What CHIFF Lacks and Why It Must Be Abandoned

I wrote a couple of days ago about the Children in Families First (CHIFF) Act, recently introduced in the US Senate as S.1530: Why CHIFF Will (and Should) Fail.

My main arguments were (1)  the legislation fails to include the voices of adult adoptees and of first/original international parents, and (2) the main supporters are adoption agencies, who have a significant economic stake in international adoption. Those 2 reasons are significant enough to suggest the bill is poorly grounded and inadequate (while being very expensive), and should be abandoned.

If that though isn’t enough, this post discusses additional reasons that CHIFF should be discarded.

It’s not because international adoption policy does not need to be reformed (it does), nor because children around the globe don’t deserve safe, loving families (they do), nor because family preservation should not be an essential priority (it should).

CHIFF should be discarded because it fails to include the perspectives of vital stakeholders (adoptees and international first parents) directly impacted by and knowledgeable about international adoption, though with nothing to gain financially from it, unlike adoption agencies, the bill’s current main supporters. Further, CHIFF should be discarded because it fails to acknowledge the astonishing problems facing us here in the US, while explicitly using substantial USAID and other taxpayer funds “to jumpstart implementation of a National Action Plan in 6 countries over 5 years.”

CHIFF In a Nutshell

Here’s a brief summary, drawn from their website, of the goals of CHIFF:

CHIFF “calls for programs funded with US tax dollars to focus on reducing the number of children living without families and increasing the capacity of other governments to better protect their own children.”

Specifically, CHIFF establishes a new bureau in the State Department (transforming and enlarging the current Office of Children’s Issues, apparently), as a “foreign policy and diplomatic hub on child welfare.” The new bureau will still be the Hague Convention’s Central Authority “for diplomatic purposes,” but “operational responsibilities will be under US Citizenship and Immigrations Services,” (US CIS) which is under the US Homeland Security Administration.

It “streamlines, simplifies, and consolidates responsibility for intercountry adoption cases under US CIS,” thus under the Department of Homeland Security, except for final immigrant visa processing, which remains with State. Adoption service provider accreditation will now be under Homeland Security too, not the State Department.

The new bureau is tasked with “building international capacity to implement effective child welfare systems, with particular focus on family preservation and reunification, and kinship domestic, and intercountry adoption.”

The CHIFF infographic cites adoption in 2 of the 3 potential intended results of the bill, with the third being a realignment “of foreign aid with American values.”

Here are additional reasons that CHIFF will and should fail:

CHIFF does not meaningfully address current needs here in the United States regarding international adoption policy, yet it would use USAID and other taxpayer money to increase international adoptions, to create new bureaucracy here, and to establish new programs around the globe, instilling American values.

It turns out we have plenty of work that needs to be done here at home.

  • CHIFF does not address the huge, gaping need for genuine, rigorous pre-adoption preparation nor for substantive, effective, accessible post-adoption counseling and resources here in the United States. We can craft adoption policy far better, in terms of preparation and counseling of birth/first parents and of adoptive parents prior to adoption, and in terms of post-adoption resources and services for everyone. I’d like to see some degree of equity in counseling and services (before and after placement) for international birth parents as compared to US adoptive parents. I’ve recommended re-vamping the US adoption tax credit as one means of doing this and wrote about it here.  No new money–just an equitable, sane distribution of revenue (billions of dollars) that the US federal government is already providing to adoptive parents.
  • CHIFF does not address the great, grim cloud of corruption and fraud in international adoption. Many US families have brought children to the US only to find out the children have families who wanted to keep them, but were trafficked or otherwise brought to the US in unethical circumstances. Adult adoptees have traveled back to their home countries and learned very different stories from what the agencies told their adoptive parents. One of the reasons for the slowdown in international adoptions is that adoption agencies and governments are now doing investigations about the truths of children being placed for adoption. It’s an effort by the agencies, arguably late in the game, and it’s costly and time-consuming, though perhaps will ensure more ethical adoptions. In any case, CHIFF minimally acknowledges the corruption that exists in international adoption. The fraud and corruption should be acknowledged, researched thoroughly, and (ideally) eliminated as a first priority.
  • CHIFF does not address the tragic and disturbing practice of “re-homing” here in the US, recently cited in the powerful Reuters series which looked at re-homing practices over 5 years. There are numerous reasons that re-homing has occurred, and perhaps some have been valid. But better preparation and better post-adopt services (including respite, training, access to therapists who understand adoption, trauma, and related issues) surely would have prevented some of these tragic cases.
  • The impact of the re-homing news has begun to create a global backlash. China is outraged. This article “China adoption agency furious over ‘child exchange’ report” quotes the China Centre for Children’s Welfare and Adoption as saying, “As to the report that refers to American families who are using the Internet to relocate children they have adopted and are not willing to keep raising, we are very shocked and furious.”
  • Further evidence of the global rippling effect: The Democratic Republic of Congo has just announced a 12 month suspension of adoptions, and specifically cited the re-homing of children as one significant reason. Here is a quote from the US State Department notice about the DRC’s decision: “This suspension is due to concerns over reports that children adopted from the Democratic Republic of the Congo may be either abused by adoptive families or adopted by a second set of parents once in their receiving countries.” Other countries likely have deep concerns about US adoption practices, and I would guess we will hear more in the near future.
  • CHIFF does not address the concerns of many in the adoption global community about what the Congo suspension alludes to: children being abused or killed by their adoptive parents. I have written dozens of posts about the recent Washington State trial and conviction of the adoptive parents for the murder of Hana Williams, an Ethiopian adoptee. The parents were convicted as well of first degree assault of Immanuel, also an Ethiopian adoptee. These tragic cases are not common, not representative of the vast majority of adoption, and not acceptable on any level. Note above that CHIFF specifically calls for “programs funded with US tax dollars to…increase the capacity of other governments to better protect their own children.”  Hindsight may suggest that the deaths and abuses here were preventable, but we need to be more proactive than ever in demanding rigorous scrutiny of prospective adoptive parents and in providing oversight and assistance to families in trouble. I wrote here about how the adoption community failed Hana. I also found the CHIFF FAQ answer cold and dismissive about these tragedies. I can only imagine what the perspective is of the families and governments of origin regarding these children.
  • CHIFF does not address the plight of international adoptees who are now in the US foster care system. Those numbers are difficult to know for sure, but there is clear evidence and research that many international adopted children end up in US foster care. They, like US-born foster care children, often age out and face difficult next steps. Nor does CHIFF address the international adoptees who are now legal adults and legal US citizens and who have been who have been discarded by their adoptive families, and are now struggling in “underground” communities. Many did not meet the families’ expectations (and again, this would seem to me to indicate poor preparation, or inappropriate placements, or inadequate post-adoption resources). I wrote about some of these concerns in my Case Study: Part 2, regarding the role of agencies.

There are other concerns, and I’ve no doubt other people will be writing about them. I would argue that, before we work toward increasing the numbers of internationally adopted children, and before we venture into other countries to tell them how to protect their children, we address the needs of current adoptees and their families here in the US.

Before anything like CHIFF goes forward, before we use additional funds and resources to increase the numbers of internationally adopted children, we need, at a minimum, the following:

  • Good data, solid research, and substantive information about current realities in the US international adoption community.
  • Good data, solid research, and substantive information about fraud and corruption in international adoption practices.
  • Inclusion and buy-in from adult international adoptees and from international birth/original parents, and not solely from adoption agencies and adoption attorneys.
  • Funding and training for pre-adoption and post-adoption resources that are effective and accessible.
  • Legislation and/or other resources that provides guidance and oversight for families in crisis, with transparency for adoption disruptions and services for children.

CHIFF excludes vital stakeholders, is expensive, and ignores genuine needs in the US and international adoption community. It should not move forward. Surely we can do far better than this.

5 thoughts on “What CHIFF Lacks and Why It Must Be Abandoned

  1. The six countries that may be selected by the current USAID led Action Plan will likely NOT be the same six that would be selected should CHIFF succeed. Why? Because the focus under CHIFF will be to select countries where IA could be used most fortuitously whereas IA is not the central focus under the current action plan managed by USAID.

  2. This is probably irrelevant, but…did you identify exactly which 6 countries in your reading? I wasn’t able to figure that out. Maybe it doesn’t matter, in light of all the things wrong with the bill, but I’m curious about whether that is even considered something we need to talk about.

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