Universal Accreditation Act of 2012

The following FAQs explain the impact of the UAA and practical considerations that adopting families will need to plan for as the effective date approaches. On July 14, 2014, adoption service providers working with families in non-Convention countries will need to be accredited under the same accreditation standards that apply in Convention adoption cases. The information is grouped under three headings:  general information about the UAA, information for ASPs, and information for prospective adoptive families. Some of the information appears under more than one category. Whatever your personal interest is in learning about the UAA, feel free to explore the FAQs in all three categories.

For more information and documents relating to the UAA and its implementation, see the links at the bottom of this page.

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General Information about the UAA

Q: What does the UAA achieve?

  • The UAA extends the safeguards provided by accreditation to orphans as defined under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) section 101(b)(1)(F), their adoptive parent, and birth parents. This is accomplished by ensuring that adoption service providers are all held to the same federal standards.
  • Such accreditation ensures ongoing monitoring and oversight of adoption service providers to verify their compliance with federal accreditation standards. This holds accredited providers accountable for failure to be in substantial compliance with the standards.
  • Safeguards under the UAA are universal because the UAA applies Hague Adoption Convention-compatible standards to both Convention and orphan cases.

Q: 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 regardless of whether the case falls under the Hague Adoption Convention or under the orphan process.

Q: 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 inputs. 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.

Q: Who needs to be accredited or approved?

  • Starting July 14, 2014, 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 transition rule. See the question on grandfathering, below.
  • The definition of adoption services includes:
    • Identifying a child for adoption and arranging an adoption;
    • Securing the necessary consent to termination of parental rights and to adoption;
    • Performing a background study on a child or a home study on a prospective adoptive parent(s), and reporting on such a study;
    • Making non-judicial determinations of the best interests of a child and the appropriateness of an adoptive placement for the child;
    • Monitoring a case after a child has been placed with prospective adoptive parent(s) until final adoption; or 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 Definitions.

Q: What happens on the effective date if the adoption service provider is not accredited or approved?

  • Agencies and persons not credited or approved, supervised, or exempted by the regulations, may not provide any of the named adoption services after the UAA effective date. 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 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 Definitions.
  • The regulations make clear that “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).” 22 CFR 96.12(a).
  • Agencies or persons that continue to provide adoption services 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.

Q: What does it mean to accredit agencies and to approve persons?

  • The IAA distinguishes between agencies and persons.
  • The U.S. accreditation regulations define an agency to mean:
    • Agency means a private, nonprofit organization licensed to provide adoption services in at least one State. 22 CFR 96.2
  • The U.S. accreditation regulations define a person to mean:
    • 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. 22 CFR 96.2

Q: What are the safeguards resulting from Hague accreditation?

  • The IAA and the regulations implementing the Hague Adoption Convention protect against 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 prepare them for some of the challenges;
    • The agency or person must ensure that intercountry adoptions take place in 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 comply with the standards by taking appropriate adverse actions against them and may suspend or cancel 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.

Q: Where can I find additional information about accreditation and approval?

Information for Adoption Service Providers

Q: Who needs to be accredited or approved?

  • Starting July 14, 2014, 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 transition rule. See the question on grandfathering, below.
  • The definition of adoption services includes:
    • Identifying a child for adoption and arranging an adoption;
    • Securing the necessary consent to termination of parental rights and to adoption;
    • Performing a background study on a child or a home study on a prospective adoptive parent(s), and reporting on such a study;
    • Making non-judicial determinations of the best interests of a child and the appropriateness of an adoptive placement for the child;
    • Monitoring a case after a child has been placed with prospective adoptive parent(s) until final adoption; or
    • 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 Definitions.

Q: How long do agencies and persons have to become accredited or approved?

  • The UAA becomes effective 18 months after the date the President signs it into law. Starting on that date, with the exception of cases covered by the transition rule, only accredited agencies, approved persons, or supervised or exempted providers will be permitted to provide adoption services in Convention or orphan adoption cases.
  • Agencies that wait too long to decide whether to seek accreditation, may not become accredited before the effective date of the UAA.
  • Agencies and persons should consult early with the accrediting entity (AE) to determine a reasonable time frame to achieve accreditation or approval.
  • The law becomes effective July 14, 2014.

Q: How much will 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 AE. 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.

Q: What happens on the effective date if the adoption service provider is not accredited or approved?

  • Agencies and persons not credited or approved, supervised, or exempted by the regulations, may not provide any of the named adoption services after the UAA effective date. 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 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 Definitions.
  • The regulations make clear that “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).” 22 CFR 96.12(a).
  • Agencies or persons that continue to provide adoption services 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.

Q: What does it mean to accredit agencies and to approve persons?

  • The IAA distinguishes between agencies and persons.
  • The U.S. accreditation regulations define an agency to mean:
    • Agency means a private, nonprofit organization licensed to provide adoption services in at least one State. 22 CFR 96.2
  • The U.S. accreditation regulations define a person to mean:
    • 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. 22 CFR 96.2

Q: 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?

  • The US accreditation regulations (22 CFR 96.12(a)), the IAA, and the UAA clarify 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).
  • Only six specific adoption services require accreditation or approval. 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 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 are exempted. 

Q: What if an agency or person just doesn't want to be accredited/approved but wants to keep helping families adopt abroad?

  • The IAA permits non-accredited adoption service providers to provide Convention adoption services if supervised by an accredited agency. The UAA permits this practice in orphan cases.
  • Each 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.

Q: What about cases already in process? Are there "grandfathering" provisions in the UAA?

  • The UAA’s accreditation requirement does not apply if either of the following occurred before July 13, 2013:
    • Prospective adoptive parents filed the I-600 or the I-600A (See UAA Section 2(c)(1)); or
    • Prospective adoptive parents “initiated the adoption process with the filing of an appropriate application in a foreign country sufficient such that the Secretary of State is satisfied.” (See UAA Section 2(c)(2).

In practical terms, this means that a consular officer or a Department of State CA/OCS Adoption Division officer finds that the prospective adoptive parents submitted an application to the relevant competent authority or that the prospective adoptive parents accepted a match proposed by a competent authority or appropriate entity.

Interpretive Guidance for the transition provisions in UAA Section 2(c)(2):
The following guidance informs the analysis of Consular officers abroad and Department CA/OCS Adoption Division officers in determining whether the transition provisions in UAA Section 2(c)(2) apply in specific cases. When the transition provisions apply, the case is grandfathered and the accreditation requirement of the UAA does not apply.

  • In cases covered by the transition provisions in UAA Section 2(c)(1), you need not consider whether the case is also covered by Section 2(c)(2). If you engage in the analysis under Section 2(c)(2), you should find a case grandfathered if one of the following occurred before July 13, 2013:
    • Prospective adoptive parents submitted an application to the relevant competent authority; or
    • Prospective adoptive parents accepted a match proposed by a competent authority or appropriate entity.

An application filed with a competent authority need not designate a specific child. What constitutes an application will vary from country to country. You should consider the country-specific adoption process.
Competent authority is defined in 22 CFR 96.2 and means “a court or governmental authority of a foreign-sending country that has jurisdiction and authority to make decisions in matters of child welfare, including adoption.”

  • This must be a court or governmental authority.
  • Focus is on a competent authority with jurisdiction and authority at the time the application was filed. Whether the authority is still in operation or still has jurisdiction later in the process is irrelevant.

Appropriate entity, on the other hand, includes a licensed orphanage or adoption service provider (ASP) authorized by the country to make the placement decision and to care for the child.

  • Contracting with or submitting documents to an adoption service provider is not sufficient: PAPs contracting with an ASP or submitting documents to the ASP shall not be construed as meeting Section 2(c)(2).
  • The date of the match can generally be inferred from any official records of the placing agency concerning the match or from contemporaneous records of the adoption service provider. If that is not available, you may consider other credible evidence. If you cannot determine the date of match, the match cannot be the basis for grandfathering the case.

Q: Where can I find additional information about accreditation and approval?

Q: As of 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 consistent with applicable laws and regulations;
  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 with the same standards of practice and ethical conduct as Convention cases.

The Department strongly recommends starting to work with an accredited or approved adoption service provider that will act as primary provider from the outset in each intercountry adoption case that is not grandfathered, even before the UAA's effective date on July 14, 2014. Proceeding with your non-Convention adoption case without an accredited or approved primary provider may delay or impede the completion of the case after the UAA goes into effect.

Q: Can I do an independent adoption?

The terms independent adoption, private adoption, or family adoption are not defined in U.S. law or regulation and may be used in different ways depending on the context. Please refer to our FAQ on the use of primary providers and prospective adoptive parents acting on their own behalf, above.

Q: 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-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.

Note: The above does not address situations in which Convention countries have authorized at least one U.S. adoption service provider.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.
Information for Prospective Adoptive Parents

Q: What happens on the effective date if the adoption service provider is not accredited or approved?

  • Agencies and persons not credited or approved, supervised, or exempted by the regulations, may not provide any of the named adoption services after the UAA effective date. 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 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 Definitions.
  • The regulations make clear that “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).” 22 CFR 96.12(a).
  • Agencies or persons that continue to provide adoption services 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.

Q: What if an agency or person just doesn't want to be accredited/approved but wants to keep helping families adopt abroad?

  • The IAA permits non-accredited adoption service providers to provide Convention adoption services if supervised by an accredited agency. The UAA permits this practice in orphan cases.
  • Each 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.

Q: What about cases already in process? Are there "grandfathering" provisions in the UAA?

  • The UAA’s accreditation requirement does not apply if either of the following occurred before July 13, 2013:
    • Prospective adoptive parents filed the I-600 or the I-600A (See UAA Section 2(c)(1)); or
    • Prospective adoptive parents “initiatedthe adoption process with the filing of an appropriate application in a foreign country sufficient such that the Secretary of State is satisfied.” (See UAA Section 2(c)(2).

In practical terms, this means that a consular officer or a Department of State CA/OCS Adoption Division officer finds that the prospective adoptive parents submitted an application to the relevant competent authority or that the prospective adoptive parents accepted a match proposed by a competent authority or appropriate entity.

Interpretive Guidance for the transition provisions in UAA Section 2(c)(2):
The following guidance informs the analysis of Consular officers abroad and Department CA/OCS Adoption Division officers in determining whether the transition provisions in UAA Section 2(c)(2) apply in specific cases. When the transition provisions apply, the case is grandfathered and the accreditation requirement of the UAA does not apply.

  • In cases covered by the transition provisions in UAA Section 2(c)(1), you need not consider whether the case is also covered by Section 2(c)(2). If you engage in the analysis under Section 2(c)(2), you should find a case grandfathered if one of the following occurred before July 13, 2013:
    1. Prospective adoptive parents submitted an application to the relevant competent authority; or
    2. Prospective adoptive parents accepted a match proposed by a competent authority or appropriate entity.

An application filed with a competent authority need not designate a specific child. What constitutes an application will vary from country to country. You should consider the country-specific adoption process.

Competent authority is defined in 22 CFR 96.2 and means “a court or governmental authority of a foreign-sending country that has jurisdiction and authority to make decisions in matters of child welfare, including adoption.”

  • This must be a court or governmental authority.
  • Focus is on a competent authority with jurisdiction and authority at the time the application was filed. Whether the authority is still in operation or still has jurisdiction later in the process is irrelevant.

Appropriate entity, on the other hand, includes a licensed orphanage or adoption service provider (ASP) authorized by the country to make the placement decision and to care for the child.

  • Contracting with or submitting documents to an adoption service provider is not sufficient: PAPs contracting with an ASP or submitting documents to the ASP shall not be construed as meeting Section 2(c)(2).
  • The date of the match can generally be inferred from any official records of the placing agency concerning the match or from contemporaneous records of the adoption service provider. If that is not available, you may consider other credible evidence. If you cannot determine the date of match, the match cannot be the basis for grandfathering the case.

Q: What are the safeguards resulting from Hague accreditation?

  • The IAA and the regulations implementing the Hague Adoption Convention protect against 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 prepare them for some of the challenges;
    • The agency or person must ensure that intercountry adoptions take place in 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 comply with the standards by taking appropriate adverse actions against them and may suspend or cancel 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.

Q: As of 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 consistent with applicable laws and regulations;
  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 with the same standards of practice and ethical conduct as Convention cases.

The Department strongly recommends starting to work with an accredited or approved adoption service provider that will act as primary provider from the outset in each intercountry adoption case that is not grandfathered, even before the UAA’s effective date on July 14, 2014.  Proceeding with your non-Convention adoption case without an accredited or approved primary provider may delay or impede the completion of the case after the UAA goes into effect. 

Q:  Can I do an independent adoption?

The terms independent adoption, private adoption, or family adoption are not defined in U.S. law or regulation and may be used in different ways depending on the context.  Please refer to our FAQ on the use of primary providers and prospective adoptive parents acting on their own behalf, above.

Q:  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-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. 

Note:  The above does not address situations in which Convention countries have authorized at least one U.S. adoption service provider.

Q:  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.

Q:  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.

Q: 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.

Q: Do prospective adoptive parents need to work with an accredited or approved adoption service provider in cases begun on or after July 13, 2013 and before July 14, 2014?

  • No. Up until July 14, 2014, when the Universal Accreditation Act enters into effect, unaccredited adoption service providers (ASPs) may provide adoption services in orphan cases. The UAA created a transition period ending on July 13, 2013. Orphan adoption cases begun before July 13, 2013, fall under the transition provisions of the UAA and are grandfathered, that is, subject to the rules in force before the UAA.Cases begun after the transition period ends but before the effective date of the UAA, are not grandfathered, but do not require accreditation either. See the USCIS web notice on this topic.

    Nonetheless, the Department encourages prospective adoptive families to consider accreditation planning by their ASP if they begin adoption cases following the transition period. The Department recommends that families discuss early on with their ASP whether it intends to obtain accreditation or approval, and how it plans to ensure continuity in their case after the UAA enters into effect on July 14, 2014.

    There are risks associated with beginning an adoption case on or after July 13, 2013, with an unaccredited or unapproved ASP. If the provider does not obtain accreditation/approval and the case is not completed before July 14, 2014, the ASP will be required to stop providing adoption services until it can obtain accreditation or approval or otherwise meet the requirements of the UAA. Noncompliance with the accreditation law subjects the ASP to the civil and criminal penalty provisions of the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000.
Links to additional UAA information

The Intercountry Adoption Universal Accreditation Act of 2012

The Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000

The Accreditation Regulations

COA website for Hague Accreditation

Substantial Compliance System

USCIS Web Notice on UAA Transition Provisions

The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption of 1993