The Children in Families First (CHIFF) bill emerged in autumn 2013, during the 113th session of the US Congress. Its supporters and sponsors surely saw its chances for success as a no-brainer: Who doesn’t agree that all children deserve families, and especially children in impoverished nations?
The Little Engine That Could unfortunately began wheezing and sputtering in the spring of 2014, and by summer 2014 was ominously quiet. The CHIFF website stopped posting News in June. Their Twitter feed stopped chirping in July. No action was taken on CHIFF by the US Congress, so CHIFF died when the 113th session ended in December 2014.
Thousands of hours must have been devoted to this bill by dozens of staff people, such as those on CHIFF’s Executive Committee, including the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, Both Ends Burning, the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, and the National Council on Adoption.
In the world of adoption, those are some heavy hitters. What happened?
CHIFF proponents underestimated their opposition. It’s a brave new world in adoption policy these days, comprised of advocates who span a vocal, volatile spectrum. The spectrum ranges from those who are vehemently anti-adoption to those who support adoption but not the way it’s being done now. The days of adoptive parents and adoption agencies leading the way are gone. Adult adopted persons are increasingly well-organized and, well, loud. Some are politically active. Some are wizards of social media. Some are telling their stories in public, compelling, and evocative ways.
CHIFF advocates failed to include a place for them at the table.
CHIFF proponents also hammered away publicly at the US State Department for various reasons, alienating them or at least, it seems to me, ensuring State’s lack of support for CHIFF. CHIFF also failed to garner the support of established, successful family preservation organizations around the world. Thus, the CHIFF proponents’ claims of working to preserve and reunite families–a big goal for many of us–lacked credibility.
A July Congressional hearing on Africa’s orphans was a chance for CHIFF proponents to insist that an adult adoptee (orphaned as a child) speak. They could have provided testimony from African birth parents on how to help with the orphan crisis. They did not do these things. I wrote about it here: Both Ends Burning and CHIFF: Losing Credibility, Spurning Opportunities.
Those of us on a grassroots level who criticized CHIFF were often dismissed as angry and bitter, as not caring about children, as not wanting to help orphans, and as not truly understanding what CHIFF wanted to do. That dismissal fundamentally led to the demise of CHIFF. CHIFF’s opponents–speaking for myself–do care about children, do want to help orphans, and did understand CHIFF. And many of us spoke out. Maybe we weren’t holding meetings on Capitol Hill, or spending organizational money and time to lobby Congress. Nonetheless, the insulated nature of CHIFF’s proponents plus the failure to include adopted adults and first/birth parents–and hence their concerns and realities–are enormous reasons as to why CHIFF is now dead.
CHIFF, when examined closely (beyond the photos and rhetoric), failed to meet current needs in adoption policy. These were CHIFF’s goals:
“CHIFF calls for the redirection of a modest portion of the $2 billion the United States currently spends on children living abroad toward ensuring that all children grow up in a family. What’s more, it 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…CHIFF would streamline, simplify and consolidate responsibility for all processing of intercountry adoption cases.”
These may well seem reasonable if complicated goals, at least at first blush. But here are current, glaring needs that CHIFF did not include:
* Federal legislation to correct a grievous flaw in citizenship for adoptees. Read more here.
* Federal legislation on “re-homing” of internationally adopted children. Read more here.
* Much needed funding for improved pre-adoption and post-adoption resources, to prevent re-homing, to strengthen families, and to protect children.
* Equitable pre- and post-placement resources, counseling, and information for international first parents. All too often these families receive no support after placement. That is unconscionable.
* Emphasis on family reunification and family preservation. Yes, this was an ostensible part of CHIFF. The fact that the overwhelming percentage of endorsing organizations were adoption agencies undermined that claim.
So much money, time, and energy went into lobbying for CHIFF. Certainly the federal indictment and recent guilty pleas by international adoption agency staff for fraud and bribery didn’t help.
Where do we go from here?
There are rumblings in the adoption community–not just on Capitol Hill or in lobbyists’ offices–about pragmatic, meaningful ways to meet current needs in adoption.
We won’t see anything quite like CHIFF again. We will see ideas and collaborations that acknowledge the realities of adoption and of adopted persons, that are unafraid to address the huge gaps in services to birth and adoptive families, and that are inclusive and open to the voices of all those affected by adoption.