Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao, the highly regarded, nationally- and internationally- known clinician, has written a thoughtful, insightful essay on the reasons she opposes the Children in Families First legislation (CHIFF). Joyce is also an adopted person. It is her perspective and experiences that should have been a core part of CHIFF from the start. Regrettably, she and other adopted adults were not consulted; their voices were excluded from the CHIFF discussions.
From her web page: Dr. Pavao has done extensive training, both nationally and internationally. She is an adjunct faculty member in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and has lectured at Harvard, Smith, Wellesley, UCLA, USC, and Antioch, among other universities. She has consulted to various public and private child welfare agencies, adoption agencies, schools, and community groups, as well as probate and family court judges, lawyers, and clergy. Additionally, she has worked closely with individuals, couples, and families with adoption-related issues, foster care issues, guardianship and kinship, as well as complex families formed through reproductive technology, single parent families, gay and lesbian families, and families through remarriage.
Please see her information about Pavao Consulting and Coaching.
Thank you, Joyce, for this powerful essay.
Reflecting on CHIFF-Children in Families First
Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao
Most Child Welfare policies- domestic and international- make mention of the need to:
• Reunify children with birth parents
• Find kinship care placements
• Find families nearby to keep connections and continuity
• Allow for international adoption (or in large countries like US and China to allow for distant placements far from child’s origin)
All of these -in this order -are far better than institutional care for a child who deserves to be in a family first. The problem with this CHIFF legislation plan is that not enough education and funding goes into working on the first three preferences for the child, and it seems ‘easier’ and more in keeping with the ‘business’ of adoption to skip right to international.
This move is often a gateway into illegal and unethical maneuvers that provide more children, for more fees, and that pay no attention to the realities of the birth families and the child. These children are often not orphans and not without extended family and community, but become legal orphans against the knowledge or will of their people.
It is disconcerting that many proponents of CHIFF are worried about a reduced rate of children available for waiting adoptive parents. The adoptive parents are as much the victim of this unfortunate situation, as are the birth families and the children waiting.
There will always be children who authentically need families, and families who- once they are educated -realize that in today’s world everyone can find each other, and the truth of the origins of every child will be revealed to their child eventually.
Don’t we want our children to feel that their adoptions are just and ethical?
Don’t we want that to be at the core as they deal with all of the challenges they will encounter?
It is far from anti adoption to want to curtail the huge industry that is a part of international adoption (and sometimes domestic), and that sometimes involves child trafficking and other illegal and unethical practices.
It seems important and very pro adoption to care about these children and these issues:
To think about the rights of the child and of the Hague convention
To think about the infant or child in each adoption, as he/she will later in life be making sense of what has happened in his/her life.
My famous quote from years ago is “adoption should be about finding families for children and not about finding children for families.” This holds true.
The child welfare people finding the families must be sure that efforts have been made to reunify, locate kin , find proximal families, before moving to international searches for families for that child. It is the highest order of honoring our adoptions of old (and I am an old adopted person) by being ethical, legal, and compassionate of the child in current adoptions, and by making efforts for connections to be preserved for that child.
Children should be in families first – their original family, the families of kin, the families nearby and finally – if all else truly fails after true searching -then in families waiting in other countries.
This work should be about the child, but not just the infant or child on the present, rather the whole person that child will become, who will grow and change and wonder and grieve.
We have to stop seeing adoption as a business and an industry or a mission, and realize that we are manipulating individuals and families, we are causing a great deal of loss, trauma, pain and distrust in doing things in ways that are not meant to be, and in ways that both physically and emotionally cut the child off from connections that will be healing and important to their entire family, which will include both family by birth and by adoption.
I am far from anti adoption. I am a product of it- and it has happened for centuries. There are so many people living in adoption throughout the world, and because adoption will continue to happen forever, it must be the right thing. It must be ethical, legal, just, compassionate and transparent – for the sake of the child.