Why CHIFF Will (and Should) Fail

CHIFF is new US legislation related to international adoption. Its full name is Children in Families First. You can read about it on their website.

The ostensible goal is something most humans can agree on: children should grow up in loving, safe families.

CHIFF, however, would like to change “US policies and investments” to do this. That’s where things begin to fall apart.

Why will and should CHIFF fail?

Because it is essentially the product of a union between the US Congress and adoption agencies, with some adoptive parents mixed in as well.

Look at the list of CHIFF Working Group Executive Committee:

The CHIFF Working Group Executive Committee

American Academy of Adoption Attorneys
Both Ends Burning
Center for Adoption Policy
Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School
Christian Alliance for Orphans
Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute
Joint Council on International Children’s Services
National Council For Adoption
Saddleback Church

Look at the list of CHIFF’s Supporting Organizations:

Buckner International
Dillon International
Futuro de los Ninos
International Child Advocacy Network
Gladney Center for Adoption
University of Minnesota, International Adoption Clinic
Golden Cradle Adoption
Children’s Home Society and Lutherans Social Service of Minnesota
All God’s Children International Children’s Hope
MLJ Adoptions
Adoptions of Indiana
Lutheran Social Services of the South, Inc
Michael S. Goldstein, Esq., LCSW
WACAP (World Association for Children and Parents
Children’s House International
Miriam’s Promise
European Adoption Consultants
Rainbow Kids

Who’s not on either of these lists?

Advocates who give voice to International Adoptees and First Parents. Here’s a sampling.

Click on any of these links for further information about the organizations:

Land of Gazillion Adoptees/Gazillion Voices

Pound Pup Legacy

Lost Daughters

Lost Sarees

Adopted and Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora

Adoption Reform and Policy Collaborative

GOA’L–Global Overseas Adoptees Link

Reunite Uganda

ALARM–Advocating Legislation for the Adoption Reform Movement

ACT–Against Child Trafficking

Whether any of these groups (and many others like them) were consulted in the formulation of CHIFF, I do not know. I doubt it, since none is listed as a supporter. The above list runs something of a gamut in terms of advocacy and attitudes towards adoption.  I acknowledge that an extraordinarily talented facilitator would be needed to guide a discussion among them and the supporters of CHIFF.

Here’s the point: CHIFF is lauded by the US House and Senate sponsors, along with some big names in adoption agency work, as an important, significant piece of adoption reform legislation. There may be some good policy ideas in it. But adoption agencies (and adoption attorneys) have a substantial economic stake in this, though some may also have a moral and ethical stake.

The fact that there was no consultation nor buy-in from significant international adoptee or first parent groups, and that there is no public support from these groups, is revealing.

It’s also outrageous.

And that is why this legislation should fail.

Until our US government takes seriously the range of views of international adult adoptees and until it engages those adoptees and international first families in a transparent and public way, there can be no genuinely meaningful international adoption policy.

13 thoughts on “Why CHIFF Will (and Should) Fail

  1. I just came across your blog while reading about the Hana Williams case. I’m a paralegal who has worked in the adoption field for 23 years. I began to be alarmed several years ago when I started hearing about “disrupted” adoptions and people literally wanting to give their adopted Ethiopian children “back” or to someone else, because it “wasn’t working out” or there were too many cultural/behavior issues that couldn’t be overcome. It was a concept I had never even thought of in my work. Adoption is supposed to be a final and forever commitment. My question is, why would someone go to all the expense and effort to adopt internationally when there are literally tens of thousands of foster children in Washington State (and all over the country), who need loving, adoptive homes. These families seemed almost casual about unadopting these kids who had already been ripped from their country of origin, like “no big deal”.

    I agree that international adoptions are BIG business for the adoption industry. I saw in the ’90’s how the typical relinquishing mothers – teenagers – began keeping their babies and the profile switched to women in their 20’s who already had a couple kids and couldn’t handle raising another. That also slowed way down. So maybe the agencies saw international as another avenue to keep the machine going. I’m sorry to see the exclusion of these other watchdog & advocacy groups being shut out of the process.

    • This a brief answer that barely skims the surface of the important questions you have raised.

      Adoption, like all parenting, is supposed to be forever. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Ideally, children would all be born into families that are safe and stable. Ideally, all children placed for adoption would stay with that new family. These are ideals that we all should support and work toward.

      But life is very complicated. Children are placed for adoption because of abuse, neglect, poverty, social stigma, trauma, death, and more. Parents choose to become parents in a variety of ways and for a wide variety of reasons. I hesitate to question those choices, hoping that they were made with the best interest of the child in mind.

      As to the “re-homing:” Only the most callous of parents could be casual about that process. They probably shouldn’t have been parents in the first place. It does happen that an adoptive placement doesn’t work out, whether because the adoptive parents weren’t well-prepared, or because the child’s needs were greater than the parents knew or anticipated, or because there was insufficient post-placement support, or some other reason. In those cases, parents should work with agencies and therapists to ensure that next steps are transparent, safe, and appropriate for everyone.

      Adoption overall is in great need of reform. I agree with you about the harm done by the exclusion of watchdog and advocacy groups. There’s a lot of work to be done.

  2. Families Against AdoptionTrafficking and Adoption Truth and Transparency Worldwide Network DO NOT SUPPORT THIS BILL.
    (Children for Families First Bill= more intercountry adoption)
    Their Problem:
    The adoption industry has lost over 60% of their business since 2005. Scandals about
    harvesting children from vulnerable families and child trafficking has brought their
    business down (Romania, Cambodia, Guatemala, Vietnam, India just to name a few
    What They Want:
    More political leverage for their business, by placing the Children’s Bureau in the State
    Department. Ring fencing USAID money for adoption agencies.
    This bill cannot be “fixed.” It cannot be “amended.”
    It should never leave committee.
    1. Notify the members of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, especially your
    own members, that you are outraged that their “institute” has endorsed this
    horrendous bill. Tell them their name is used for this well organized and highly
    orchestrated industry lobbying campaign that creates the false impression that this
    bill is endorsed by all of them.
    2. Contact Secretary of State Kerry to alert him to the major problems with the bill.
    3. Notify members of the committee of jurisdiction, Senate Foreign Relations
    Committee – especially if they are your own representatives – to tell them you
    oppose the bill.
    4. Copy your own House and Senate members expressing your strong opposition to
    ANY version of this bill.

  3. Having read this bill repeatedly I’m at a loss. It’s so vague and nebulous in some ways it seems unlikely that an amendment strategy could effectively shape it or “improve” it. The bottom line is that it suggests a degree of meddling in the public policies of other countries that would be both inappropriate and ineffectual. To your excellent points he only appropriate response it to stop it.

    • Critical point there: For this to “work” as policy, the US would have to be driving child welfare actions in other nations in ways that…how to say it…would only be accepted by the most vulnerable.

      On a related note, the US Embassy in Phnom Penh is advertising for an adoption officer to begin work next month, with duties expanding “when” adoptions re-open in Cambodia. Not if, when.

  4. Money is of course a huge and powerful force in child welfare. Always has been, always will be. While it seems naive and simplistic to say “we need transparency, oversight, and accountability,” we do need those things, and we need to demand them in the realm of adoption.

    As to what can be done, telling your Congressional reps you’re against the bill is very important. Everyone opposed should write/email their US House Representative and their 2 US Senators. That really matters. Go to http://www.house.gov and http://www.senate.gov; find your state’s federal elected officials and send a brief note urging them to vote against the Children In Families First Act of 2103.

    Post on the blogs and Facebook pages of supporters such as the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (www.ccainstitute.blog.org) and others. Yes, I realize opposing views may be deleted, but someone at the organizations will have to read them first to decide whether to delete.

    You can add your voice to this Facebook page: Stop the Children in First Families Act of 2013 at https://www.facebook.com/StopCHIFF.

    Write about it in your blog, your Facebook groups, your Tumblr account, and so on. Comment on others’ blogs, like Claudia’s and Von’s (above) and others.

    It’s hard to say whether this legislation really has “legs,” as the saying goes: will it move quickly through Congress? Who knows? My perspective now is that it should not move anywhere without the inclusion of adult adopted persons and of international first parents. It is an outrage and absurdity that all the supporters are essentially adoption agencies, as if the only impact of the legislation is on them.

    Other people have other reasons for opposing the bill, the enormous amount of money involved being just one. I think it’s important that the reasons for opposition to the bill are varied: that suggests the bill has significant flaws and widespread opposition.

    I believe, as do the supporters and backers of CHIFF, that all children deserve safe, loving families. We see the means of achieving that goal differently, and that’s okay, if we all (especially adopted persons and first parents) have a place at the table for the discussion.

  5. Wow, that agency list is a rogue’s gallery. EAC is still running around free? CHI? Oh, the stories I could tell about interviewing them as a PAP…

    If those agencies are for it, it will promote their businesses’ bottom lines, and that is the only thing they’re working in adoption to do: Make money. If Gladney & Dillon want something, it’s probably terrible; if CHI wants to shake on it, count your fingers.

    What can we do to push back on this bill? Aside from ‘tell your Congressional reps you’re against it’?

    • Thank you so much for re-blogging, Von. I hope folks will look at that post and others on Von’s blog, to learn more about her journey as an adoptee (now in her 60’s), and how the challenges can evolve but are not neatly packaged.

      If I am wrong about the bill failing, well, it won’t be my first time being wrong lol. I recognize the power of Big Adoption, as you say. I also though believe that the voices of adoptees and first parents, while still marginalized in contrast to agencies and adoptive parents, are being heard much more than in the past. Whether that’s due to social media or to a tipping point or to coincidence or to a perfect storm of tragedies: I don’t know. Still, advocacy around adoption (at least here in the US) is beginning to show some small glimmers of change, and adopted adults are figuring more prominently in discussions. No, not anywhere as much as they should be. But there is definitely movement. First parents, especially international first parents, are still deeply under-represented in policy decisions. So, we shall see what happens here. It’s so important to keep listening, and to keep speaking up. Many thanks to you.

    • Claudia, you sum this up with your usual insightful precision. I’m glad you included the link with your comments. Claudia is the force behind the blog “Musings of the Lame,” one of the most powerful birth parent blogs around. Readers can reach the blog at the link above, and I urge folks to read not just that post (though yes, read that one) but also others. If we are going to bring about fair, equitable change in adoption, we have to make sure everyone has a place at the table. We have so much to learn from each other.

  6. The list of supporters is very revealing. Whenever a proposition comes up for vote in California the first thing I look at is who is supporting it and who’s against it. I saw 20-20 where a birth father was hoodwinked out of custody of his child by the state of Utah. Have you discussed adoption in Utah on your blog?

    • I haven’t discussed Utah. US state law can be very complex. I live in Washington state now, and have testified in favor of allowing unrestricted access to adoptees’ original birth certificates.

      My experience has been more with international adoption, though I’ve blogged about the Baby Veronica case. I agree the list of supporters of legislation is very revealing for who’s on it as much as for who’s not.

      I think we are at a pivotal time for change in adoption policy, in the US and around the world. There is a lot at stake, and a lot to consider.

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