House bill seeks to protect Oregon kids adopted outside U.S.
Michelle Cole and Susan Goldsmith
Courtesy of Tausha CramAdrianna Cram was in state custody when she was sent to Mexico to live with relatives who later murdered her. A bill that unanimously passed the state House on Friday requires greater safeguards for children sent out of the country.
SALEM -- Nobody mentioned Adrianna Cram's name during Friday's short House floor debate on a bill requiring more scrutiny when a child from Oregon foster care is sent to live with relatives in another country.
But the legislative sponsor, Rep. Carolyn Tomei, admitted later that she "definitely" had the murdered little girl from Hillsboro on her mind.
"There needs to be more follow-up and much more stringent supervision of each child that goes anywhere," said Tomei, D-Milwaukie.
Lawmakers unanimously approved House Bill 3471, which would require specific adoption agreements when a child in Oregon foster care is adopted by relatives outside the United States.
According to the Oregon Department of Human Services, those agreements would include extensive background interviews and training for relatives before a child is sent to live in another country. Once the child is there, the agreements would require regular checks and written reports to Oregon officials until the adoption is final.
The state had no agreement in place in June 2005, when 4-year-old Adrianna Cram was beaten to death in Omealca, Mexico. Her uncle and aunt, selected by Oregon authorities to adopt the girl, were convicted of aggravated murder.
Adrianna's teachers would later tell The Oregonian that they tried for months to find help for the bruised and battered girl but couldn't get local child welfare workers to act. Meanwhile, child welfare workers in Oregon relied on phone calls with the girl's abusers and sporadic updates from Mexican authorities to find out how Adrianna was faring.
Read more about Adrianna Cram
In March, as The Oregonian prepared a two-day series telling Adrianna's story, child welfare officials announced a 60-day moratorium on international adoptions.
Officials said they needed the time to consult with the U.S. State Department about what Oregon needed to do to comply with The Hague Convention on Protection of Children.
The international treaty, which took effect last year, is intended to protect children from abuse or exploitation.
On Friday, Erinn Kelley-Siel, head of the state Children, Adults and Families Division, said Oregon is ready to be one of the first states to comply with the treaty.
For example, the state will now require national authorities, not just local offices, to certify that a family is suitable for a specific child, has the appropriate motivation and has received training or counseling.
Oregon had been on track to end its moratorium on international adoptions May 8. But the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico and elsewhere has prompted the state to extend its moratorium indefinitely.
"We don't plan to lift the hold until we have the ability to say we're not putting a child's health at risk," Kelley-Siel said Friday.
If a child taken into foster care cannot be returned to a parent, state law requires authorities to place the child with relatives whenever possible. Increasingly, that includes relatives who live outside the United States.
From 1999 through 2008, Oregon placed 27 children in foster care for adoption in other countries. Eight children from Oregon foster care have been sent to Mexico since Adrianna's death. Five more children were slated to go to Mexico at the time the 60-day moratorium was announced.
Adrianna's biological mother, Tausha Cram, who lost custody of the little girl because she neglected her, said the bill didn't do enough.
"I think it's outrageous that even with this bill we will be relying 100 percent on authorities in other countries to protect children from Oregon," she said. "These people failed my child. Why will they protect anyone else's kid?"
The Legislature is not finished with its work on international adoption. HB3471 now heads to the Senate for its consideration, and a companion bill is pending in the Senate.
-- Michelle Cole; firstname.lastname@example.org