Thursday, March 15, 2007

US DOS Issues Notice About Guatemalan Adoption

The US Department of State has just posted this notice about adoption from Guatemala on its website. The notice is quoted in its entirety below.

US Department of State, Notice of March 14, 2007:
Frequently Asked Questions: Prospective Adoptive Parents
of Guatemalan Children

1.Q: I have already begun the process of adopting from Guatemala but have not been matched with a child. After reading the information on your webpage, I am concerned. Do you recommend that I pursue adoption from Guatemala?

A: Although we understand many U.S. families have adopted children from Guatemala in the past, we cannot recommend adoption from Guatemala at this time. The situation in Guatemala has changed. There are serious problems with the adoption process in Guatemala, which does not protect all children, birth mothers, or prospective adoptive parents. The Guatemala government is planning to implement new adoption processing procedures to increase protections. The United States is also scrutinizing individual cases more closely than before. We recommend that you bear these facts in mind when choosing a country from which to adopt.

2.Q: What are the problems in Guatemala?

A: The major U.S. Government concerns about the Guatemalan adoption process include:

Conflicts of Interest: Guatemalan notaries may act as judges and determine a child’s eligibility for adoption and issue a final adoption decree. In the same case where he or she is acting as judge, the notary or his/her staff may also directly interact with birth mothers, solicit consents for an adoption, and handle the referral of the child to prospective adoptive parents. The Department of State does not believe that the notaries, given these multiple roles, can truly act objectively and in the best interests of the various parties.

Lack of Government Oversight: Despite these critical roles in the adoption process, the notaries are largely unregulated. Public oversight is minimal. Particularly in cases in which prospective adoptive parents are told that the birth mother relinquished her rights to her child voluntarily, the U.S. Government is concerned that social services to birth mothers are extremely limited and that their consents may have been induced by money or threats. Monetary incentives and high fees drive completion of the adoption more than protecting the children, the birth parents, and the prospective adoptive parents. The Department is aware of a growing number of cases of adopting parents who have told us that they are being extorted for very large amounts of money by their local representatives in order to complete an adoption.

Unregulated Foster Care: Like the notaries, Guatemalan foster care providers are not regulated or checked by the Guatemalan government for compliance with any standards. Many Guatemalan foster families have demonstrated their love and concern for the children in their care, and American adoptive parents have expressed gratitude for how the foster families cared for the children while the adoptions were in process. Unfortunately, however, the Department of State is also aware of instances of grossly inadequate care for young children in foster home situations. There are cases in which American adoptive families who have completed a Guatemalan adoption later learned that the foster care provider or others in the household had physically or sexually abused the children.

Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption: Guatemala has been a party to the Hague Convention since March 2003, but it has never enacted Hague-consistent legislation or instituted Hague-consistent practices that would provide children the protections that are now lacking. Guatemala has not established the required “central authority” to oversee intercountry adoption processing under the Convention and has not yet taken numerous other steps the Convention requires. The U.S. Department of State, the Hague Permanent Bureau (which oversees the Convention) and other countries have consistently expressed concern about these and other problems with Guatemalan adoptions. In fact, many Hague Convention countries have stopped adoptions from Guatemala.

3.Q: If the United States sees so many problems in the Guatemalan process, why has it continued processing adoption cases and continued to permit Guatemalan children to come to the United States?

A: The U.S. Government continues to process adoption cases, but subjects each case to detailed review. For example, in 1998 the United States instituted mandatory DNA testing for Guatemalan women who stated intentions to relinquish their children. This measure was taken in response to numerous cases in which impostors who were not the children’s actual birth mothers attempted to relinquish rights to children who were not theirs.

Even with DNA testing, however, it has become increasingly clear that the current adoption process in Guatemala does not protect all children adequately. U.S. authorities have therefore increased their scrutiny of all adoption cases. This increased scrutiny means more time will be needed to conduct individual case investigations and that each case will take longer to process. Similarly, more cases may be denied because the facts uncovered during the investigation show the child is not classifiable as an orphan under U.S. law.

4.Q: My agency is very reliable and they tell me that the adoption process they use in Guatemala is good and transparent. Can I rely on their assurances?

A: The Department of State has long advised all prospective adoptive parents, irrespective of the country from which they are hoping to adopt, to fully research any adoption agency or facilitator they plan to use for adoption services. For U.S.-based agencies, prospective adoptive parents should contact the Better Business Bureau and/or the licensing office of the appropriate state government agency in the U.S. state where the agency is located or licensed.

Even if a U.S. adoption agency has an unblemished record with such offices, however, and even if the agency itself is operating completely with the best intentions, the lack of oversight and regulation over the other actors in the Guatemalan adoption process make it extremely difficult for even the most ethical agency to be completely certain that everything has been done in accordance with the law and in the best interests of all the parties.

5.Q: What if I have begun the process of adoption from Guatemala and my child has already been identified? I consider this child my child and I cannot walk away at this point.

A: At this time, the U.S. Embassy is continuing to adjudicate each adoption case based on the merits of the information provided in that individual case. The Embassy, however, will adjudicate each case with even more scrutiny than has been its practice in the past. In addition, Guatemalan authorities have recently indicated that they plan to look more closely at each adoption case. Guatemala has introduced a new manual of adoption good practices. At this time, we cannot predict the full effect of the new manual on current or future cases. We do expect that processing individual cases will take longer due to the necessity of government scrutiny.

6.Q: My agency tells me that it is unlikely that Guatemala will change its adoption laws this year, because of elections and other political factors. Isn’t this good for me, because my case may not be delayed?

A: Adopting a child in a system that is based on a conflict of interests, that is rampant with fraud, and that unduly enriches facilitators is a very uncertain proposition with potential serious life-long consequences. When you decide whether to move forward with adoption in Guatemala, you should consider factors beyond timing. Some American prospective adoptive parents are deciding against adoption from Guatemala now because they do not want to support negative child welfare practices. In addition, a child’s long-term psychological well-being may be affected if the child later learns that his birth family did not freely choose to give him up or that he, and perhaps siblings, were “produced” for the sole purpose of adoption. U.S. parents have also discovered that their adoptive children have undisclosed serious special needs due to inadequate foster care and/or fraudulent medical information.

7.Q: We only want to adopt a child who is truly eligible for adoption and most certainly a child whose birth parents have legally terminated their parental rights. With these goals, can we adopt in Guatemala?

A: For the reasons stated above, we cannot say that the system of adoption currently in effect in Guatemala provides any assurances that your goals can be met.

8.Q: I understand that the process in Guatemala does not adequately protect children, but there are children in the adoption process now who will be hurt if adoptions are stopped abruptly. Will there be a process to help those children?

A: A number of foreign governments and non-governmental organizations have pledged their willingness to help the Government of Guatemala with technical support for a new adoption process with reliable oversight. Many good practices have already been identified.

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