adorable child or children, but it is all for the best interest of the child. No one wants to adopt a child who already has a family!
Now for a gentle reminder or we can call this our soap box moment. IAN is working as hard as we possibly can to get your children home in a timely manner. Many things are out of our control, such as MOWA deciding they will not comment for 10 days after court, or Ethiopian holidays that we don’t follow, bad weather in a faraway region which means no travel for a birth family, really the list goes on. When documents are missing, or you are waiting for an answer, I promise that we push for answers and for work to be done. With five coordinators in the office and a full case load being 40 cases, we can at any time have around 200 families we are working with. That also means potentially 50-100 referrals at a time that our in country staff is working with. Any time lines we quote you are best guesses and we can never promise that something will happen by a certain timeline, but I can promise that we are trying our best. We understand your frustration when something doesn’t happen as quickly as you hoped it would, or it even seems like no one is working towards your child coming home, we share in your frustration! Please know that we are here to help our families and the sweet children who will soon be a part of your family. Where we can push, we will, but there are certain entities of the government that we cannot push without all of our cases being put at the bottom of a tall stack, or risking our agency being shut down.
We politely ask that you do not compare your case to anyone else’s case. Even if you and any other family are given referrals at the exact same time, no two cases are ever the same. Each child has their own history and situation which makes each case unique in moving forward. In the end, you will drive yourself crazy wondering why one family is moving along faster than you are or maybe even, how your case went faster than another. We will share as much information with you as possible, if it affects your case. We will not share information with you about other cases and families. This information is confidential and should not be shared, at least by us. The same rule applies to Ethiopia. Our in country staff is not to share any case information with any families concerning another family or child. Lastly, if you hear a rumor on facebook, through your friends, or a random blog that you subscribe to and it feel it may be true, remember that it is a rumor and please ask your coordinator for clarification. We can’t tell you how many families we have seen get upset and drive themselves crazy over a rumor that wasn’t remotely true!
Finally, many of you probably heard that there is a universal accreditation taking place in July. This means all adoption agencies must be Hague accredited. While IAN is already accredited, we are not yet sure what this means concerning home studies. We are fairly certain how home studies are written will change, and many other small things as well. There is a phone conference next week for us to participate in. Also, if you go to www.adoption.state.gov , there is a phone conference scheduled for adoptive parents as well. Once we learn more, we will of course share more.
Ok I lied, that was not the final point. Two more points. One, many of you have asked when rainy season starts and when will court close? Well, we don’t have a set answer for that just yet. Last year court closed from the middle of August to the middle of October. It is probably safe to say that it could be the same this year. Two, in an effort to open the lines of communication even more, we are trying to put out a monthly newsletter. Please, please read these. That will be a major place for us to spread new and important information to as many of you as possible.
Thank you for sticking this out and reading this entire blog. Now go rest your eyes from all the reading and eye rolling concerning PAIR. Stay tuned for more information, I promise to try not to make it so long next time!