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FAQ on the Accrediting Entity Transition

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Transition of the Accrediting Entity Role from

Council on Accreditation (COA) to the

Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity, Inc. (IAAME)

 

December 8, 2017

The following FAQ is drawn from questions the Office of Children’s Issues has received about the announcement that COA will no longer be an accrediting entity after 2018. Additional questions and concerns that are not addressed here may be submitted by email to Adoption@state.gov. The Office of Children’s Issues will respond to individual inquiries and will add additional Q&A to this document as new issues are raised. 

Background on COA and IAAME

Why did COA decide to withdraw as a designated accrediting entity (AE)?

On October 6, 2017, COA informed the Department of State that it would be unable to continue to perform its duties as an accrediting entity (AE) due to “unforeseen circumstances.” COA has publicly stated its view that the Department’s enforcement of an AE’s requirements under 22 CFR 96.7 as “inconsistent with COA’s philosophy and mission.”

Is there any possibility COA will reverse its decision and continue as an AE?

Under the terms of COA’s Memorandum of Agreement with the Department and following COA’s October 6 notice to the Department, both parties consulted and made an effort to find a solution that would enable COA to continue to perform its duties until the end of the Agreement. Following those consultations, COA confirmed that it would withdraw from its role as a designated AE.  Accordingly, the Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity (IAAME), which was designated as an AE on July 28, 2017, will assume full responsibility for the AE role by December 2018. Previous efforts aimed at aligning COA’s and IAAME’s procedures are now focused on transitioning all AE responsibilities to IAAME in that time frame.

What is the last day of COA’s service as a designated AE?

COA will cease to be a designated AE in December 2018, unless COA and the Department agree on a different date. Additional information will be shared as it becomes available.

Why is the Department starting over with a new AE rather than working with COA?

The Department seeks to have multiple designated AEs and did not anticipate COA’s decision to withdraw from its role as an AE. IAAME has fully committed to serving as an AE, and the Department is confident in its ability to do so. COA has indicated its commitment to a smooth transition.

How will the transition from COA to IAAME impact families?

The Department, COA, and IAAME are fully committed to a transition that does not interrupt intercountry adoption in the United States. We do not anticipate families will experience interruption to the adoption process as a result of the transition.

What qualifies IAAME to be a designated AE?

The Department posted an FAQ about IAAME and its qualifications on August 25, 2017. The Department conducted an extensive review of IAAME’s qualifications and determined it meets eligibility requirements under 22 CFR 96.5(a) and has the capacity to meet all performance criteria under 22 CFR 96.6.

Is it a concern that IAAME does not have experience with intercountry adoption?

No. IAAME has a wealth of experience and expertise that qualify it to serve effectively as a designated AE. Although IAAME is a newly-formed organization, it is operated by a leadership team with extensive experience in providing child welfare services, administering child welfare standards, applying regulations, contracting, licensing, monitoring, and domestic adoption. IAAME is well-positioned to apply its domestic experience monitoring compliance with and enforcing child welfare standards to the intercountry adoption field and will hire additional staff with relevant experience as needed. The Department will provide training and technical assistance and guidance as needed.

What is the relationship between IAAME and Partnership for Strong Families?

Partnership for Strong Families (PFSF) contracts with the Florida Department of Children and Families to deliver comprehensive child welfare services to abused and neglected children in Florida Judicial Circuits 3 and 8. PFSF and IAAME are separate organizations that share leadership and operate as subsidiaries of Service Management Solutions for Children, Inc.

Is IAAME an adoption agency and if so, should it be ineligible for designation as an AE under 22 CFR 96.6(f)?

22 CFR 96.6(f) requires that “except in the case of a public entity, [an AE} operates independently of any agency or person that provides adoption services, and of any membership organization that includes agencies or persons that provide adoption services.” IAAME does not provide adoption services as defined in 22 CFR 96.2, and is therefore not an adoption agency or person.

How and when can ASPs communicate directly with IAAME about questions and/or to give input and share expertise as it develops its policies and procedures?

The Department will schedule a conference call soon to provide an opportunity for ASPs and IAAME to communicate directly. For now, all questions about accreditation should be directed to COA, which is currently the AE for all accredited/approved ASPs. Questions about the transition should be directed to the Office of Children’s Issues at Adoption@state.gov. ASP input may also be sent to Adoption@state.gov or held until IAAME is ready to hear from ASPs directly.

Does the Department intend to designate additional AEs?

Under 22 CFR 96.4(a), the Secretary may designate one or more entities that meet the criteria set forth in 22 CFR 96.5 to perform accreditation and/or approval functions. The Department has always favored having multiple AEs, and intends to seek interest from additional AE candidates in the future. The Department continues to believe that having multiple AEs will result in the strengthening of the intercountry adoption accreditation and approval process by having more than one organization bring professional experiences and perspectives to the review and establishment of policies and procedures. The Department considers this to be a potential benefit to ASPs.

Last spring, the Department issued a Request for Statements of Interest (RSI) with the intent of having more than one AE as part of a strategy to strengthen the U.S. accreditation system.  When the Department designated IAAME, we intended for IAAME and COA to work together to perform the AE duties as outlined in 22 CFR 96.7. Once IAAME completes its transition to AE, the Department will consider an appropriate time frame for publishing another RSI. At this time, however, we do not have a specific timeline for issuing another RSI to select and designate additional AEs.

Has the Department considered designating public entities to accredit/approve adoption service providers in individual states?

Yes. The Department did not receive a Statement of Interest from any public entity in response to the March 2017 RSI, but would welcome submissions in response to future RSIs. 22 CFR 96.5(b) allows a public entity (other than a Federal entity) to qualify as an accrediting entity. For purposes of 22 CFR 96.5(b), “public entity” includes, but is not limited to, “any State or local government or governmental unit or any political subdivision, agency, or instrumentality thereof, that is responsible for licensing adoption agencies in a State and that has expertise in developing and administering standards for entities providing child welfare services.” The Department previously designated Colorado’s Department of Family Services as an AE in 2006 during the first accreditation cycle in anticipation of the 2008 entry into force of the Hague Adoption Convention for the United States.

Will IAAME have different standards of enforcement from COA?

There have been no changes to the regulations governing intercountry adoption, the AE role, or the performance standards for accredited/approved ASPs. The Department will have the same expectations of IAAME that it would have of any AE.

 

Details about the Transition

What is the timeline for the transition of the AE role from COA to IAAME?

Details are not yet available but will be disseminated as soon as possible. Under the terms of the 2016 Memorandum of Agreement between the Department and COA, COA will continue its responsibilities as an AE until December 2018, unless COA and the Department agree on a different date. The Department, COA, and IAAME are working together to create a more specific timeline and to establish transition procedures that will be smooth, collaborative, and have minimal impact on ASPs.

How much information does IAAME have about COA’s systems?

IAAME is fully aware of COA’s policies and procedures, including those regarding self-studies, site visits, and fee structures as they are public information. IAAME is currently developing policies and procedures that must be reviewed and approved by the Department. Some existing procedures may remain in place while others may change.

 

Impact on ASP Operations

How will the transition impact a new agency or person that wants to seek accreditation or approval for the first time?

The initial accreditation process for first time applicants for accreditation or approval can be lengthy and new applicants may be unable to complete the accreditation process with COA before the end of 2018. Thus, new applicants will be able to apply in the spring of 2018 after IAAME has published its fee schedule and application procedures, as required for an AE to review new applications.

How will the transition impact ASP’s seeking re-accreditation?

All ASPs seeking renewal of their accreditation or approval in 2018 will complete the renewal process with COA. According to the November 20 email from COA to all accredited/approved ASPs, COA will accept renewal applications from ASPs that: 1) are currently accredited or approved with an expiration date sometime in 2018; 2) file a complete application, complete the renewal agreement, and make payment of the fee by December 29, 2017, and 3) agree to complete a site visit by May 31, 2018.

IAAME will re-accredit all ASPs seeking renewal in 2019 or later. For those ASPs needing re-accreditation in January, February, March, and April 2019, IAAME will follow the current tables of evidence and substantial compliance system without change. IAAME will disseminate new policies and procedures for accreditation and approval, as required by 22 CFR 96.19(b), in the spring of 2018.

How similar will IAAME’s reaccreditation process be to COA’s?

All policies and procedures must comply with the regulations governing the accreditation process, which have not changed. The Department expects IAAME to finalize its policies and procedures manual in early 2018. Procedures for ASPs are likely to be very similar, but there may be some differences in required documentation and in the length of time required to complete the accreditation renewal process.

How will the transition impact monitoring and oversight of ASPs?

The Department has instructed the AEs to increase monitoring and oversight, consistent with AE responsibilities under the Intercountry Adoption Act, the Universal Accreditation Act, and the federal regulations governing accreditation and approval. ASPs may notice increased enforcement of existing requirements, such as the use of foreign supervised provider agreements, and requests for additional documentation and/or reporting about financial stability, but any changes in how monitoring and oversight is conducted will be based on existing regulations.

How will the transition affect small ASPs?

The basic accreditation and monitoring and oversight processes should affect all ASPs in the same fashion, regardless of size. In general, ASPs with more placements or programs may need to provide more information to the AE and/or have longer site visits because they may have more complex operations to be reviewed, as is the case now.

Will a COA renewal of accreditation that is completed between now and December 2018 count for a full four years?

The transition will not affect the length of COA’s renewal. COA will still give 4 year renewals when appropriate.

Will accreditations that COA completed still be valid once the transition to IAAME is completed, or will ASPs be required to seek a new accreditation from IAAME?

All accreditation dates will remain valid. ASPs will remain on the same accreditation cycle they are currently on, and their records will transfer to IAAME.

My Certificate of Accreditation says “accredited by COA, certified by the Department of State.” Will we receive a new certificate?

We are consulting about this as part of the transition process and will provide more information as soon as it becomes available.

How will outstanding complaints be handled and resolved?

The Department intends that COA will resolve all existing complaints in process at the time of the transition; however, any complaint unresolved as of the transition date may be transferred to IAAME. New complaints and the monitoring and oversight process will begin transitioning to IAAME in late spring 2018.  

Will ASPs need to re-report or re-submit information and documentation to IAAME if it has already been submitted to COA?

The Department expects that all files and documents regarding an ASP will transfer from COA to IAAME over the course of several months during 2018. ASPs should generally not have to re-submit anything.

Will IAAME conduct in-depth financial reviews of ASPs?

The Department has asked IAAME to develop and implement a more extensive monitoring and oversight process, which may result in ASPs being asked to provide more financial documentation than in the past. The depth and focus of the review may depend on a specific complaint or the circumstances of documentation submitted by a particular ASP in the accreditation or renewal processes.

 

Information Technology

Will ASP and client information be protected when COA transfers files and data to IAAME?

Yes, IAAME and COA will take all steps necessary to protect client information during the file transfer in accordance with regulations.

Will IAAME have a different portal format?

Yes. IAAME will provide details about its system and portal in time for ASPs to familiarize themselves with the technology.

What kind of separation or firewall will there be between the operations of IAAME and its parent company?

IAAME will put in place industry standard data protection and security.

 

Fees

Will IAAME’s fees be comparable to COA’s?

IAAME’s fee schedule has not yet been finalized. In accordance with 22 CFR 96.8, fees will likely increase to cover all of IAAME’s costs of its responsibilities under 22 CFR 96.7, but they will likely be structured differently in order to ameliorate the impact on agencies.

What is driving fee increases?

The regulations that govern the accreditation process require AEs to charge fees necessary to cover the cost of accreditation or approval (including, but not limited to, costs for completing the accreditation or approval process, complaint review and investigation, routine oversight and enforcement, and other data collection and reporting activities.) In past discussions about its fee schedule, COA has acknowledged the current fees do not completely cover its AE work.

As IAAME puts together its policies and procedures to implement its responsibilities as an AE, it is incorporating policies and procedures the Department identified as essential to successfully and effectively overseeing accredited/approved adoption service providers. The AE should increasingly focus on accreditation standards that, if not observed, put children and families at risk, such as ASP financial solvency and requirements to return funds to families for services not rendered, increased transparency regarding use of foreign supervised providers and funds provided to them, greater accountability for adoption fees, and improved data collection and analysis to identify trends and better track cases at key milestones. This is needed to ensure more robust enforcement of the regulations and will enhance confidence and transparency in the accreditation, renewal, and monitoring processes that will benefit ASPs, children, and families.

How will monitoring and oversight fees be handled in light of the transition?

COA has typically charged monitoring and oversight fees annually on May 1. To maintain this schedule, the Department is transitioning the monitoring and oversight responsibility to IAAME in the spring of 2018. ASPs that typically pay monitoring and oversight fees early should wait until IAAME’s fee schedule is published, which will clarify the entire fee structure including fees for monitoring and oversight.

 

Other

Will there be changes or revisions to the core standards for accreditation?

The standards are based on regulations and will change only through the established regulatory revision process, not as a result of this transition. There may be changes to the weight of certain standards and the evidence requested to demonstrate substantial compliance, including documents required for the self-study or the site visit. ASPs will be given advanced notice of any changes that occur as required by 22 CFR 96.27(d).

Can the Department build in a requirement that the AE will respond to ASP questions and provide information to ASPs in a timely manner?

The Department understands the need for AEs to expeditiously respond to ASPs and complainants and has communicated this priority to IAAME. The Department is confident that IAAME has the capacity and will make all efforts necessary to respond expeditiously to ASPs and complainants. We appreciate hearing about specific concerns and requests that ASPs have for their new relationship with IAAME. We encourage ASPs to submit information to us by email at Adoption@state.gov so that we may incorporate these comments in our ongoing discussions with IAAME.

Why is the Department increasing monitoring and oversight at this time?

The Department is responsible for ensuring the U.S. accreditation standards are being implemented, applied, and enforced across the board for all ASPs and in all country programs. Monitoring and oversight is intended to be ongoing. The Department is seeking a dynamic process that ensures ASPs are in compliance with accreditation standards at all times for the protection of children, birth families, and adoptive families.

Is the Department trying to limit the number of ASPs?

No. The Department encourages AEs to accredit or approve all ASPs that meet the requirements of the accreditation regulations in 22 CFR Part 96.

Can an ASP choose to stay with COA?

No, COA will cease to be an AE in December 2018 or sooner if the Department and COA agree on an earlier date. ASPs will be required to work with IAAME, which is currently the only other designated AE.


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