Universal Accreditation Act of 2012

The following information explains the impact of the Intercountry Adoption Universal Accreditation Act of 2012 (UAA). Under the UAA, adoption service providers working with prospective adoptive parents in non-Convention adoption cases need to comply with the same accreditation requirement and standards that apply in Convention adoption cases.

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  • UAA FAQS

    1. What is the purpose of the UAA?
    2. Why have federal standards in intercountry adoption?
    3. What are the safeguards resulting from accreditation under the intercountry adoption accreditation regulations?
    4. On or after July 14, 2014, do I have to use an accredited or approved provider, or can I act on my own behalf in the intercountry adoption process?
    5. Can I do an independent adoption?
    6. How can I complete an adoption in a country of origin if the primary provider is precluded from acting in that non-Convention country, or if no accredited or approved adoption service provider is authorized to act in a Convention country?
    7. For purposes of the UAA, what is a “foreign provider” and what does it mean for the primary provider to verify certain services performed by a foreign provider?
    8. When a primary provider and an accredited or approved home study preparer are both active in a case and the primary provider withdraws from the case, does the accredited or approved home study preparer automatically become the primary provider?
    9. Can I still adopt a child from a non-Convention country after July 14, 2014?
    10. Does the Universal Accreditation Act of 2012 apply to domestic adoptions in the United States?
    11. What is accreditation?
    12. What does it mean to accredit agencies and to approve persons?
    13. Who needs to be accredited or approved?
    14. What happens on or after July 14, 2014, the UAA effective date, if the adoption service provider is not accredited or approved?
    15. How much does it cost for agencies and persons to become accredited or approved?
    16. 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?
    17. What if an agency or person doesn't want to be accredited/approved but wants to keep helping families adopt abroad?
    18. Where can I find additional information about accreditation and approval?
    19. 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?
    20. You published a new accreditation rule on July 14th. Can you help me understand the changes to the old accreditation and approval regulations found in 22 CFR Part 96? Can I provide comments to the rule for consideration by the Department of State?



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    1. What is the purpose of the UAA?
      • The Intercountry Adoption Universal Accreditation Act of 2012 (UAA) extends the safeguards provided by accreditation to orphans who are being adopted from countries that are not party to the Hague Adoption Convention, to their adoptive parents, and to their birth parents. This ensures that adoption service providers are all held to the same federal standards, no matter from which country a child is adopted.
      • Accredited and approved adoption service providers are subject to ongoing monitoring and oversight. This holds accredited providers accountable for failure to be in substantial compliance with the accreditation standards.
      • Safeguards under the UAA are universal because the UAA applies the same Hague Adoption Convention-compatible standards in the accreditation regulations to all intercountry adoptions.

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    2. 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 in every country.

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    3. What are the safeguards resulting from accreditation under the intercountry adoption accreditation regulations?
      • The Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 (IAA) and the regulations implementing the Hague Adoption Convention protect against the 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 to prepare them for some of the challenges;
        • The agency or person must ensure that intercountry adoptions take place in the 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 substantially comply with the standards by taking appropriate adverse actions against them, which may include suspension or cancellation of 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.

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    4. On or after July 14, 2014, do I have to use an accredited or approved provider, or can I act on my own behalf in the intercountry adoption process?
      • As of July 14, 2014, the UAA applies to all non-Convention cases (also known as orphan cases) unless the case has been grandfathered under the transition provisions, which are explained on the USCIS website. If your case is not grandfathered, you will need to work with an accredited agency or approved person to act as the primary provider in your case. Under 22 CFR Part 96 (the accreditation regulations), a primary provider is responsible for:
        1. Ensuring that all six adoption services defined at 22 CFR 96.2 are provided ;
        2. Supervising and being responsible for supervised providers where used (see 22 CFR 96.14); and
        3. Developing and implementing a service plan in accordance with 22 CFR 96.44.
      • Only accredited agencies or approved persons can act as primary providers.
      • You may still act on your own behalf in your own adoption case if permitted under the laws of the state in which you reside and the laws of the country from which you seek to adopt. Although you do not need accreditation or approval to act on your own behalf, your actions need to comply with applicable law, and you will still need to work with an accredited agency or approved person to act as the primary provider in your case. A primary provider helps to ensure that non-Convention adoption services are provided reflecting the same standards of practice and ethical conduct as in Convention cases.

      The Department strongly recommends working with an accredited or approved adoption service provider that will act as primary provider from the outset of each intercountry adoption case. Proceeding with your intercountry adoption case without an accredited or approved primary provider may delay or impede the completion of the case and may increase the overall cost of the case.

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    5. Can I do an independent adoption?
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    6. How can I complete an adoption in a country of origin if the primary provider is precluded from acting in that non-Convention country, or if no accredited or approved adoption service provider is authorized to act in a Convention country?
      • In all Convention cases and non-UAA grandfathered non-Convention cases the U.S. citizen prospective adoptive parent(s) needs to work with an accredited or approved adoption service provider who will act as "primary provider" in the case. Adoption service providers (ASPs) must act in accordance with the laws of the country of origin. Countries of origin (COOs) approach the use of accredited or approved ASPs differently; some do not permit any U.S. ASPs to provide services directly or to supervise providers in the COO; others permit only a limited role for primary providers.
      • Regardless of limitations placed upon them by the COO, under 22 CFR 96.44, primary providers are responsible for developing and executing a service plan for providing the six adoption services by providing services directly, or through arrangements with others. The service plan identifies which person or entity will provide each adoption service. Where the primary provider is prohibited by the country of origin's law or regulation from acting or from supervising foreign providers in the country of origin, the prospective adoptive parent(s) (PAPs) may be able to act on their own behalf in the case. In those cases, the ASP and PAPs work jointly to identify which foreign public authority or foreign provider will provide each service. Working cooperatively is especially important when the adoption process in the COO is not fully transparent and identifying responsible authorities to complete adoption services is challenging. A good place to start to learn about a country of origin's intercountry adoption process, and to identify for the service plan which person or entity will provide each adoption service, is the adoption country information sheet for the country where you seek to adopt. Click here to find the country information sheets on this website.
      • Once a service has been completed, the primary provider should obtain documentation concerning the completion of the service from the service provider directly if appropriate or in rare instances, indirectly from the PAPs. If consents were obtained or a home study or child background study was performed by a foreign provider, the primary provider would use this information to verify that these services were provided in accordance with local law and the Convention. For more information on the verification process as it relates to foreign (unsupervised) providers, see the FAQ on verification.
      • Note: The above does not address situations in which Convention countries have authorized at least one U.S. adoption service provider.

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    7. For purposes of the UAA, what is a “foreign provider” and what does it mean for the primary provider to verify certain services performed by a foreign provider?
      • The UAA requires that the same accreditation requirement and standards that apply in Convention cases apply in non-Convention cases. One aspect of this requirement is that an accredited or approved primary adoption service provider must be identified in each intercountry adoption case, unless an exception applies. The primary provider is responsible for ensuring that all adoption services are provided. Adoption services provided abroad may be provided by the primary provider directly or by certain other entities, including central authorities, competent authorities, public foreign authorities, foreign supervised providers (supervised by the primary provider in the case), or other foreign providers (an agency, person, or other non-governmental entity who is not supervised by a primary provider). (See 22 CFR 96.2 for definitions of some of these terms.) In incoming cases, foreign providers who are not supervised may only provide two services: obtaining necessary consents and performing and reporting on a child background study. If such adoption service is performed by a foreign provider who is not supervised, the primary provider must confirm that the foreign provider performed the adoption service in accordance with applicable foreign law and, to the extent possible, the relevant article of the Hague Adoption Convention. (See 22 CFR 96.14(c) and 22 CFR 96.46(c)(1) and (2) for details.) The primary provider verifies a foreign provider’s provision of these adoption services through review of the relevant documentation, and other appropriate steps.

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    8. When a primary provider and an accredited or approved home study preparer are both active in a case and the primary provider withdraws from the case, does the accredited or approved home study preparer automatically become the primary provider?
      • An accredited or approved home study preparer acts as the primary provider if no other accredited agency or approved person is providing adoption services in the case. However, if both a primary provider and an accredited or approved home study preparer are providing adoption services in a case, and the primary provider subsequently withdraws before all adoption services are completed, the accredited or approved home study preparer does not automatically assume the responsibility of primary provider. In such circumstances, the prospective adoptive parents will need to hire a new accredited agency or approved person to act as the primary provider.

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    9. Can I still adopt a child from a non-Convention country after July 14, 2014?
      • Yes. The UAA extends accreditation and approval requirements to intercountry adoptions of children from non-Convention countries. U.S. citizens may still adopt eligible children from both Convention and non-Convention countries provided that intercountry adoption is permitted by the child's country of origin.

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    10. Does the Universal Accreditation Act of 2012 apply to domestic adoptions in the United States?
      • No. The UAA only applies to intercountry adoptions by U.S. citizens of children from other countries that are not parties to the Convention. It does not extend the accreditation or approval requirements to services provided in the United States associated with domestic adoptions.

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    11. 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 input. 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.

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    12. What does it mean to accredit agencies and to approve persons?
      • The Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 (IAA) distinguishes between agencies and persons.
      • The U.S. accreditation regulations define an agency to mean:
        • A private, nonprofit organization licensed to provide adoption services in at least one State.
          See 22 CFR 96.2.
          Agencies may be accredited.
      • The U.S. accreditation regulations define a person to mean:
        • 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.
          See 22 CFR 96.2.
          Persons may be approved.

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    13. Who needs to be accredited or approved?
      • Starting July 14, 2014, the UAA effective date, 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 grandfathering provisions of the UAA. See the guidance on grandfathering.
      • The definition of adoption services includes:
        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.
          See 22 CFR 96.2 Definitions.

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    14. What happens on or after July 14, 2014, the UAA effective date, if the adoption service provider is not accredited or approved?
      • Agencies or persons that continue to provide adoption services in non-UAA grandfathered cases 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.

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    15. How much does 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 accrediting entity. 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. For fee information follow this link to the COA website. (Scroll down to “Fee Information for Hague Accreditation and Approval”).

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    16. 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?
      • Consistent with the IAA and the UAA, the relevant accreditation regulation (22 CFR 96.12(a)), clarifies 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 reviewed and approved by an accredited agency pursuant to 22 CFR 96.47(c).
      • The provision of the following six specific adoption services require accreditation or approval:
        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 (i.e., are UAA grandfathered) are exempted.

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    17. What if an agency or person doesn't want to be accredited/approved but wants to keep helping families adopt abroad?
      • The Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 (IAA) permits non-accredited adoption service providers to provide Convention adoption services if supervised by an accredited agency. The UAA permits this practice in non-Convention cases.
      • Each U.S. 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 the actions of the supervised provider.

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    18. Where can I find additional information about accreditation and approval?
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    19. 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.
      • Caveat: CMSOs 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.

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    20. You published a new accreditation rule on July 14th. Can you help me understand the changes to the old accreditation and approval regulations found in 22 CFR Part 96? Can I provide comments to the rule for consideration by the Department of State?
      Return to the FAQ List
  • UAA Grandfathering Guidance and Transition Case Guidance

  • UAA Country Specific Guidance

  • Links to additional UAA information