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Tough adoption standards are essential to protect children: Guest opinion


By Susan Soonkeum Cox

Holt International Children's Services, which pioneered intercountry adoption 60 years ago, urges tougher standards to clamp down on disreputable, unethical practices that threaten to reduce or even eliminate foreign adoptions.

Based in Eugene, Holt has placed thousands of orphaned children, some with physical or mental disabilities, in loving homes in Oregon since the Korean War, when Harry and Bertha Holt were appalled to see defenseless children abandoned and left to starve on the streets.

However, Holt's ability to place children with Oregon families is being impaired by scandalous practices by disreputable individuals and unethical organizations that use adoption to mask child trafficking. These scandals risk turning foreign governments against all intercountry adoptions, as evidenced by the sharp decline in adoptions over the past decade.

The latest adoption scandal involves a practice called rehoming, which was exposed in a recent investigation by Reuters. People adopt, then pass the child along to families who bid for them over the Internet.

Bidders can be parents with personal wealth who want to avoid the inconvenience of a screening by a reputable adoption agency. Sometimes bidders are people who prey on and abuse children.

It is sickening and disheartening because the abuses by a few can prevent many children from finding a place in the world with parents and siblings who love them.

Holt views its responsibility as finding families for children, not children for families -- and especially not for people who abuse children.

Adoption is for a lifetime. We employ professional best practices by thoroughly vetting prospective adoptive parents. We educate them to the roles and responsibilities of adoptive parents. We match children with compatible families so all can flourish. We provide post-adoption services and support to families that we believe is an essential service all agencies should provide.

Education, training and matching take time and resources. But it is time and resources well spent when it results in adoptions that work -- for the child.

This is why Holt and other credible adoption agencies support the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, which has been ratified by the United States and 90 other countries. The convention provides global standards that ensure birth families, adoptive families and adopted children have the security of processes and systems designed to protect them.

The Universal Accreditation Act, which takes effect July 2014, requires every international adoption service provider to be Hague accredited and compliant. This will narrow the gap between unethical practitioners and competent, professional service providers. The act also includes prosecution for unethical practitioners.

Unless we aggressively unmask child traffickers posing as adoption agents and educate adoptive parents to the real and enduring responsibilities they assume, we endanger protocols that enable families in Oregon to share their love with needy children from abroad.

Adoption is extremely complex and further complicated when it includes another country, culture and nationality. It is critical that agencies and individuals providing adoption services have the necessary skills, expertise and professional capacity required. Good intentions are not enough. And criminal intent cannot be condoned.

Susan Soonkeum Cox is vice president for policy and external affairs for Holt International Children's Services. She was adopted from Korea in 1956.

2013 Sep 14