Post adoption reports are required by families who adopt children from outside the United States. The requirements vary in number and frequency, usually based on the sending country’s laws. It is understandable that after a sometimes long and expensive process of adoption that parents feel both wary and weary of a social worker visiting their home to report on their family unit for years after homecoming. In order to understand this requirement, it’s important to learn about the history of US/intercountry adoption and why it not only protects adoptive parents and their children, but how it can ultimately benefit yours and the legitimacy of future adoptions.
Adoption is among the oldest and most widespread of human social practices. The oldest recordings of adoption practices date back to 18th century BCE. It wasn’t until 1851 when Massachusetts enacted the first modern adoption law, that adoption was recognized as a social and legal matter requiring state supervision. While 1851 seems late in the history of adoption, it was actually early in the history of adoption law. For example, the United Kingdom, did not pass legislation regulating adoption until 1926. In the 150 years since, modern adoption law has spread and been accepted throughout the Western world—so thoroughly we forget how innovative it is and how hard it is for other cultures to grasp. The idea of permanently and legally severing a child’s biological ties to a birth family is all but incomprehensible to some cultures.
It has been widely reported that US international adoption grew out of orphan-rescue missions in the wake of military conflicts, beginning with the airlift of German and Japanese orphans at the end of the World War. Similar rescues followed the Korean War, in 1953, the Bay of Pigs debacle, in 1961, and the Vietnam War, in 1975. These “babylifts” were, in part, political and fueled by a new superpower’s desire to demonstrate its good will to the rest of the world as humanitarian mercy missions.
In addition, in 1955 Henry and Bertha Holt, an evangelical couple from rural Oregon, secured a special act of Congress enabling them to adopt Korean “war orphans.” These children of Korean women and American GIs had been stigmatized or abandoned because of their visible ethnic differences and the presumption of infidelity or illegitimacy. The Holts turned their personal experience into a mission, founding the first organization dedicated to large-scale international adoption, Holt International Children’s Services.
Rates of international adoption began to climb dramatically after 1992, when China opened its orphanages and let Westerners adopt some of the thousands of daughters abandoned because of a radical and historically unique social experiment: the one-child policy. Intercountry adoption by westerners transformed from a charitable endeavor to a private industry. And with that came unethical motives and practices that legislators and legitimate agencies who were finding families for orphaned children were already desperately trying to prevent tried. For example, in the 1980s a number of Latin American countries were hit by child-buying and kidnapping scandals; in some cases, during civil wars, military forces were killing insurgents and selling their children into international adoption. In 1989, the televised sight of Romanian orphans warehoused in abysmal conditions broke many Western hearts provoking thousands to adopt from Romania. Many did take home institutionalized and often developmentally delayed children. Others fell under the sway of entrepreneurial locals who saw money to be made. As has been widely reported, by 1991 Romanian adoption “facilitators” were soliciting children directly from birth families in hospitals, on the street, in poor neighborhoods, even in their homes, sometimes haggling over prices while shocked Westerners stood by. In response, Romania shut its doors to international adoption, reopening for reform, and then closing again when corruption returned to re-open only to Romanian citizens living abroad. Similarly, in 2008, Guatemala closed its doors to adoption to try to root out systemic corruption. Overall, these are tragic results for children who legitimately do need safe forever families.
While the motivation for the adoptive parents may have been sincere in countries like Romania and Guatemala, US legislators continued to scrutinize other countries’ practices in determining a child’s “orphan status” and termination of birth parental rights. And rightfully so. All too often US and European agencies have been “finding” children for their consumers by contracting directly with orphanages, maternity homes, hospitals or foreign lawyers abroad who are unsupervised by their respective governments. At Nightlight, we work hard to vet our foreign partners along with the United States Embassy in those countries to ensure we are placing children who may never have a chance to find a family in their native country.
Post adoption reporting is one of many ways in which the US government has worked with foreign governments to assure legal and ethical adoption practices. Furthermore, the reports are a tool in which US citizens and our government ensure children have not been trafficked, sold or rehomed without anyone’s knowledge. Keep in mind that the cost of post adoption reporting should be merely to cover worker fees, translations and shipping when original reports are required. One of the most important items to report is that the adoptee has obtained US citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000. The US Department of State website states:
The Department strongly urges all adoptive parents to take these obligations seriously and comply with post-adoption and post-placement requirements in a timely manner. Failure to do so may put at risk the ability of future U.S. families and foreign children to be matched. Your cooperation will contribute to the country of origin’s history of positive experiences with U.S. citizen adoptive parents.
Post-adoption reports provide an important opportunity for the adoptive parents and the child to discuss the progress of the adoption. They may also provide assurances to political leaders and adoption officials in the child’s country of origin that intercountry adoption was indeed in the child’s best interest.
Nightlight works in countries who are open to placing children with US families as a last resort for placement. This may look different in many countries. For instance, in disaster-torn countries like Haiti, there is little ability for domestic adoption thus creating a humanitarian effort for children of all ages. However, in Colombia, domestic adoption is prevalent and growing for children who have been detained into the child welfare system due to neglect and/or abuse. Only children who have not been placed successfully in-country over time are able to be adopted outside of Colombia.
We encourage our adoptive families to utilize post adoption reporting as a resource for their adopted child and family. Many families experience little to no transitional issues and may feel post adoption reporting to be invasive and unnecessary. However, adoption is a lifelong journey for adoptees. Post adoption social workers can provide insight and connection to the adoptee that is outside of the family unit. We also realize that social worker visits may be triggering to some adoptees and work with families to prepare the child and work toward a positive experience for the family. While home visits are required by most countries, visits can start in parks or restaurants to gain trust and build relationships between workers and adoptees. Ultimately, it’s important that adoptees feel they have a network of people in the adoption realm that can support their journey through their lives.
For more information on post adoption resources, visit our Post Adoption Connection Center
Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism (2010.) Capsule history of international adoption.
Seabrook, John. (2010.) New York Times. The Last Babylift: Adopting a child in Haiti.
The Adoption History Project (2012.) Timeline of adoption history.
US Department of State (n.d.) What to expect after adoption.
US Department of State (n.d.) FAQ: Child Citizenship Act of 2000