CHIFF–the Children in Families First legislation–at first glance seems a no-brainer. Shouldn’t all children, especially orphans, have permanent, safe, caring families? Absolutely. I am an adoptive parent (US and Ethiopian adoptions, infant and older child adoptions, transracial adoptions) of 4 now young adults. I believe in adoptions that are done with integrity and transparency, that meet the genuine needs of the child (not the wants of the adoptive parents), and that treat everyone involved equitably and respectfully. I also believe family preservation should always be a primary goal.
And I oppose CHIFF.
I hope you will join me in raising your voice in opposition to this legislation.
Several current, glaring problems in the international adoption community must be solved before CHIFF is even considered. One example is the failure of the US government to provide citizenship for all international adoptees. Adoptees have been deported to Brazil, Korea, India, Germany, and elsewhere. Adoptive parents: make sure your children have the Certificate of Citizenship and full US citizenship documentation. Read more here.
I hate to think that CHIFF supporters would include the deportation legislation–which has been shamefully languishing for years–in the CHIFF bill, as a means of forcing adoptee support for the bill. I hope they have the backbone to move the citizenship legislation through Congress quickly and unencumbered, as it is a humane, overdue legislative need. I would hope that all these supporters of international adoption would be deeply motivated to demand that the US citizenship legislation, in the name of fairness and integrity, be enacted without linking it to an enormous piece of expensive, controversial legislation.
This and other issues must be addressed fully before undertaking new legislation using millions of dollars and creating a new bureaucracy.
Please join me in writing to Secretary of State Kerry, as well as to the main sponsors of the legislation: Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) at the US Senate, Washington, DC 20510, and Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), at the US House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515.
Here is a modified text of a letter I sent to Secretary of State John Kerry, US State Department, 2201 C St. NW, Washington, DC 20520.
January 6, 2014
Dear Secretary Kerry:
I write with a respectful request for Congressional hearings and a thorough review of the proposed Children in Families First (CHIFF) legislation.
As an adoptive parent of 4 wonderful children, now all young adults, I fully support the goal of all children growing up in loving, safe families. I support adoptions that have integrity and transparency, that genuinely meet the needs of the child, and that are respectful to all members of the first and adoptive family (and to the child, of course).
However, I (and many others) believe that CHIFF is arguably well-intentioned, but in reality falls shockingly short of identifying and meeting current gaping needs for children and families involved in international adoption. Many of the arguments for the legislation are based on an inadequate understanding of current adoption realities.
Thoughtful, thorough oversight hearings should take place as soon as possible, and certainly before any consideration of CHIFF or other adoption-related legislation.
I further recommend that the following issues related to international adoption policy first be resolved. Then, pending the results of Congressional hearings, CHIFF might possibly be reviewed.
- Examination of currently existing needs in the international adoption community, such as adequate post-adoption resources for families and children.
- Ensuring that all individuals brought to the United States for the purposes of adoption have US citizenship.
- Establishment of equity in the services provided to the first families (sometimes referred to as birth families) of children placed for international adoption.
- Examination of the current use of the adoption tax credit, on which the United States government has spent almost $7 billion, primarily reimbursing adoptive parents for the costs of international adoption (hotels, meals, travel, etc.).
- Identification of already existing NGOs and non-profit organizations currently involved in family preservation, so as not to create even more bureaucracy and waste additional money, time, and resources.
The proposed CHIFF legislation is not timely or appropriate, as it ignores current existing needs in the international adoption community. CHIFF supporters are primarily adoption agencies and attorneys–who have a clear financial stake in the success of this bill, though I don’t argue that many are deeply concerned about children–as well as academics and adoptive parents.
The CHIFF legislation does not have the support or endorsement of any significant groups of international adult adoptees. Thousands of international adoptees (Korean, Vietnamese, Indian, Russian, Colombian, Ethiopian, Chinese, etc.) are now adults. They are actively engaged in adoption policy, asking for a place at the table in adoption policy discussions. CHIFF does not include them or their views. That alone is an outrage, and reason to put the brakes on this bill.
Here is a list of some adult adoptee organizations that could have been included, but are noticeably missing from CHIFF supporters:
Adopted and Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora, Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative, TRACK- Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea, Adopted Vietnamese International, Hong Kong Adoptees Network, Gazillion Voices, AdopSource, and more. Additionally, there are dozens of international adoptee professionals who would be insightful in these discussions, but none appear on the list of CHIFF supporters and certainly not on the CHIFF Executive Committee.
CHIFF does not have the support of adult adoptees, the people most affected by international adoption legislation and policy. Nor are the voices of first/birth parents present in any meaningful way.
Another glaring example is the failure of CHIFF to address currently existing enormous problems in the international adoption policy arena. Each of these should be addressed before CHIFF is considered.
(1) It is shameful that the US government still does not provide automatic citizenship to those brought to the US as babies and children for purposes of international adoption. Congress has had this matter before it for years, and it is still not resolved. Meanwhile, international adoptees brought to the US as minors (prior to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000) by US citizens for purposes of adoption face the possibility of deportation.
(2) It is shameful that some adoptive parents “re-home” their adopted children through methods that are illegal and/or unethical at best. CHIFF proponents would do well to demand better pre-adoption screening and vast improvement of post-adoption services to ensure that all internationally adopted children are safe and cared for appropriately, subsequent to being adopted.
(3) It is shameful that first parents in the countries from which adoption agencies place children receive services that are marginal at best, that often prey upon economic inequities, that are increasingly shown to be deceitful, and that have no post-adoption resources whatsoever.
Further, please consider the use of funds by the US government for the adoption tax credit (ATC). Originally designed to encourage the adoption of children from the US foster care system, the adoption tax credit is now used primarily for international adoption, to reimburse parents for hotel, airfare, meals, legal costs, and so on. Many CHIFF supporters lobbied assiduously for the adoption tax credit.
According to a GAO report, “Since the original provision was enacted in 1996, taxpayers have claimed about $4.3 billion in adoption tax credits.” That report (GAO-12-98) was issued in October 2011. Estimates for tax year 2011, according to Joint Tax Committee reports, are $1.2 billion.
The US government has dispersed somewhere in the neighborhood of $6.5 billion (yes, billion) as reimbursement primarily to adoptive parents for international adoption expenses.
US foster care adoptions cost very little. In stark contrast, international and private adoptions are far more expensive (ranging between $10,000 and $60,000).
A Child Trends Research Brief (Publication #2007-24) looked at 1999-2005 data from the US Treasury to see who used the ATC. The results are significant:
- The vast majority of tax credit recipients were for international or private adoptions, not foster care adoptions.
- Nearly all international adoptions were supported by the tax credit. Only 25% of US foster care adoptions were supported by the tax credit.
- Children adopted from foster care in 2004 represented only 17 percent of the money spent on the tax credit.
- Nearly 90% of ATC tax filers with incomes above $100,000 adopted internationally or privately.
While the tax credit eases the ostensible burden of the costs of international adoption for adoptive families, it does nothing to provide resources, counseling, or any other equitable services for first/birth families around the globe. These are among the most marginalized, powerless people anywhere: the original parents (grandparents, siblings, aunts, cousins) of internationally adopted children. They receive no follow-up counseling or support after placing their children. Increasing numbers of adult international adoptees are searching and reuniting with their original families, and finding that the families were devastated by the loss of their children through fraudulent or corrupt practices.
Is the adoption tax credit, then, really helping vulnerable orphans, whether in the US or around the world? No, because many of the children placed for international adoption are not true orphans, in any traditional sense. They may have living family members, though they may be poor, ill, or otherwise unable to help. The children may have unrelated community members willing to raise them. The word “orphan” is used far too loosely and inaccurately in adoption policy discussions. It is emotionally powerful, nonetheless. And it has been used extensively in support of CHIFF.
CHIFF would have the US government using even more funds to place children for international adoption, without adequately meeting (or even calling attention to) current needs.
One alternative is that the funds currently used for the adoption tax credit could be used to improve pre-adoption and post-adoption services, including for first/birth parents. I have not yet heard any CHIFF supporters endorse such a use of the adoption tax credit.
Further, and this is a potentially valuable part of CHIFF, I urge you to ensure that international family preservation efforts genuinely focus on keeping families together. Efforts to encourage local adoption in-country deserve far greater attention and funding than what currently exists. I respectfully suggest an evaluation of already existing family preservation and reunification programs, and then funding them in a meaningful, sustainable way. There are multiple examples, around the globe. One solid, effective model is ReuniteUganda, which has had much success in keeping families together and in reuniting children wrongly separated from their parents. In Ethiopia, where my now 25 year old twin daughters are from (they were 6 when they were adopted), three organizations come to mind that are deeply involved in effective family preservation: Selamta, Bring Love In, and AHope for Children.
CHIFF has bipartisan cosponsors, suggesting at first glance that Congress is aware of the huge challenges surrounding international adoption. Unfortunately, many eyes need to be opened far more widely to the current needs of the international adoption community. It is easy to give blind support to the notion of “helping vulnerable orphans.” The issue, however, is far greater than that.
Thank you for your concern and attention to the realities of the world’s most vulnerable children, as well as their families.
Maureen McCauley Evans
Maureen McCauley Evans is the adoptive parent of 4 children, now young adults all in their 20’s, adopted from the US and from Ethiopia. While she has not worked professionally in adoption for many years, she was the first executive director of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, and worked for two adoption agencies, The Barker Foundation and Children’s Home Society and Family Services-East. She writes about adoption, art, and family issues on her blog, lightofdaystories.wordpress.com, which has received over 110,000 views since she began writing 9 months ago. She is passionate about the needs of vulnerable children and families, and insists that the voices of adult adoptees and of first parents be heard in adoption policy.