Agency Accreditation

The accreditation regulations set standards for accreditation and approval that are designed to ensure that U.S. accredited agencies and approved persons perform their duties in an ethical and transparent manner. These standards reflect the principles and values found in the Hague Adoption Convention (Convention) and the Intercountry Adoption Act (IAA). Initially, the accreditation regulations applied only to adoption service providers (ASPs) working in Convention cases, i.e., in cases involving adoption of a child habitually resident in a country that is a party to the Hague Adoption Convention. In January of 2013, the President signed the Intercountry Adoption Universal Accreditation Act of 2012 (UAA), which mandated that the accreditation provisions of the IAA apply to “orphan” cases subject to INA section 101(b)(1)(F).

The impact of the UAA is to require ASPs assisting families with an intercountry adoption pursuant to INA 101(b)(1)(F) or (G) to abide by the same ethical standards of practice regardless of where the child resides, regardless of whether or not the country of origin is a Convention country. The effective date of the UAA is July 14, 2014. On or after that date, agencies or persons providing adoption services in all non-grandfathered intercountry adoption cases – both Convention and non-Convention “orphan” cases – must be accredited or approved, supervised , or exempted according to the accreditation regulations in 22 CFR Part 96. For more information about the UAA, please see our UAA webpage.

Adoption Services

Organizations and individuals that provide any one of six adoption services noted here and found in both the IAA and in the accreditation regulations (see 22 CFR 96.2  Definitions) must be accredited, approved, supervised, or exempted. 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 prospective adoptive parent(s), and reporting on such study;
  4. Making a non-judicial determination of a the best interest 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; and
  6. Assuming custody of a child and providing (including facilitating the provision of) childcare or any other social service when necessary because of a disruption before final adoption.

Accreditation and Approval Distinguished

The IAA distinguishes between agencies and persons when it certifies that organizations and individuals are in substantial compliance with the accreditation regulations. The terms “agency” and “person” are defined in the accreditation regulations (see Definitions in 22 CFR 96.2) as follows:

"Agency means a private, nonprofit organization licensed to provide adoption services in at least one State."

"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."

Agencies may apply for accreditation. Persons apply for approval. With few exceptions, there is no difference between the services accredited agencies and approved persons can provide. The distinction between agencies and persons reflects distinctions in the Convention. (See Hague Adoption Convention Articles 9-13 and 22).

Country of Origin Authorization also Required

Keep in mind that U.S. accreditation or approval is not an automatic permission to provide adoption services in any Convention or other country of origin. A Convention country is not required to permit accredited agencies or approved persons to operate in its territory; it may limit which agencies or persons may provide adoption services. A Convention country may even insist that adoption services be handled by governmental authorities instead of accredited or approved ASPs. An ASP may not provide adoption services in another Convention country unless it is authorized to do so in accordance with that country's laws and procedures. Likewise, non-Convention countries determine in accordance with their laws and procedures how an agency or person may seek permission to provide adoption services there.

Accrediting Entities

The Department of State designates accrediting entities to perform accreditation functions including accrediting and approving agencies and persons, monitoring and overseeing ASP compliance with the accreditation regulations, investigating complaints received about ASP conduct, reporting on substantiated complaints, and taking adverse action against agencies that are no longer in substantial compliance with the regulations. Substantial compliance is defined in the Substantial Compliance System document, which is available at the following link:  Substantial Compliance System.

The Department of State designated the Council on Accreditation to be an accrediting entity in 2006 and renewed that designation in 2010.

The Department of State monitors the designated accrediting entity to ensure that it performs its functions in compliance with the Convention, the IAA, the UAA, and the implementing regulations of the IAA and UAA, other applicable laws, and with its written agreement with the Department.

Performing Adoption Services Without Accreditation

An agency or person engaged in intercountry adoptions does not necessarily have to apply for accreditation or approval to perform adoption services in Convention adoptions. It may instead choose to work under the supervision of another provider that is accredited or approved, or to provide only certain limited services that may be provided in intercountry adoption cases without being accredited or approved or supervised. We encourage agencies and persons to choose the path that makes the most sense for their organization.

The IAA and its implementing regulations created the accreditation process to accredit agencies and to approve persons to act as primary providers in Convention cases. The intent was to give prospective adoptive parents one accredited/approved adoption service provider that would be responsible for implementing a service plan to provide (either directly or through arrangements with other providers) all of the adoption services in connection with a Convention adoption.

The categories supervised and exempted providers were specifically created by the IAA and its implementing regulations to enable smaller or specialized providers to operate under the Convention system in the United States and to work in concert with primary providers. The fact that such a provider is not "accredited" or "approved" does not reflect negatively on the provider's ability to provide a particular adoption service. It simply reflects the fact that such a provider is not in a position to act as a primary provider.

There is also a difference between legal services and adoption services. In short, legal services are services other than the adoption services defined above that relate to providing legal advice and information, and drafting legal documents (see 22 CFR 96.2). Attorneys need to look closely at their practices to determine whether they are providing adoption services as defined in the regulations in addition to legal services. If an attorney is providing adoption services s/he must be accredited, approved, or act under the supervision of an accredited or approved adoption service provider.