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Interview with AnnaMarie Merrill,
International Concerns for Children (ICC)

Editor of Report on Intercountry Adoptions

By Allison Martin

What is the mission of the International Concerns for Children (ICC)? How did you become involved in this endeavor?

AnnaMarie Merrill: ICC's mission is several-fold: the Report on Intercountry Adoption is for prospective adopters to have in hand lists of reputable agencies, and be able to shop and choose according to their child-wishes; the Newsletter is an informal gathering of pertinent articles for folks to add to their collection of information to help make this whole venture less scary, and more doable; the donations effort is ongoing collection of clothes, toys, medicine, medical supples, school supplies, household goods to be sent to agencies to hand carry to their orphanages for the good of all the kids there.  That's sort of the 25-words-or-less version.

I began in 1972 to answer letters, etc. for some friends who achieved the then unheard of third I-600 visa for an adoption from Korea (back then INS only issued 2 per family), becoming instant experts (Korea was the only country back then where we could adopt).  In 1975 they decided to get on with life not necessarily having to do with adoption.  I took what I thought were meagre organizational and publishing skills, got the Report started, and it just grew.  We incorporated in 1979.

At that time, having 3 babies under 3, I needed something "sane" to do ("sane" is a 4-letter word), putting it together as an eminently interruptable effort which it is, yet, today.

What did you wish to accomplish in the Report?

AnnaMarie Merrill: It became quite obvious, in 1975, that this wonderful thing of intercountry adoption was only going to expand, and had already begun doing so (Latin America was beginning by then), and folks really needed a well-researched and checked-out list of agencies and information to start from.

How should prospective adoptive parents select an agency for international adoption?

AnnaMarie Merrill: You can read about selecting an agency on page 55 in the Report.

We get calls all the time about agencies that aren't in the Report: usually they're either ones we've not heard of, or we did send off a request for information and none was forthcoming.  I advise people to call the attorney general's office in the state where the agency's located, also the licensing office and the consumer protection office to check on the agency's track record, whether they're in fact actually licensed, whether they have a major complaint on their books (fraud suits, class-action suits, etc.).  We do insist that any agencies we publish on are at least 2 years old, and that their programs are at least 1 year old (that's in the Report also).  We suggest that folks "shop" agencies they're interested in using, becoming informed consumers as well as they can.  For some this means getting info from 3-4 agencies, for others a dozen or more.  Some people's comfort level extends only to agencies in their own state, others can take advantage of more opportunities.

How can people help you in your efforts?

AnnaMarie Merrill: People can help by collecting donations for agencies in their area (we don't ship directly to the orphanage, because so much can "get lost" in customs. If traveling parents and agency personnel take stuff directly this doesn't seem to happen. Of course, all donations MUST be perfect: on clothes all buttons present, zippers working, no stains, holes, rips, etc.; toys must have all parts and not be shabby-looking; shoes must not be much worn, and must be clean (denatured alcohol does a great job on what the washing machine can't get out); medicines must have an expiration date at least 3 and preferably 6 months away (foreign doctors won't use "expired" stuff).

People can also help by talking to us: "What was your experience like with this agency - good, bad, edgewise? Would you use them again?," etc.  We usually hear when someone is unhappy (and it's often not the agenciy's fault at all), but rarely when they're happy.  Well, happy people don't make noise, anyway.

What are your plans for the future?

AnnaMarie Merrill: It used to be that information was very difficult to find on agencies. Now, with the internet, there's almost too much information, and a lot of it is highly suspect.  I look at sites once in a while, and see outfits that I know are not licensed agencies, and, of course, since anyone can get on the net and say anything, it's very hard to separate the wheat fom the chaff.  Many wonderful agencies have good, attractive sites, and many sleazoids do too. I see ICC as becoming even more important in the future to vet agencies, letting people know who's really on the up and up, and who should be avoided.  Of course, I have  a penchant for licensed agencies, as opposed to liaisons, etc. Even though there are 3 liaisons in the Report, they've been working well for a l-o-n-g time, and we're not accepting any new ones.  Also with the Hague treaty, there will be more emphasis on organizations becoming licensed in order to be in compliance (I don't know why they don't go the distance and get licensed, anyway, just to give themselves more credibility).

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