Not Chuffed About CHIFF: Pushing Back On International Adoption Policy

“Chuffed” is British slang for being pleased, mixed with a bit of proud.

CHIFF is the Children in Families First Act. I’ve written here about Why CHIFF Will (and Should) Fail, and here about What CHIFF Lacks, And Why It Must Be Abandoned.

I am not chuffed about CHIFF. Those two posts above explain why.

Not surprisingly, I’ve gotten some pushback from folks at adoption agencies about my views.

Why am I opposed to helping children who need families?

I’m not, it turns out. I believe adoption is a potential, positive option for children in genuine need of families. I agree that children are better off growing up in safe, loving families rather than in institutions. As is often the case, however, this is far more complicated than a warm and fuzzy scenario of homes for orphans. CHIFF is about a new bureaucracy, plus misplaced funding that ignores existing needs, and a blatant failure to include those most affected.

Many years ago, when I was working for the Joint Council on International Children’s Services (I was there from 1995-2000), we worked on several pieces of significant adoption-related legislation. One was the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. Two others were part of the immigration bill in 1996, one requiring immunizations prior to immigration to the US, and the other mandating deportation of non-US citizens who were convicted of a felony. The immunizations issue was settled fairly easily, with prospective adoptive parents having to sign a form saying they would get their children immunized here (or get an exemption for religious reasons, for example).

The deportation issue, though, was far more complex. Adult international adoptees who had not acquired US citizenship and committed a felony were deported, regardless of having been brought here by US citizens for adoption, having been raised here their whole lives, and having no connection (language, family, school, religion, etc.) with their country of origin. This absurdity was part of the impetus behind the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which gave (relatively) automatic citizenship to internationally adopted children. More information is available here, in my posts All They Will Call You Will Be Deportees and Citizenship Isn’t Automatic for Internationally Adopted Children to the US?.

All those legislative issues were complicated, and we are still feeling the implications certainly of the Hague Convention and of the deportation/citizenship law. When I think back of my involvement with both, I am aware of two glaring omissions from the discussions and implementation of both: very few adult adoptees or first parents were involved.

By far, it was international lawyers, adoption agencies’ staff, and adoptive parents who were the forces behind the legislative process: the same (mostly white, well-educated, politically savvy, well-off) demographic of those who are supporting CHIFF.

Had adoptees and first parents genuinely and fully been invited to share their experiences  around adoption, perhaps the Hague Convention would have been more smoothly implemented here in the US. Perhaps the Council On Accreditation would have more effective criteria for the accreditation of adoption agencies under the Hague. Perhaps consultation and input from adopted adults would have been more convincing about the need for appropriate and fair citizenship legislation.

I include myself in falling short on insisting that adoptees and first parents have a place at the table during those legislative processes. That’s why I am speaking out as loudly as possible now.

As I look at the supporters of CHIFF, I see a list comprised almost entirely of adoption agencies. Adoption agencies are not focused on family preservation–let’s be clear about that. Theirs is a different mission and focus. Family preservation is expensive, complicated, and labor-intensive. Adoption work can similarly described, though it requires different staffing, skills, evaluation, and funding than family preservation. It’s also easy to see how conflicts of interest could occur, if an agency pursues both.

Look at this, from the CHIFF Facebook page:

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
EACH
Joint Council on International Children’s Services
Kidsave International
National Council For Adoption
Saddleback Church

CHIFF also has the support of dozens of individual adoption agencies. Why is that, if CHIFF emphasizes family preservation?

About the pushback I’ve received: I heard from one of the above agencies, saying I’d rattled a few cages. Good.

Because here’s the deal: Adoptee groups are more common, more vocal, and more effective than when I was at JCICS and other organizations. I’m not excusing my failure to include them at the time. I am saying, though, that there are plenty of organized groups now across the adoptee spectrum. There are amazing, thoughtful adoptees who are Ph.D’s and MSW’s and LCSW’s who could offer great insights into this legislation, but I don’t see their names or their affiliations on the list of CHIFF supporters. That speaks volumes to me, that the CHIFF Working Group Executive Committee and its list of supporters are predominantly adoption agencies and adoptive parents.

Interestingly, the “Likes” on the Facebook page of the Children in Families First group is 2439. The “Likes” on the “Stop CHIFF” Facebook page is 2507. A few years ago, before the empowerment that is social media, the balance would not have been so close. It’s all changing now.

Here’s another important reality that currently is often ignored. There are plenty of adult adoptees who love their adoptive parents, who are grateful to have been adopted, who recognize that their lives would have been totally different (certainly economically and perhaps otherwise) had they not been adopted. These are among the most powerful adopted adults who are speaking out, demanding change in the international adoption process, These adult adoptees love their adoptive families and they had happy childhoods. They are also speaking out about adoption, seeking change in the international adoption process, demanding transparency and integrity, and insisting on a role for themselves and for first/birth parents in the future of international adoption.

As to the notion that some of the adoptee groups don’t play well with others, and so are not invited to this sandbox: Enough. There are many, many adult adoptee groups and adoptee professionals working in adoption. If the adoption agency groups have insights and inroads to the politicians–and it surely looks as though they do–why don’t they share their skills and experience with adoptee groups?

Is anyone else struck by the fact that some adoption agencies and adoption-related organizations don’t want to hear from, talk with, or work with some adopted adults who are now speaking out? These adoptees were brought to the US by these agencies and organizations.  Have the agencies no ethical responsibility to find common ground? Even (or especially) with adopted adults who’ve struggled mightily with loss and grief, who had horrific childhoods, or who view their adoption as a painful life event?

Is anyone else struck by the fact that the international adoption agencies and adoption-related organizations are not reaching out to first parents to provide post-adoption services to them, the way the services are provided (or at least offered) to US adoptive parents? Where is the integrity in that? For that matter, I’d love to see an evaluation of the pre-placement services provided to international first parents. Do the services match what is available to US birth/first parents? If not, why not?

Is anyone else struck by the fact that CHIFF is “about reallocating a small portion of the $2 billion the US Government already spends on assistance programs for children internationally” but doesn’t say how much that “small portion” is? The US government currently provides billions in the adoption tax credit, a fragment for the adoption of foster care children but primarily allocated to international and private adoptions. Your tax dollars are already hard at work reimbursing relatively well-off adoptive parents for travel and hotels overseas. We are talking huge amounts of money here, that could be spent far more responsibly.

Is anyone else struck by the fact that adoptive parents of internationally adopted children are often able, after placement, to quickly find out the true backgrounds of their children, backgrounds that are all too often not what the agency told them? Should we ignore the fact that increasing numbers adult adoptees travel back to their country of origin and find their truth is very different from what the agency told them, their first parents, and their adoptive parents?

Is anyone else heartbroken about the fact that internationally adopted children are “re-homed” in an underground Internet system, that internationally adopted children are showing up in increasing numbers in the US foster care system, and that some internationally adopted children adopted as teens to the US are thrown out of their families when they reach 18?

I am well aware that adoptive parents and adoption-related organizations hold the most power in adoption policy–for now. I am aware that some (though not all) adoptee groups are adversarial, even hostile. But let’s not dismiss the realities experienced by so-called difficult adoptees. (Arguably, we do that all too often as shown by the dearth of appropriate post-adoption services for adopted children and teens. There could be a correlation.) Let’s not hope that they just go away, now that they’ve grown up. Collaboration, not further marginalization, is the only way to move toward well-grounded adoption policy and reform.

Let’s invite adult adoptees and first families to the table, and stop repeating the same mistakes. Let’s not pour more money and time into international adoption policy that does not adequately meet the needs of current adoptees, prospective adoptees, and constantly-marginalized first families.

 

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