FAQ: The Universal Accreditation Act of 2012

This set of FAQs addresses changes to intercountry adoption law and practice brought about by the Intercountry Adoption Universal Accreditation Act of 2012 (UAA). The President signed the UAA into law on January 14, 2013. The new law takes effect 18 months thereafter on July 14, 2014.

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  • Q: What does the UAA achieve?

    • The UAA extends the safeguards provided by accreditation to orphans as defined under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) section 101(b)(1)(F), their adoptive parent, and birth parents.  This is accomplished by ensuring that adoption service providers are all held to the same federal standards.
    • Such accreditation ensures ongoing monitoring and oversight of adoption service providers to verify their compliance with federal accreditation standards.  This holds accredited providers accountable for failure to be in substantial compliance with the standards.
    • Safeguards under the UAA are universal because the UAA applies Hague Adoption Convention-compatible standards to both Convention and orphan cases.
  • Q: Why have federal standards in intercountry adoption?

    • Before the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 (IAA), adoption service providers in intercountry adoption were exclusively regulated by state law.
    • State licensing authorities in the 50 states have different standards; some have few specific standards governing intercountry adoptions, especially relating to agencies’ conduct abroad.
    • Many state licensing authorities have been unable to hold service providers accountable for illicit practices in intercountry adoption cases.  State laws may not apply to the activities of licensed agencies outside the United States, and states often lack the resources to investigate and take action against agencies involved in such cases.
    • The UAA provides for uniform standards and accountability for service provider conduct regardless of whether the case falls under the Hague Adoption Convention or under the orphan process.
  • Q: What is accreditation?

    • In this context, accreditation is the evaluation and certification process of recognizing that an adoption service provider’s practice substantially complies with federal standards of practice.  It is a transparent process involving assessment of the agency’s or person’s compliance with the accreditation standards, a site visit by the accrediting entity, and other inputs.  More information on the accreditation process is available on the COA website
    • The system used to make accreditation decisions is described in the Substantial Compliance System document available at the following link:  Substantial Compliance System.
  • Q: Who needs to be accredited or approved?

    • Starting July 14, 2014, any agency or person providing adoption services in intercountry adoption cases involving orphan children (as defined under INA 101(b)(1)(F) - scroll down to letter (F) in this link), and Convention adoptees (as defined under INA 101(b)(1)(G) - scroll down to letter (G) in this link) must be accredited or approved, or be a supervised or exempted provider.  The only exception concerns cases covered by the transition rule.  See the question on grandfathering, below. 
    • The definition of adoption services includes:
      • Identifying a child for adoption and arranging an adoption;
      • Securing the necessary consent to termination of parental rights and to adoption;
      • Performing a background study on a child or a home study on a prospective adoptive parent(s), and reporting on such a study;
      • Making non-judicial determinations of the best interests of a child and the appropriateness of an adoptive placement for the child;
      • Monitoring a case after a child has been placed with prospective adoptive parent(s) until final adoption; or
      • When necessary because of a disruption before final adoption, assuming custody and providing (including facilitating the provision of) child care or any other social service pending an alternative placement.  22 CFR 96.2 Definitions.
  • Q: How long do agencies and persons have to become accredited or approved?

    • The UAA becomes effective 18 months after the date the President signs it into law.  Starting on that date, with the exception of cases covered by the transition rule, only accredited agencies, approved persons, or supervised or exempted providers will be permitted to provide adoption services in Convention or orphan adoption cases. 
    • Agencies that wait too long to decide whether to seek accreditation, may not become accredited before the effective date of the UAA.
    • Agencies and persons should consult early with the accrediting entity (AE) to determine a reasonable time frame to achieve accreditation or approval.
    • The law becomes effective July 14, 2014.
  • Q: How much will it cost for agencies and persons to become accredited or approved?

    • Accreditation is self-funded; the agency or person seeking accreditation pays for the cost of accreditation as well as ongoing monitoring and oversight.
    • The U.S. Department of State reviews and approves the schedule of fees charged by the AE.  The total fees the AE expects to collect may not exceed the total cost of accreditation or approval.
    • The Council on Accreditation (COA), the Department of State-designated AE, publishes information on its policies and procedures including a fee schedule for accreditation services.
  • Q: What happens on the effective date if the adoption service provider is not accredited or approved?

    • Agencies and persons not credited or approved, supervised, or exempted by the regulations, may not provide any of the named adoption services after the UAA effective date.  The six adoption services are:
      1. Identifying a child for adoption and arranging an adoption;
      2. Securing the necessary consent to termination of parental rights and to adoption;
      3. Performing a background study on a child or a home study on a prospective adoptive parent(s), and reporting on such a study;
      4. Making non-judicial determinations of the best interests of a child and the appropriateness of an adoptive placement for the child;
      5. Monitoring a case after a child has been placed with prospective adoptive parent(s) until final adoption; or
      6. When necessary because of a disruption before final adoption, assuming custody and providing (including facilitating the provision of) child care or any other social service pending an alternative placement.  22 CFR 96.2 Definitions.
    • The regulations make clear that “an agency or person may not offer, provide, or facilitate the provision of any adoption service in the United States…unless it is
      1. An accredited agency or an approved person;
      2. A supervised provider; or
      3. An exempted provider, if the exempted provider’s home study or child background study will be review2ed and approved by an accredited agency pursuant to 22 CFR 96.47(c).”  22 CFR 96.12(a). 
    • Agencies or persons that continue to provide adoption services without accreditation, supervision, or exemption, are subject to the civil and criminal penalties in the IAA.  Civil penalties include fines up to $100,000 and criminal penalties include fines up to $250,000 or imprisonment up to 5 years or both.  IAA Section 404. 
  • Q: What does it mean to accredit agencies and to approve persons?

    • The IAA distinguishes between agencies and persons.
    • The U.S. accreditation regulations define an agency to mean: 
      • Agency means a private, nonprofit organization licensed to provide adoption services in at least one State.  22 CFR 96.2
    • The U.S. accreditation regulations define a person to mean:
      • Person means an individual or a private, for-profit entity (including a corporation, company, association, firm, partnership, society, or joint stock company) providing adoption services.  It does not include public domestic authorities or public foreign authorities.  22 CFR 96.2
  • Q: Does every agency/person need to be accredited/approved? What if an agency only provides a small part of the adoption? Does it still need to be accredited?

    • The US accreditation regulations (22 CFR 96.12(a)), the IAA, and the UAA clarify that in Convention adoption cases and in orphan process cases “an agency or person may not offer, provide, or facilitate the provision of any adoption service in the United States…unless it is<
      1. An accredited agency or an approved person;
      2. A supervised provider; or
      3. An exempted provider, if the exempted provider’s home study or child background study will be review2ed and approved by an accredited agency pursuant to 22 CFR 96.47(c). 
    • Only six specific adoption services require accreditation or approval.  The six adoption services are:
      1. Identifying a child for adoption and arranging an adoption;
      2. Securing the necessary consent to termination of parental rights and to adoption;
      3. Performing a background study on a child or a home study on a prospective adoptive parent(s), and reporting on such a study;
      4. Making non-judicial determinations of the best interests of a child and the appropriateness of an adoptive placement for the child;
      5. Monitoring a case after a child has been placed with prospective adoptive parent(s) until final adoption; or
      6. When necessary because of a disruption before final adoption, assuming custody and providing (including facilitating the provision of) child care or any other social service pending an alternative placement.  22 CFR 96.2
    • 22 CFR 96.13 lists circumstances in which accreditation or supervision is not required.  Additionally, cases covered by the UAA transition rule are exempted. 
  • Q: What if an agency or person just doesn't want to be accredited/approved but wants to keep helping families adopt abroad?

    • The IAA permits non-accredited adoption service providers to provide Convention adoption services if supervised by an accredited agency. The UAA permits this practice in orphan cases.
    • Each supervised provider operates under a written agreement between the accredited provider and the supervised provider complying with 22 CFR 96.45. 
    • The accredited agency supervising the non-accredited agency subjects itself to adverse action, which may include suspension or cancellation of its own accreditation, if it doesn’t appropriately supervise.
  • Q: What about cases already in process? Are there "grandfathering" provisions in the UAA?

    • The UAA’s accreditation requirement does not apply if either of the following occurred before July 13, 2013: 
    •  
      • Prospective adoptive parents filed the I-600 or the I-600A (See UAA Section 2(c)(1)); or
      • Prospective adoptive parents “initiated  the adoption process with the filing of an appropriate application in a foreign country sufficient such that the Secretary of State is satisfied.” (See UAA Section 2(c)(2).

    In practical terms, this means that a consular officer or a Department of State CA/OCS Adoption Division officer finds that the prospective adoptive parents submitted an application to the relevant competent authority or that the prospective adoptive parents accepted a match proposed by a competent authority or appropriate entity.

    Interpretive Guidance for the transition provisions in UAA Section 2(c)(2):
    The following guidance informs the analysis of Consular officers abroad and Department CA/OCS Adoption Division officers in determining whether the transition provisions in UAA Section 2(c)(2) apply in specific cases.  When the transition provisions apply, the case is grandfathered and the accreditation requirement of the UAA does not apply.

    • In cases covered by the transition provisions in UAA Section 2(c)(1), you need not consider whether the case is also covered by Section 2(c)(2).  If you engage in the analysis under Section 2(c)(2), you should find a case grandfathered if one of the following occurred before July 13, 2013:
      1. Prospective adoptive parents submitted an application to the relevant competent authority; or
      2. Prospective adoptive parents accepted a match proposed by a competent authority or appropriate entity.

    An application filed with a competent authority need not designate a specific child.  What constitutes an application will vary from country to country.  You should consider the country-specific adoption process. 

    Competent authority is defined in 22 CFR 96.2 and means “a court or governmental authority of a foreign-sending country that has jurisdiction and authority to make decisions in matters of child welfare, including adoption.”

    • This must be a court or governmental authority.
    • Focus is on a competent authority with jurisdiction and authority at the time the application was filed.  Whether the authority is still in operation or still has jurisdiction later in the process is irrelevant.

    Appropriate entity, on the other hand, includes a licensed orphanage or adoption service provider (ASP) authorized by the country to make the placement decision and to care for the child.

    • Contracting with or submitting documents to an adoption service provider is not sufficientPAPs contracting with an ASP or submitting documents to the ASP shall not be construed as meeting Section 2(c)(2).
    • The date of the match can generally be inferred from any official records of the placing agency concerning the match or from contemporaneous records of the adoption service provider.  If that is not available, you may consider other credible evidence.  If you cannot determine the date of match, the match cannot be the basis for grandfathering the case.
  • Q: What are the safeguards resulting from Hague accreditation?

    • The IAA and the regulations implementing the Hague Adoption Convention protect against illicit activities and practices of the past that threatened the best interests of children.  Key protections include:
      • Children may not be obtained for adoption through sale, exploitation, abduction, and trafficking;
      • Parents receive training in advance of the adoption to understand what to expect when raising an adopted child and prepare them for some of the challenges;
      • The agency or person must ensure that intercountry adoptions take place in best interests of children;
      • Fees must be transparent for services performed both in the United States and abroad and may not result in improper gain for the service provider;
      • U.S. Department of State-appointed accrediting entities monitor and assess accredited agency compliance with federal standards;
      • Accrediting entities ensure accountability when accredited agencies do not comply with the standards by taking appropriate adverse actions against them and may suspend or cancel their accreditation;
      • Accrediting entities ensure that accredited agency personnel are qualified and appropriately trained and provide adoption services in an ethical manner;
      • Accredited agencies must respond to complaints about their services and activities and may not retaliate against clients who complain.
  • Q: Where can I find additional information about accreditation and approval?

  • Q: Can I complete the intercountry adoption process doing an independent adoption* in which I do the adoption work myself without the help of an accredited or approved provider?

    • No.  An accredited or approved primary provider is required in every intercountry adoption case, unless a public domestic authority is providing all of the adoption services.  The primary provider is responsible for ensuring that all six adoption services are provided in accordance with the Convention and applicable laws and regulations.  The six adoption services can be provided by the primary provider itself or by an agency or person supervised by the primary provider, or by an exempted provider.  Prospective adoptive parents acting on their own behalf do not require accreditation, approval, or supervision unless such conduct is prohibited by State law or the law of the country of origin of the child being adopted.  Under the (UAA), the requirement for a primary provider applies whether you are adopting from a Convention or a non-Convention country. 

      For more information on the Six Adoption Services, see the FAQ on What happens on the effective date if the adoption service provider is not accredited or approved?

      See the FAQ on Using Facilitators.

      * The term independent adoption is used in different ways depending on the context.  In this example, the question refers to cases in which the prospective adoptive parent engages personally to complete an adoption abroad with or without the assistance of unaccredited or unapproved facilitators in the United States or abroad.

  • Q: I plan to adopt from a non- Convention country with the help of a U.S. facilitator with connections and partners in the country of origin. This facilitator is not accredited or approved and insists he does not need to be accredited. Will I be able to complete the intercountry adoption process with just the facilitator's help?

    • No.  An accredited or approved primary provider is required in every intercountry adoption case, unless a public domestic authority is providing all the servicesA facilitator who is not accredited or approved cannot be a primary provider or provide any of the six adoption services without supervision by an accredited agency or approved person or without being an exempted provider.  The facilitator’s assertions alone that he/she does not need accreditation or approval are not sufficient to exempt him/her from the requirement.  The key is whether his/her activities fall under the definition of adoption service in the law.  For more information on what an adoption service is, see the FAQ on Who Needs to be Accredited or Approved, or 22 CFR 96.2, Definitions.  The requirement for a primary provider in non-Convention orphan cases under INA section 101(b)(1)(F) takes effect on July 14, 2014.  

      The reason for requiring accreditation, approval, or supervision of adoption service providers, often including facilitators, is to ensure accountability and uniformly high standards of conduct.  In the past, some facilitators have engaged in illegal or unethical practices, obtaining children for adoption illicitly through child buying, child abduction, deception, or other means that exploited the poverty and lack of sophistication of birth mothers and orphanages.  U.S. accreditation standards combat those illicit practices by requiring accountability both to State licensing authorities applying State standards and to accrediting entities applying Federal standards.  Having a primary provider in every adoption case ensures that one agency or person has ultimate responsibility for the proper and effective provision of adoption services.  
       
      See the FAQ on Independent Adoptions.

  • Q: Some organizations provide case management services for intercountry adoption cases. These organizations identify agencies or persons to provide adoption services but don't provide any adoption services themselves. Do these case management service organizations (CMSOs) require accreditation, approval, supervision, or exemption to provided coordination services?

    • If the CMSO provides none of the six adoption services in the case, it does not need to be accredited, approved, supervised, or exempted.  For example, if the CMSO locates a child placement agency to work with prospective adoptive families, but does not itself perform any of those child placement services that make up parts of the six adoption services it would not be required to be accredited, approved, or supervised.  Likewise, if the CMSO locates an agency or person to provide post placement monitoring of the case before the adoption is final, but doesn’t itself provide any monitoring or other adoption services in the case, it does not need to be accredited, approved, or supervised. 

      CaveatCMSOs are Not Primary Providers.  A CMSO may not be the primary provider in an adoption case unless it is accredited or approved.  Its coordination role must not be confused with the responsibility of the primary provider to ensure that all of the six adoption services are provided in accordance with applicable law and regulations. 

      See the FAQ on Independent Adoptions and Using Facilitators.

  • Q: Do prospective adoptive parents need to work with an accredited or approved adoption service provider in cases begun on or after July 13, 2013 and before July 14, 2014?

    • A:  No.  Up until July 14, 2014, when the Universal Accreditation Act enters into effect, unaccredited adoption service providers (ASPs) may provide adoption services in orphan cases.  The UAA created a transition period ending on July 13, 2013.  Orphan adoption cases begun before July 13, 2013, fall under the transition provisions of the UAA and are grandfathered, that is, subject to the rules in force before the UAA.  (See the FAQ on grandfathering for details.)  Cases begun after the transition period ends but before the effective date of the UAA, are not grandfathered, but do not require accreditation either.  See the USCIS web notice on this topic. 

      Nonetheless, the Department encourages prospective adoptive families to consider accreditation planning by their ASP if they begin adoption cases following the transition period.  The Department recommends that families discuss early on with their ASP whether it intends to obtain accreditation or approval, and how it plans to ensure continuity in their case after the UAA enters into effect on July 14, 2014. 

      There are risks associated with beginning an adoption case on or after July 13, 2013, with an unaccredited or unapproved ASP.  If the provider does not obtain accreditation/approval and the case is not completed before July 14, 2014, the ASP will be required to stop providing adoption services until it can obtain accreditation or approval or otherwise meet the requirements of the UAA.  Noncompliance with the accreditation law subjects the ASP to the civil and criminal penalty provisions of the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000.