United States | Special Advisor for Children's Issues Suzanne Lawrence On Release of the FY 2018 Annual Report on Intercountry Adoption

United States | Special Advisor for Children’s Issues Suzanne Lawrence On Release of the FY 2018 Annual Report on Intercountry Adoption

United States – MR GREENAN: Thank you, and good morning everyone. Welcome to today’s on-the-record call. We’re pleased to have with us Suzanne Lawrence. She’s the Department’s Special Advisor for Children’s Issues, and she’s here to discuss the release of the Fiscal Year 2018 Annual Report on Intercountry Adoption. She’s going to have some brief remarks at the top, and then is going to take your questions. Both the report and the call are embargoed until the conclusion of the call, but as a reminder, it is on the record.

So with that, we’ll go ahead and start. Suzanne?

MS LAWRENCE: Thank you, Robert, and thank you to all of you who have called in this morning. We’re very pleased that you are interested in this topic. As you know, intercountry adoption is one of the highest priorities for the Department of State, and we work every day to ensure that this really remains a viable option for all of the children who are throughout the world who are in need of a permanent home. We’re always looking to secure the best interests of the child, and we feel that this report gives us the opportunity to highlight our work over the past fiscal year.

As Robert said, today we will deliver to Congress the annual report that covers the previous fiscal year. So that would have started on October the 1st of 2017, and those statistics and that information goes through September 30th of 2018.

This report is the eleventh report that we will be issuing. You can find this report and all the previous reports on our website, adoption.state.gov. It’s a great resource not only to go back and compare the reports and look at the information that we have provided over the years, but there is an enormous amount of information that delves into conditions in individual countries. It has notices that we put out. So if you’re looking for more information, that’s a really wonderful place to start.

If you’ve had a chance to look through the report, you’ll see that it covers statistical information, which of course is useful, especially when you’re comparing year-on-year or over the course of a number of years. But I think what’s really important in the report is the narrative portion, which gives some context to the numbers. And that’s why we thought it would be helpful to all of you to have a call, so that if there were some aspects of the report that you felt you needed a little deeper understanding about that we could help fill in those gaps for you.

So again, I really am grateful for your time this morning. Happy to be here to talk about this very important work of the Department of State, and I’m here to take your questions.

MR GREENAN: Okay. With that, we’ll now go to questions.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, once again, please press * then 1 for your questions at this time; * then 1 will get you into the question queue. One moment for our first question.

MR GREENAN: Okay. We’ll take our first question.

OPERATOR: From The Washington Post, we’ll go to the line of Carol Morello. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for doing this. Say, earlier this week USCIS said that it was going to be asking the State Department to take over its work load in consulates and embassies around the world. I was wondering how concerned you were that this was going to impact the processing of visas and all the paperwork for foreign adoptions. Thank you.

MS LAWRENCE: Thank you, Carol, and good morning. I – we are aware, obviously, of the news, and I am a 29-year veteran of the Department of State, having worked in embassies overseas and consulates and here in Washington, and I know firsthand of the long history that the Bureau of Consular Affairs has working with USCIS. We work very closely and very, very cooperatively here in Washington, and, of course, overseas.

So we are absolutely ready to coordinate closely with them on any changes that they may take or make in their presence overseas, if they reach any kind of an interagency agreement. And I would also just say, more specifically to your point about any interruption in services, that we have – the Bureau of Consular Affairs – for many, many years provided services on behalf of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services at more than 200 posts around the world. So if USCIS decides to phase out any portion of their overseas offices, we would anticipate a pretty smooth transition, and we would continue to do the same efficient processing of any work that’s related to USCIS at any of our missions overseas.

MR GREENAN: Thank you. We’ll go on to the next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. From the Associated Press, David Crary. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you. And thanks again for holding this briefing. Do you folks, Suzanne, have a number – approximate or exact number – of the U.S. adoption agencies currently accredited to handle intercountry adoptions and then some way to compare that with the peak number or the number 10 or 15 years ago?

MS LAWRENCE: Good morning, David, and thanks for your abiding interest in this topic. At this point, we have about 150 agencies currently accredited and operating in intercountry adoptions. The peak years – so we’re going back now to the early 1990s sort of – and I don’t have a number off the top of my head, but we would say probably around 200 agencies that were operating at that time.

QUESTION: Okay. And then a quick follow up. Are you – what’s the way to characterize the input you’ve been getting from the currently accredited ones about the switchover to the new accrediting entity? I know at the beginning there were complaints, almost before things had actually started to happen. There was some worry and concern. But, I mean, since then are you still getting a lot of complaints? Are you getting some more upbeat and positive reaction? Or is it something in between?

MS LAWRENCE: Thank you for that follow-up question on the accrediting entity. They are the Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity, so the acronym is IAAME.

QUESTION: Right.

MS LAWRENCE: And that transition – for those who are not as familiar as you are, that transition occurred last year. We’re almost coming to the one-year anniversary of IAAME’s role as the sole accrediting entity. I have, actually, personally spoken with a number of adoption service providers, and as you mentioned, of course, change always brings a little bit of fear and concern. But people have said to me uniformly, those that have spoken with me, that they are so impressed by the responsiveness of IAAME and how quickly they were able to come onboard and, again, how responsive they are to the questions that they receive from the agencies.

We really did work very hard to collaborate with the previous accrediting entity, the Council on Accreditation, and IAAME so that the transition was as smooth as possible. And of course, as I said before, this is one of our highest priorities. So we work to make sure there was no negative impact to individual adoption cases and to the operations of adoption service providers. So I would say it’s been a positive change and they are now, as I say, approaching their first-year anniversary. And I think that it has gone as smoothly as we could have hoped.

MR GREENAN: Thank you very much. We’ll take the next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Before we take our next questioner, if anyone else has questions, please to press * then 1 on your touchtone phone, * then 1. So we’ll go to Asherkalawsat and the line of Atef Abdellatif. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hey. Thank you for that. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund stated that since the start of the Syrian crisis there are 2.6 million children remain displaced inside Syria and 2.5 million children are living as refugees. And for the Yemen crisis, we’re talking about 84,000 children displaced. So what do you do to facilitate the process of adoption in those countries to help them get out of their danger?

MS LAWRENCE: Hello. Thank you for the question. I think it’s a very natural reaction when people see a crisis somewhere in the world to focus on those who seem to be without family or without a home. What we focus on in our work is making sure that we have the most transparent and ethical system in place to ensure that it is working on behalf of not only the children to be adopted but the birth parents and the prospective adoptive parents. And so we are always looking to make sure that children are actually eligible to be adopted. And while, again, the first reaction might be a very humanitarian one, intercountry adoption is really a permanency situation, for permanency for children and it is, in fact, governed by a very careful system throughout the world so that under no circumstance, we hope, would a child be inadvertently identified for adoption when that child may, in fact, not be eligible for adoption. So I hope that answers a little bit of your question regarding two areas in the world that are in a crisis situation.

MR GREENAN: Thank you. We’ll go to the next question now.

OPERATOR: Thank you. For brand-new questions or follow-up questions, it’s * then 1. Next from Voice of America, we’ll go to the line of Nike Ching. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Good morning and thank you very much for doing this phone call. Quick question on China: The report mentioned that China was the leading home country of U.S. adopted children, but there is a decline in recent years. The reason cited is – the current economic circumstances in China and also options for permanent homes for children within China. Could you please elaborate that a little bit? That’s number one.

And number two is: Could you please give us a sense of adoption from Venezuela in recent years? Is there any change in numbers that is related to the crisis there? Thank you very much.

MS LAWRENCE: Good morning. So first, on China, as you very well stated, our report talks about China specifically because, as many people know, for many years a number of children from China were adopted by families here in the United States. And as we’ve pointed out, the difference in the overall number last year to this year is in large measure due to the decrease in the number of children being adopted from China. And as you pointed out, some of that is due to the fact that China has changed its internal policies with respect to families and children. Some of it is due to the economic situation in China, so now there are families in China who are looking to create families or add to their families through adoption, and so many children in China who are eligible for adoption are, in fact, adopted by Chinese citizens there.

So what we have seen, and we’ve talked about this in the past, is the changing demographic of the children who are eligible to be placed through intercountry adoption. Many of those children are older children, many of those children are special needs children, and some of those children are part of sibling groups. And historically, those are more difficult cases in terms of finding the right family for those children. And so that would also, I think, be part of the puzzle of how the numbers have changed in China.

There’s an additional point that we have raised in our report that surfaced in 2017, and that was an internal decision, a legal decision within China that affected all nongovernmental organizations. And it had to do with how those NGOs needed to register to be able to be active in China. And while that law was not intended to specifically target adoption service providers who would be considered an NGO for the purposes of the Chinese Government, it did adversely impact many agencies who have found it very difficult to comply with all of the paperwork and regulations surrounding this NGO law.

So I think that has also – again, from our interaction with adoption service providers who had been active in China, they tell us that that has really had an impact on their ability to help families who are interested in adopting from China. We have worked very closely with the China Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption. They are the governmental entity in China that covers all adoptions – intercountry adoptions from China. And we have expressed to them how this NGO law has affected adoption service providers and the ability of American families to provide permanency to children, as I say, in some of those very difficult groups for placement. And we hope that at some point, there will be some way for adoption service providers who are trying to find the right home for those children to be able to continue their work.

MR GREENAN: Thank you. We’ll take the next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. From National Public Radio, Michele Kelemen. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks. Nike asked my China question, so I just – one quick question about Russia. Is there any discussion on resumptions of adoptions from there or is that a dead end? And can you talk a little bit about Ethiopia, since there was a dispute with adoptions from there? Thanks.

MS LAWRENCE: So first, on Russia, there are some pipeline cases that are continued to be processed. And as I always remind people when we talk about intercountry adoption, there has to be a willingness on the part of the country of origin for the children who potentially could be adopted by U.S. families or families somewhere else in the world. And we are absolutely open to having conversations with countries that are interested in having a partnership with us and working to make this a possibility for children who have exhausted all other options and, I think, deserve the chance at having a family and a home for the rest of their lives.

So again, we continue to work on some of the cases that were in the pipeline, and we always remain open to any country that would like to have a conversation with us. As you can see from the statistics, children come from many, many countries, and this is about finding the right family for a child. So that’s what we’re all about, and we’re always willing to discuss that possibility.

On Ethiopia – I don’t know at what point you are in your information about Ethiopia, but for those who are less familiar, it was approximately a little over a year ago that the Ethiopian Government passed legislation that prohibited the adoption of Ethiopian children by foreigners. And the new law came into effect after the suspension that had been put in effect in April of 2017.

So that law stands, and as a result of that law, which is an Ethiopian law, we cannot have intercountry adoptions. They’re not possible between Ethiopia and the United States. So we did – we were able to have an agreement between the U.S. Government and Ethiopia at the time that the law was about to go into effect to – agreed to process cases that were what we would call “in the pipeline.” They had reached a particular point in the processing, had received a certain level of approval. And most of those cases have been resolved.

So that’s where we are. There are – again, I had referred to adoption.state.gov, and you can look back and see that there are many notices there and there’s information about Ethiopia. But I would again emphasize that intercountry adoption between the U.S. and Ethiopia is not possible at this time because of an existing Ethiopian law, and I would encourage anyone who was interested in adoption from Ethiopia to read all of the information that we have placed on our website so that they are fully informed about what is happening there.

MR GREENAN: Thank you, and we have time for one last question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our last question will come from the line of David Crary with the Associated Press. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, hey, a – a quick follow-up. The numbers for the increase in India were notable, and I assume that you and your colleagues were encouraged by that. Do you folks see the potential for that number to increase significantly in the years ahead? And are there a couple of other countries where you see the potential for significantly larger numbers of adoption?

MS LAWRENCE: Thank you, David. I, in fact, was in India – it seems like it was not long ago, but it was about a year ago – and had meetings with the Central Authority there. We have a very good working relationship with them, and we are very encouraged by all of the work that they have done, like our work, to make sure that this is a very safe and transparent and ethical process. And I think the numbers reflect that. We always say that the best advertisement for keeping intercountry adoption viable is when the system works and when people are doing the right thing.

And I think the numbers there, the numbers in Colombia, those are a reflection of countries where we have a very close, productive relationship and where we’re committed to the same values surrounding intercountry adoption. I would hope that the relationship will flourish and that children who are from India who have not been able to find permanency in their country of birth will continue to have the opportunity to find that family that they so well deserve, and that we can be – the families here in America can be the open arms willing to welcome those children here.

So I do think it is positive. I think Colombia’s positive. I think many of the countries where we see first time adoptions is positive – again, positive in the sense that these are children who have exhausted the possibility of finding permanency in their country of birth. And if in some way, shape, or form the Department of State can continue to work with countries around the world to have a system that offers those children a chance at a family, that we can continue to work to keep this a viable option for those children and those families.

MR GREENAN: Great. Thank you very much. Thank you for joining us today and thanks to Suzanne Lawrence, the Special Advisor for Children’s Issues here at the Department, for making time this morning to discuss the Fiscal Year 2018 Annual Report on Intercountry Adoption. The report and the call are now un-embargoed and all on the record. Thank you very much. Have a good afternoon.


SOURCE: news provided by STATE.GOV on March 14, 2019.