Understanding Your Rights – Reporting Concerns and Complaints in an Intercountry Adoption Case

Last Updated: February 6, 2024

The notice below provides information for prospective and adoptive parents who wish to report complaints and/or concerns in an intercountry adoption case. 

Q:  How can I ensure that my intercountry adoption is safe, legal, ethical, transparent, and done with the best interests of the child in mind?
Adoption Service Providers (ASP) are responsible for providing adoption services in compliance with federal regulations at 22 CFR Part 96 and must be accredited or approved by one of the two Department-designated accrediting entities (AEs): Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity (IAAME) and Center for Excellence in Adoption Services (CEAS).  Prospective adoptive parents are encouraged to identify the ASP that will serve as your primary provider early in the adoption process, and before seeking a home study.  Information about identifying an ASP can be found on the ASP Search page on the Department of State website. 

Q:  Who is responsible for ensuring that ASPs provide adoption services that are fully compliant with the Department’s standards?
Currently, there are two designated AEs: Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity (IAAME) and Center for Excellence in Adoption Services (CEAS).  They are responsible for accrediting, approving, monitoring, and overseeing ASPs within the state/region under their jurisdiction.  In addition to evaluating new applications for accreditation or approval, the AEs renew, monitor, and oversee ASPs for compliance with the federal regulations that govern intercountry adoption.

Q:  How can I report a concern about an ASP and what happens after I file a complaint?
If you have a concern about the operations of an accredited or approved ASP, or its supervised providers in the United States or abroad, please begin by bringing the matter directly to the ASP.  If that is not appropriate or not successful, we encourage you to file that concern with the Complaint Registry.  Please provide as much detail and supporting evidence as possible.  Once the complaint is received, the AE with jurisdiction over the ASP will initiate a complaint review process and may contact you for additional information.  If the AE determines the ASP is out of compliance with the federal regulations, it will require the ASP to take corrective action.  If the AE determines that a stronger action is necessary, the AE may temporarily suspend or cancel the ASP’s accreditation or approval. 

Q:  Am I required to raise my concerns with my ASP first before filing with the Complaint Registry?
Generally, prospective and adoptive parents should first address concerns directly with the ASP.  However, in some cases, you may believe it is best to begin by filing a complaint with the registry.  If so, you may provide an explanation to the AE about the reasons you did not first address the matter with the ASP.  The AE has discretion whether to accept the complaint for review or instruct you to first attempt resolution directly with the ASP.

Q:  What protections are in place to ensure my complaint will not have a negative impact on my adoption?
Federal regulations in 22 CFR 96.41 impose requirements for how ASPs must respond to complaints.  Paragraph (e) states the ASP may “not take any action to discourage a client or prospective client from, or retaliate against a client or prospective client for: making a complaint; expressing a grievance; providing information in writing or interviews to an accrediting entity on the agency's or person's performance; or questioning the conduct of or expressing an opinion about the performance of an agency or person.

Prospective and adoptive parents who believe they are experiencing retaliation, or are being discouraged from filing a complaint, should report these concerns to the Complaint Registry.

Q:  Can my ASP require me to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) or otherwise try to prevent me from filing a complaint?
There are many limits on the types of waivers an ASP can require.  22 CFR 96.39(d) permits ASPs to require clients “to sign a waiver of liability as part of the adoption service contract only where that waiver complies with applicable State law.  Any waiver required is limited and specific, based on risks that have been discussed and explained to the client in the adoption services contract.”

If an ASP requires you to sign an NDA to advance an adoption in process, to refund fees owed, or to take any action the ASP is required to take, this may constitute an action to discourage making a complaint.  Prospective and adoptive parents in this situation should consult legal counsel and may wish to report these concerns to the Complaint Registry

Q: Are ASPs responsible for the conduct of the professionals they use in country to provide adoption services?
Each ASP must ensure that its foreign supervised providers adhere to certain provisions in 22 CFR 96.46(a).  This generally means that the ASP must take reasonable steps to make certain that the foreign supervised provider meets the criteria outlined in 22 CFR 96.46(a)(1)-(5).

Q:  What are the consequences of an ASP’s non-compliance with accreditation/approval standards?
If an AE determines that an ASP has failed to comply with the accreditation/approval standards, the AE may impose a range of adverse actions.  These actions range from requiring the ASP to demonstrate that it has resolved the issues that led to the finding of noncompliance up to suspending or canceling the ASP’s accreditation.  In cases of cancellation, the ASP would be required to transfer its open cases to another ASP.

In limited cases, the Department also has the authority to debar an ASP temporarily or permanently.  These debarments require a pattern of serious, willful, or grossly negligent failures to comply with the regulations, or other aggravating circumstances indicating that continued accreditation or approval would not be in the best interests of the children and families concerned.

Q:  How can I report a concern about corruption or fraud outside of the United States?
You may report these concerns to the Office of Children’s Issues by email to AdoptionOversight@state.gov and to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the relevant country.  We engage regularly with foreign child welfare and adoption authorities on improvements to intercountry adoption procedures.  We encourage you to also report any suspicion of illegal activity to the relevant foreign authorities so that they might take appropriate action.  Contact information on both the relevant U.S. Embassy or Consulate and foreign authorities can be found in the respective country information page.

Q: Can I report a concern about the processing of my case by U.S. officials in the Embassy or Consulate in the child’s country of origin?
You may report these concerns to the ASP handling your case or to the Department at adoption@state.gov.