Imagine if the Ethiopian government decided to hold a hearing on the US foster care system. What if one of their main witnesses was an Ethiopian lawyer who had never been to the United States, and had no direct connection or experience with US foster care?
Would you find him credible?
What if the US government held a hearing on the African orphan crisis, and had as one of their main witnesses an American lawyer who had never been to Africa, and had no direct connection with African adoption?
That’s what happened yesterday, when Kelly Dempsey testified at the House Subcommittee on Africa’s hearing on The Growing Crisis of Africa’s Orphans.
Ms. Dempsey is general counsel and Director of Outreach for Both Ends Burning. BEB lost a huge amount of credibility at the hearing, by sending in someone who has never even been to Africa. Ms. Dempsey is an adoptive parent, of a child from Vietnam. Both Ends Burning squandered an opportunity to demand that African orphans/adoptees speak on their own behalf.
Yet that’s consistent. They did not reach out to adult international adoptees when they helped craft the Children in Families First (CHIFF) legislation, which has a 3% chance of passage. Neither did they insist yesterday that the voices of African first/original parents and extended family be heard in this discussion of African policy. That, of course, is consistent with their movie Stuck, which barely includes any mention of original parents and of their grief and struggles.
Indeed, Ms. Dempsey ‘s testimony and her responses to questions focused almost exclusively on the State Department’s role in adoptions from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The State Department was not there to refute or respond, though they may be at a future hearing. More significantly, there was no one from the Congolese government to testify on the rationale for the DRC’s decision.
BEB might say that there are not Congolese adoptees old enough to testify, since Congolese children (and the State Departments’ failings) were the sole focus of Ms. Dempsey’s testimony. I don’t doubt the heartache and sincerity of the prospective adoptive parents of Congolese children. I hope their adoption agencies told them how enormously risky the adoptions would be from the DRC. This was, though, a hearing on Africa’s orphans, and I can assure BEB and the House Subcommittee on Africa that there are thousands of African adoptees who could speak very powerfully to the subject.
Perhaps the BEB folks lobbied the Subcommittee for Ms. Dempsey to be a witness. The chair of the subcommittee, Rep. Smith, seemed familiar with Ms. Dempsey’s work, and referred during the hearing to Whitney Reitz, a senior staff member for Sen. Mary Landrieu. Sen. Landrieu is the main sponsor of the Children in Families First (CHIFF) legislation, of which Both Ends Burning is an ardent proponent and Executive Committee member.
Though Both Ends Burning is enthusiastic about Congressional lobbying, petitions, and resolutions to revitalize international adoption, they are far less enthusiastic about adult international adoptees, who are markedly lacking in support for CHIFF. It’s almost as if BEB and CHIFF supporters are unaware that adopted children grow up. Some of those adults could provide valuable perspective about what adoption has meant to them. If their views are critical of international adoption, BEB doesn’t want to hear it.
Imagine if CHIFF and BEB were open to adult adopted persons sharing their views and experiences, especially the negative ones, in an effort to learn how to craft adoption legislation that doesn’t keep making the same mistakes. We need international adoption legislation that provides citizenship retroactively to all international adoptees (CHIFF doesn’t). Legislation that insists on rigorous, robust pre-adoption counseling and post-adoption resources (CHIFF doesn’t). Legislation that demands that the same level of pre- and post-adoption services be provided to original parents, in whatever country an adoption agency has placed the children from, as are provided to adoptive parents (CHIFF doesn’t). Legislation that has federal level policy and enforcements regarding “re-homing” of adopted children through illegal and unethical means (CHIFF doesn’t).
Adoptive parents and adoption agencies are the bulk of CHIFF proponents. None of the more active, adoptee-led, adoptee-centric (non-adoption agency related) groups have signed on. You can understand why.
Save the Children and Zambia Orphans of AIDS, the two organizations that testified at yesterday’s hearing, are not listed among CHIFF’s endorsing organizations; that could be for a number of reasons. Representatives, one Ethiopian and one Zambian, from the organizations spoke about the need for increased family-based, family-strengthening resources in Africa. They politely acknowledged intercountry adoption as an option for a small number of children, though they urged Congress for a broader base of funding and programs to help many more African children.
Yesterday was an opportunity for BEB and CHIFF supporters to speak out for family preservation and reunification, an ostensible goal of theirs, but they spurned their chance. It was a missed opportunity to move away from the dominance of adoptive parents in the narrative of adoption and child welfare legislation. It was a missed opportunity to engage adult African adoptees.
Africa’s orphans, and their families, deserve better.