What is a Central Authority?


Nicole Skellenger, JD, with our Haitian attorney and members of Haiti’s Central Authority, IBESR.

The landscape of international adoption continues to change. Prospective adoptive parents and agencies are increasingly concerned about ensuring adoptions are completed with the highest commitment to ethical practices. The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and co-operation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption (the Hague Convention) has been a key component in ensuring that international adoptions are done in the best interest of the child. When countries are party to the Hague Convention, they have agreed to process adoptions following all of the provisions of the convention. One of the major provisions of Hague Convention countries is a Central Authority.

What is a Central Authority?

Each Hague Convention country is required to establish a Central Authority “to be the authoritative source of information and point of contact in that country,” for adoptions. The Central Authority is the hub of adoption related information in each country. For the United States, the Department of State serves as the Central Authority.

What do they do?

Central Authorities in Hague Convention countries are responsible for monitoring the adoption process.

  • The Central Authority determines eligibility requirements for prospective adoptive parents. It is the Central Authority, not specific orphanages or the adoption agencies that make decisions concerning age of adoptive parents or marriage length requirements.
  • Each Central Authority has discretion over required documents for adoptive parents, usually called the dossier. This is why the documents contained in a dossier vary from country to country.
  • The Central Authority collects and maintains information on the children in need of families at any given time. The child’s information is prepared by the Central Authority and presented to the prospective adoptive family at time of referral.
  • The Central Authority matches with children in need of families with prospective adoptive parents based on the criteria in the parent’s dossier and the characteristics of the child. This is one of the reasons why it is increasingly difficult to adopt a known child, even a relative, from a Hague Convention country.
  • Depending on the country’s adoption laws, the Central Authority may be responsible for approving adoption service providers to facilitate adoptions.

Why are they important?

Central Authorities are important to international adoption because they provide oversight to adoption agencies, orphanages, social workers and adoptive parents. Especially in countries with a history of corruption related to international adoption, a Central Authority is beneficial because there is a process in place for adoptions to be completed ethically.

In Hague Convention countries, the Central Authority determines that the child is adoptable, and meets the definition of a Convention adoptee. This means that all domestic alternatives to care for the child have been exhausted and that there is proof that the child has been abandoned, or the birth parent(s) has given consent to the adoption.

The existence of Central Authorities helps the international adoption process in Hague Convention countries run smoothly. Central Authorities are beneficial not just for adoptive parents and adoption agencies, but they are important to children in need of families as well. Orphaned children are the most vulnerable, so having systems in place to protect their rights is of the utmost importance for the international community.

For more information on our international adoption programs, please contact us.

Caitlin Snyder works as the Director of Marketing and Outreach for MLJ Adoptions. Working in international adoption has given Caitlin the unique opportunity to pursue both a passion to advocate on behalf of vulnerable people and a profession at the same time.