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According to an AP news report from late last week, Office of Children’s Issues Special Ambassador Susan Jacobs expects “some adoptions from Vietnam – mostly involving children with special needs…to resume soon.  She said a Vietnamese delegation was due in the U.S. next month to interview U.S. adoption agencies with the aim of selecting some to operate in Vietnam.”  Of the more than 3 dozen agencies that were licensed in Vietnam before the shutdown in 2008, only one agency has any information on its website about the pending reopening. Alliance for Children(AFC) currently has this announcement on the front page of its website:

At this time, no other agencies have any information on their websites about visits in April, receiving updates about the status of adoptions in Vietnam, or agency accreditation at all. It should be noted that the announcement on the front page of AFC’s website was modified after VVAI contacted the agency for more information.  It was their original announcement shown below that prompted us to contact them.

When we saw this original  “Big News About Adoptions in Vietnam!” announcement on AFC’s website several weeks ago, VVAI attempted to gather information through the agencies’ website as to the following criteria stated on the Department of State website in July 2013:

  1. Three (3) or more consecutive years of experience providing services in intercountry adoptions in Vietnam.

  2. Five (5) or more consecutive years of experience providing intercountry adoption services to children with special needs, children older than five, and children in sibling groups.

  3. The ASP should be authorized to operate broadly in the United States.  Eligible ASPs must have offices in at least five (5) States.

We were unable to verify through published information on their website that Alliance for Children met these three criteria.  We then contacted Alliance for Children using the email addresses listed on the announcement and asked the following questions:

1. Why is Alliance for Children soliciting potential adoptive parents for a program that is not yet in existence when the USDOS website explicitly cautions prospective adoptive parents from taking any steps to initiate an inter-country adoption in Vietnam until the Department of State announces that it has determined that U.S. intercountry adoptions from Vietnam may proceed?

2. How long was Alliance for Children operating licensed in Vietnam?  What is the date of their first adoption that was completed?

3. How many states does Alliance for Children have actual physical offices in?  According to your website, there are only two offices listed with physical address.

4. Would you be willing to give us the actual street addresses of your other “offices” so that we can report that you do indeed meet the criteria of having 5 or more offices.

5. Would you be willing to give proof of providing adoption services for 3 consecutive years in Vietnam?  Including how many adoptions were completed each year.

Alliance for Children declined to go on the record in response to any of the above questions, and subsequently changed the placement, prominence and wording of their announcement on their website.

While VVAI is eagerly awaiting the reopening of an ethical adoption program, we are as committed as we have ever been to adoptions in Vietnam being transparent and ethical.  We are hopeful that all agencies that are being considered for licensing do indeed meet the requirements set forth by the Government of Vietnam as stated on the state department website and if they are posting announcements about Vietnam adoptions on their public websites, they are willing to go on the record about their qualifications and ability to meet the government of Vietnam’s requirements.

The following post comes to us from a new Guest Blogger, Tina, who adopted from Vietnam before the last shutdown. Thank you Tina, for stepping forward to share your experience and insight!

When Adoptions in Vietnam Begin Again…. Part 1

All of us share the sincere hope that the new system in Vietnam adoptions will safeguard the rights of children and birth families. No one wants to see history repeated. The stakes are too high.

As an adoptive parent, I feel compelled to write this post and get involved in VVAI. When my husband and I started our adoption process in 2006, we knew very little about the history of adoptions in Vietnam. Over time, I’ve become better educated and increasingly worried about adoptions resuming without assurances of real change. In talking about my concerns to someone in the adoption field, this person said to me that it is better to get children moving in the adoption pipeline and risk a case of fraud, than to do nothing and let children languish in Vietnamese orphanages. But, how can that be at all acceptable? There has to be a way to make adoption a viable option to children who are truly in need of families – without the risk that any one child could be that “case of fraud.”

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we had a system that absolutely guarantees ethical adoptions? Well, we don’t have a magic process. We have standards of practice, but what we really need are educated, informed, proactive people who are vigilant in upholding the standards and actively working to prevent adoption fraud. We need adoption agency leaders with integrity.

So what can we do as concerned people, adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents of Vietnamese children?

We can be informed, educated consumers of adoption services. We need to do thorough research and/or refresh our memories about the past problems with Vietnam adoptions. Please read this informative and compelling piece by Christina: A Plea.

The following is a “must-read” list for anyone concerned about ethical adoptions in Vietnam:

1. Any and all books on Vietnam and the history of adoptions in Vietnam, including The Life We Were Given: Operation BabyLift, International Adoption and the Children of War in Vietnam by Dana Sachs; and In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam by Robert McNamara.

2. The Report on Vietnam by The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, and make note of the agencies that previously encountered problems obtaining US government approvals for adopted children’s visas.

3. The Baby Business by E.J. Graff, and The Lie We Love by Graff online at The Lie We Love, also by Graff.

4. Read each and every post and readers’ comments on this website: Voices for Vietnam Adoption Integrity (VVAI). Start with the oldest posts first, and make sure you read this one by Jena, Ten Things Everyone Should Ask Any Agency Before Choosing Them.

5. The US Embassy in Vietnam’s website and archives on adoptions from 2007-2012. Also, read the Vietnam information, alerts and notices posted on the US State Department’s adoption website.

When Vietnam adoptions reopen, we can weigh the pros and cons of working with a small adoption agency versus a large, stable, well-established agency. We can expect that adoption agency directors are fully informed about the past problems with Vietnam adoptions. We can expect agencies to articulate their well-conceived, detailed plan to safeguard the rights of vulnerable children and their birth parents. We can interview agency directors and staff and hold them accountable to high ethical standards and full transparency.

What are your thoughts? What else can we do as concerned people, adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents?

Part 2 of this post will outline a series of questions to use when interviewing an adoption agency.

In a media note released January 7, the State Department announced that Special Advisor for Children’s Issues, Susan Jacobs, will be traveling to Vietnam, Cambodia and China this week.

While in the region, Special Advisor Jacobs will meet with government officials and non-governmental organizations to discuss the Hague Adoption Convention and strengthening child protection systems.

Special Advisor Jacobs will visit Cambodia and Vietnam, both of which are in the process of implementing the Hague Adoption Convention. She will complete her trip with a visit to China, the top country of origin for intercountry adoptions to the United States to discuss continued cooperation regarding adoption issues.

The Department adds, “For updates on Special Advisor Jacobs’ trip, follow her on Twitter: @ChildrensIssues

Earlier today we received the following statement from a State Department Official in response to our inquiry about the recent story of a family in Vietnam seeking their daughter whom they say was trafficked for international adoption in 2007:

The Department of State takes very seriously the welfare of all children. We are committed to ensuring that intercountry adoption protects children, birth parents, and prospective adoptive parents. We do not comment on individual cases.

The most recent bilateral agreement governing adoptions between the United States and Vietnam was in effect from 2005 to 2008. During that period, hundreds of American families opened their homes to Vietnamese children. In many cases, these adoptions served to place children in a permanent, loving home in a safe and ethical manner. However, the Department also found that in some cases, birth parents had been pressured into placing their children for adoption or consent had not been appropriately obtained. Based on these and other concerns, the two countries mutually agreed not to renew the agreement in 2008.

In February 2012, the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption entered into force for Vietnam. The Government of Vietnam continues its efforts to strengthen its child welfare system and the integrity of its domestic and international adoption processes. In September 2013, Vietnam began accepting applications from U.S. Hague-accredited adoption service providers (ASPs) for authorization to operate a proposed limited intercountry adoption program. The program, if it goes into effect, would allow adoptions of children with special medical needs, children older than five, and children in biological sibling groups of two or more in Vietnam. Intercountry adoptions from Vietnam to the United States remain suspended at this time.

Vietnam’s acceptance of U.S. ASP applications is a positive step and helps to implement the type of ethical and transparent intercountry adoption system required by the Hague Adoption Convention. We will continue to monitor Vietnam’s progress in implementing the Convention and will publish more information on adoption.state.gov as it becomes available.

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