She emailed me first.
I emailed back.
Then we had a long conversation. She was an experienced social worker. And she had very interesting information for me.
In all my correspondence with the State Department, one of the suggestions I received several times was to “talk to the state license authority” in my state. There was so much else going on in the complaint process…I did not get to the point of figuring out what talking to the state license authority even meant.
My new friend gave me significant perspective on this state-level process.
In order to open an office and do business in any state, adoption agencies must be licensed by the state. These licenses are completely separate from any federal or Hague accreditation. While agencies are required to self-report complaints filed with them to the Council on Accreditation, this is a federal level requirement. Adoption agencies are not required to self-report complaints to their state licensor.
At the state level, self-reporting is not part of the process.
Additionally, the State Department and the Council on Accreditation do not notify state license boards of complaints filed against adoption agencies. When the officials at the State Department suggested I talk to the state license authority, they were actually telling me something much bigger than I imagined. If I did not contact the state license boards myself, those licensors would never know about any allegations or ongoing investigations.
Each state has their own way to manage child placement licenses. The diversity in these processes is confusing. In some states child placement licenses are managed by the Department of Social Services, in some they are managed by Department of Family and Children’s Services, and in others by the Office of the Inspector General. The complaint policy is not clearly defined for any state, so I spent significant time figuring the process out and putting the policy puzzle pieces in place. In order to submit notification of issues or to file an official complaint at the state level, some work must be done. Here is the process, narrowed down to seven steps.
1) Write up your complaint. This may seem simple, but seriously, take the time to be thorough and unemotional. Be specific, use dates and detail documentation you have. Outline unethical practices or unprofessional conduct you experienced and if there is a Hague convention infraction, actually quote the guideline. Which brings me to my next point.
2) Read the Hague Convention. This is the governing document for all Hague accredited adoptions. Knowing what it actually says is imperative. Remember, though, not all adoptions are Hague adoptions. If your situation involves a domestic or non-Hague adoption, the Convention will not apply. But read it anyway.
3) Research. Figure out which state office handles the child placement licenses in your state. I found that googling “child placement license” was more effective than “adoption agency license”. This website is a good starting point.
4) Call the office and ask to speak with the licensor of your adoption agency. Taking the time to find the person familiar with and responsible for the specific agency you are complaining about is much more effective than sending an unexpected letter to the department address. Ask the licensor if there is a form their office prefers to see when they accept complaints or guidelines for submitting a complaint. Most of the people I spoke with wanted a letter with the text of the complaint, but be prepared to cater your complaint to their guidelines. While you are speaking to the licensor get two more pieces of information from them – the mailing address to their office and the name of the head of state licensing. This will be important.
5) Email a PDF of your complaint letter to the licensor if they are willing to receive it electronically.
6) Mail hard copies of your complaint letter to the licensor and to the head of state licensing. Certified or registered mail is essential at this point. Some of the original letters I sent got lost, so we have used the USPS tracking to find and confirm receipt of each complaint.
7) Follow up, follow up, follow up! Be kind and professional, but be sure the complaints you submit are handled appropriately and stay informed regarding investigations any state pursues.
My new friend, the experienced social worker, gave me an additional tip you might find useful if you end up taking the responsibility to file a complaint. Since my adoption agency is licensed in many states, she recommended I file specific complaints in the states of the offices we had direct contact with. Then, she recommended I write a separate cover letter for each of the other states who have licensed this company to notify them of the complaints filed elsewhere. As I went through this process I had many conversations at length about the complaint process with licensors in different states. They were all grateful to be notified of issues. In particular, the licensors in the “no direct contact” states were positive about our willingness to find them and notify them of the issues.
I hope none of you will ever have another issue with this agency. But if you do, yours will not be the first issue the state licensor has heard of. There is a precedent. You see friends, you are a big part of the reason we have gone through this whole mind-numbing, gut-wrenching, time-consuming complaint process. We beg the Lord to allow appropriate changes so all of your adoptions can be ethical. But if you do end up in a place like ours, you will not have to blaze new trails. You will simply have to walk the one in front of you…and hopefully these 7 steps will make it just a little easier for you.