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NCFA Meets with African Delegation to Discuss Ethical Practices in Intercountry Adoption

June 9, 2021

Patterson Sheehan


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NCFA Meets with African Delegation to Discuss Ethical Practices in Intercountry Adoption

On May 28, 2021, NCFA met via video conference with several African country adoption authority representatives to discuss transparent and ethical intercounty adoptions. I am currently a NCFA intern focused on communications and intercountry adoption policy, so I was very grateful to be invited to join the meeting to observe and learn, and to share a little bit about my family’s experience with intercountry adoption from an African country. 

Meridian International Center arranged the meeting with representatives from Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Madagascar, Republic of Congo, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, and Zambia. The virtual meeting centered around the emotional, physical, and psychological benefits of family permanency, misconceptions about intercountry adoption, and the foundations for an ethical adoption program.  

NCFA’s Director of Strategic Initiatives and Communications, Kristen Hamilton, began by reviewing the trends in intercountry adoption and why a strong adoption program is vital. Unfortunately, in recent years, intercountry adoption has significantly declined worldwide, while millions of children remain vulnerable or institutionalized globally. Adoption provides children and youth with the opportunity to achieve family permanency so that they can become healthy, thriving members of society.  

NCFA President Chuck Johnson provided an overview of the Child Welfare Continuum, explaining that the continuum of care for a child does not begin with intercountry adoption. Ideally, the child could be reunified with a birthparent or a biological family member. If neither of those options are available, domestic adoption becomes an option. Finally, a child can be adopted by a family outside their country of birth. This range of care works best when there is common recognition that family permanency is always in the child’s best interest and should be the driving goal for all decisions.   

Research has consistently shown myriad detrimental effects on children, who live in institutions and group care, including negatives impacts on their physical growth, emotional developments, and language acquisition. Inadequate caregiver attention delays or weakens children’s behavioral and social competencies. While group homes and orphanages can supply a child’s basic needs, they lack the resources to provide the type of nurture and attachment that only a permanency family unit can provide. Even with the best intentions, the majority of children living outside permanent, parental care experience a cycle of neglect and impaired development. Conversely, a permanent family, properly trained and supported, allows children the stability and care to thrive and grow.  

Ryan Hanlon, Vice-President of NCFA, presented four cornerstones of an ethical intercounty adoption program. First, transparency is key in ensuring clarity, consistency and integrity of all parties throughout the process. Timeliness is also essential to minimize the amount of time a child is in an institution or group care. Third, education and training for both prospective adoptive parents and birth parents (when possible) is necessary to ensure an appropriate understanding of what adoption is, what to expect in the process, as well as resources to prepare for the emotional effects of adoption on all involved NCFA emphasized the need for child-specific, country-specific, robust parental training on a range of topics including transracial parenting, grief and loss, attachment, identity and more. Finally, an ethical intercountry adoption program prioritizes partnerships with government and NGO entities to uphold ethical standards through collaborative training, resource sharing, and mutually agreed upon best practices.  

This meeting provided a great opportunity to address directly some of the most common myths about intercountry adoption that can often discourage countries from fully participating. For example, we said that a strong intercountry adoption program does not mean that a country cannot provide for its children. In fact, the opposite is true! Ensuring a loving, permanent family for all children, as soon as possible, is providing exactly what they need most. This transcends any national or cultural barriers and allows us to work as a global community in the child’s best interests. Another common myth that has been perpetuated within adoption circles is that the only way to maintain an ethical adoption program is to sign on to the Hague Convention. Most countries on the African Delegation Call have signed on to the Hague Convention, but some still lack the resources and infrastructure to implement it fully. Intercounty adoption from these countries remains rare. Ethical adoptions can certainly be completed according to best practice standards, even if the resources are not available to execute all of the Hague requirements.  

After the NCFA team finished presenting, the Meridian mediator conducted a Question-and-Answer session. Zambian representative Mr. Bwalya asked about U.S. adoption agencies’ reluctance to work with African countries and concern for the increasing cost of intercountry adoption, even for relative or kinship adoptions. Mr. Hanlon responded with a call to action for both governments (the U.S. government and other countries’ government) to collaborate to unite children with permanent families. Representatives from the Ivory Coast inquired about assessment tools that their workers can use when working with children in-country or preparing prospective adoptive parents. Many expressed a desire to continue dialoguing with NCFA through follow-up emails. 

Though I was positively impacted by adoption almost a decade ago, I am continually amazed by the vast amount of knowledge, resources, and perspectives that I am blind to. The virtual meeting was especially insightful and formative for my own thinking about intercountry adoption, specifically in African countries. In particular, I walked away with a corrected understanding of the misconception that standardized and ethical adoption programs are possible without signing onto the Hague Convention. More broadly, these types of conversations contextualize the scope of adoption. It is easy for me to think about my brother’s impact on my family and forget that there are thousands more children who need permanent, loving, stable families and deserve to have people advocating for them. I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to participate in the African Delegation Call and look forward to learning more about promoting ethical and transparent adoption programs.  

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