Oregon prepares to resume foreign adoptions
By Michelle Cole
SALEM -- A boy and his sister were on their way from Oregon foster care to their uncle and aunt's home in Mexico earlier this year. Then child welfare officials took a deeper look into all foreign adoptions and decided not only to find a different home for the two elementary school-age siblings but also to hold off sending foster kids out of the country until they can be sure they'll be safe.
State officials are preparing to resume foreign adoptions in 2010 after declaring a moratorium in March. Eleven children currently in Oregon foster homes await adoption by relatives in Mexico. But they will not go until child welfare officials here and in Mexico have satisfied a host of new rules monitoring the safety of such placements.Adrianna.JPGAdrianna Romero Cram was born in Oregon, taken into protective custody by the state of Oregon at age 1, and sent to live in Mexico with relatives she'd never met just weeks before her 4th birthday.
The rules were written to comply with new state laws passed in response to a series in The Oregonian detailing how the state failed to protect Adrianna Romero Cram. The little girl was sent to live with relatives in Mexico just weeks before her 4th birthday.
Adrianna was still in Oregon's legal custody when she was abused for months and then murdered in June 2005. Her aunt and uncle, selected by Oregon authorities to adopt the girl, were convicted of aggravated murder.
Adrianna's teachers in Mexico told The Oregonian that they had tried to find help for the bruised and battered child but couldn't get local social 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.
The new rules and procedures will put Oregon among the first states to comply with the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children, an international treaty to protect children who are being adopted from abuse or exploitation.
"Everything Oregon is doing demonstrates they're serious about this," Patricia Hickey, an official at the U.S. State Department who oversees Hague implementation and intercountry adoptions, said Wednesday.
Oregon's new rules also directly address many of the issues raised in Adrianna's case:
- A new toll-free number allows foreign teachers, doctors and others who have contact with a youngster to report concerns directly to Oregon child welfare authorities.
- More extensive home studies, background and criminal history checks are expected to spot trouble even before the child is placed.
- Adoptive relatives in other countries will be required to take parenting training using an Oregon-approved curriculum.
- Child-specific contracts will require social workers in other countries to see a youngster at least once every 30 days and to provide regular written reports to Oregon.
Beth Englander, adoptions manager at the Oregon Department of Human Services, said she expects the state will be ready to place three groups of children in Oregon foster care with relatives in Mexico within the next three months.
"The pieces are in place; we're waiting for final legal review," she said.
International adoption from state foster care is relatively unusual. From 1999 through 2008, Oregon placed 27 children in foster care for adoption by relatives in other countries. In comparison, the state places about 1,000 children each year for adoption within the United States.
Oregon child welfare officials have heard much criticism from the public for sending children -- especially U.S. citizens -- to other countries to live. In 2007, state officials wanted to send Gabriel Allred to live with his grandmother in Mexico. Gabriel's Oregon foster parents fought the decision and won.
Despite the sometimes negative publicity, Englander said, "as a state agency we have a responsibility and obligation to first make placements of children with relatives."
The policy is there, she added, because research shows children adopted by relatives are better able to maintain cultural and family connections and the placements are more likely to stick.
But Englander acknowledged that foreign adoptions also can be complicated and they require a great deal of cooperation.
For example, she cited the case of the brother and sister who were on their way to their uncle and aunt.
Mexican child welfare officials had originally approved the couple. But after Oregon asked for a second look, officials concluded the couple did not have sufficient parenting experience. Mexican authorities recommended another relative's home instead. Those children will be among the first to go as soon as the moratorium is lifted.