Families who want to adopt from foreign countries soon should face less risk of entanglement in scams, bribery and child-trafficking operations. But the new oversight also is expected to come with short-term costs: more paperwork, higher fees, mandated training and longer waits.
"It's going to slow things down for a while. Everybody acknowledges that," said Mark McDermott, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who has worked for nearly two decades to see the international agreement ratified.

The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions took effect April 1, with the United States and more than 70 other countries, including China, signed on. In the U.S., the pact means the State Department now regulates international adoptions and tracks complaints. Previously, there had been no government oversight of adoption agencies working internationally. "It's the highest-level order of change I can think of. It's worldwide," said Beth Brindo of Bellefaire JCB in Cleveland, one of the nation's oldest and largest adoption agencies.

Ladan Pritchard of Grandview Heights already had an adoption in process, from Guatemala. The additional Hague Adoption Convention red tape means her infant daughter probably will be a toddler by the time she arrives in the U.S.

"We have to finish with the Hague, even though we didn't start with the Hague," said Pritchard, who has two other children adopted from Guatemala. "You used to have to wait about three months from the time of abandonment, but now, with the Hague, it's five," she said. "All told, I'll probably have added on another four to six months."

Guatemala was second to China last year as a source of foreign babies for U.S. families, accounting for about 4,700 of the nearly 20,000 international adoptions that took place.

The Central American country has signed the Hague convention, but because it does not have a central authority in place, as required, the State Department is not processing adoptions from Guatemala that were initiated after April 1.

Guatemala's speedy, unchecked adoption industry also has been enveloped in scandal, with authorities raiding orphanages, allegations of fraud and a government crackdown. "It's a mess," said McDermott, who is legislative director of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys. He and other advocates hope the Hague Adoption Convention eventually will help eliminate the dark sides.

In the meantime, U.S. adoption agencies must obtain Hague accreditation to continue providing international adoption services. "One of the criticisms is that it is putting in another level of bureaucracy, and indeed it is," said Brindo of Bellefaire, which was among the first agencies to obtain the accreditation. "But the protections to families should far outweigh the inconvenience."

More information on international adoptions is available on the Internet: U.S. State Department, http://travel.state.gov; Joint Council on International Children's Issues, www.jcics.org; and legal information, www.adoptionattorneys.org.