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Changes Likely for Parents Who Want to Adopt from Abroad

March 6, 1994

WASHINGTON (AP) _ When Rena Steinzor decided to adopt a child abroad, she hired a lawyer, flew to a Colombian orphanage to meet the birth mother and brought home 3- month-old Daniel.

About a year later, little sister Hannah came home the same way.

But an impending treaty could make such private, parent-initiated adoptions a thing of the past, and Steinzor fears international adoptions in the United States will slow to a trickle.

″We’re not talking about widgets, we’re talking about children who ... don’t need to get caught up in a bottleneck of bureaucracy because only certain people are allowed to help them,″ said Steinzor, a Baltimore lawyer fighting provisions of the treaty that the United States is expected to sign.

She and others are worried about the treaty’s requirement that the U.S. government establish a federal authority to regulate and oversee each of the 6,500 annual adoptions of foreign children by Americans.

And they’re worried about the influence of a Washington lobbyist who represents the National Council for Adoptions, a private association that has been mistaken by at least three nations - Russia, Ethiopia and Poland - for a federal adoption clearinghouse.

Critics contend that the lobbyist, William Pierce, perpetuates that mistaken assumption. Pushed by complaints, the State Department last fall wrote to 50 nations explaining that the NCFA was not an official agency and governments can work with whomever they choose.

″I’ve been accused of running an adoption mafia, of trying to set up an adoption cartel,″ Pierce said. ″It’s absolutely nuts.″

Pierce says he never misrepresented his organization, which charges 125 U.S. adoption agencies up to several thousand dollars to join. NCFA researches and lobbies on adoption issues and provides information, for free, to the State Department.

Currently, international adoptions are subject to laws of the U.S. state and the other country involved. Prospective parents, working privately or through an agency, must pass a home study showing they’re fit and prove to the Immigration and Naturalization Service that the child is orphaned or abandoned so he or she can enter the country.

Adoption experts say the process has worked smoothly here. But some 66 countries, horrified by the widespread selling of Romanian orphans several years ago, decided some international regulation was needed.

Last May, they negotiated a treaty that requires each country to establish a central adoption authority to regulate intercountry adoptions and accredit adoption workers.

The treaty won’t take effect in the United States until the Senate ratifies it and passes legislation detailing just how it will work, something

not expected until next year.

That legislation could merely have INS or the State Department monitor states. Or it could create a bureaucracy that Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., warns would choke off private adoptions by parents and small agencies.

″My fear is ... we will create significant, formidable barriers,″ Simon, an adoptive parent himself, wrote Secretary of State Warren Christopher on Sept. 30.

State Department legal adviser Peter Pfund, who is writing the treaty legislation, won’t say if the treaty ultimately will restrict who can do international adoptions, or where Pierce fits in.

″I don’t know what’s going to happen in the long run,″ he said. ″We’re going to have to try to find a way to recognize what it is the smaller agencies provide.″

Pierce was the only non-government worker to spend four years on the State Department’s treaty negotiating team, and Pfund praises him as a savvy and motivated negotiator.

An adoption expert, University of California’s Joan Hollinger, says she believes Washington will make ″it much more difficult for prospective adoptive parents to get through the maze.″

She cites proposed new INS regulations to more closely restrict home studies and who can perform them. INS says the regulations are needed to ensure unlicensed social workers don’t just approve prospective parents by telephone.

Opponents are pushing the Senate to keep international adoptions open. But Steinzor fears losing leverage once the treaty is ratified, which Pfund will request this fall, months before he shows senators the legislation that will govern how it works.

″It’s particularly troubling,″ said Simon aide Vicki Otten, ″because you’re talking about potentially a most dramatic reorientation ... of who ultimately controls adoptions in this country.″

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