Last updated:December 2013
The Accreditation Process
The Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 (the IAA) established the requirement that adoption services in Convention cases could only be provided by accredited agencies or approved persons, adoption service providers supervised by such accredited or approved providers or by an exempted provider, unless all adoption services are provided by a public domestic authority. The IAA further required the Department of State to create federal regulations that establish the standards and the procedures to be used by accrediting entities for accreditation/approval of adoption service providers. Federal accreditation regulations (found in 22 CFR Part 96), establish that non-profit organizations/agencies may apply to be accredited to provide intercountry adoption services in Convention cases. For-profit organizations and individuals (both called persons) may apply to be approved. (With a few exceptions, there is no difference between the services accredited agencies and approved persons can provide.)
Universal Accreditation of Providers in Convention and Non-Convention Cases
The President signed into law the Intercountry Adoption Universal Accreditation Act of 2012 (UAA) that goes into effect on July 14, 2014. The impact of the UAA is wide-reaching: formerly, adoption service providers had to be accredited or approved to be permitted to provide adoption services in Convention cases only. More than half of all intercountry adoptions, however, are orphan process cases between the United States and countries not party to the Hague Adoption Convention. The UAA extends the protections of the IAA and its uniform accreditation standards of ethical practice to orphan process cases, placing all adoption service providers under the same ethical standards now applicable in all intercountry adoption cases. The information on accreditation below will apply to all adoption service providers once the UAA is in effect. Please refer to guidance on grandfathered cases to understand which cases may not be subject to the UAA.
To carry out accreditation functions, the Department of State has designated the Council on Accreditation as an accrediting entity (AE). The accrediting entity evaluates whether applicants for accreditation and approval are in substantial compliance with the standards in the federal accreditation regulations. After a rigorous review of each applicant’s written policies and procedures and following on-site meetings with each applicant’s leadership, staff, and local stakeholders, the AE arrives at a decision to accredit or approve by using a Department approved substantial compliance system (SCS) (22 CFR Part 96.27). The SCS establishes a weighting of relative importance for each accreditation standard in 22 CFR Part 96, Subpart F and levels of possible compliance with those standards. In addition, the SCS provides a means for rating compliance with each standard and arriving at a final determination of substantial compliance with the standards as a whole. Applicants for accreditation or approval should strive to be in full compliance with every applicable standard and must demonstrate full compliance with designated mandatory standards. Similarly, applicants must demonstrate full or substantial compliance with all critical standards and substantial or partial compliance with foundational standards. Substantial compliance with the standards as a whole is determined on the basis of a formula taking into account the applicant’s compliance ratings for each applicable standard.
Before deciding to deny accreditation or approval, the accrediting entity may use its discretion to provide the agency or person an opportunity to correct any deficiencies that may hinder or prevent accreditation or approval (22 CFR Part 96.24). There is no administrative or judicial review of an accrediting entity's decision to deny an application for accreditation or approval. If an applicant is denied accreditation or approval, it may petition for reconsideration using the accrediting entity's internal review procedures (22 CFR Part 96.59).
If an organization or individual applies for accreditation/approval and fails to receive it, it can apply again at a later date.
Length of Accreditation
Accreditation or approval and renewal of accreditation or approval are valid for four years.
Performing Adoption Services without Accreditation
An agency or person that is not accredited or approved may provide some services in Convention adoption cases, but only if it does so as a “supervised provider” under the supervision of an accredited agency or approved person. In addition, an agency or person may be exempted from the accreditation/approval requirement if it provides only a home study or child background study (and no other adoption service), in a Convention case. Any home study or child background study not performed in the first instance by an accredited agency or approved person must be reviewed and approved by an accredited agency.
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. A primary provider must be identified in every Convention case.
The categories of supervised providers and exempted providers were specifically created by the IAA and its implementing regulations to enable smaller or specialized providers to work in concert with primary providers to provide adoption services. The fact that a supervised or exempted provider is not accredited or approved does not mean that provider cannot provide a particular adoption service. It does, however, reflect the fact that such a provider cannot act as a primary provider. All Convention adoptions require a primary provider that is responsible for ensuring that the six defined adoption services are provided in accordance with the Convention, the IAA and the Hague accreditation standards. The primary provider reviews the work of exempted providers and supervises the work of supervised providers to ensure that the adoption service was provided in accordance with these principles.
The IAA provides strict civil and criminal penalties for agencies or persons who provide adoption services in Convention cases without being accredited/approved, supervised, or exempted. See IAA section 404, Enforcement.