Latest Turbulence in International Adoption Agencies: Wow

Recent years have seen a lot of discussion about the decline in numbers of international adoptions. Recent days have seen a lot of news about how international adoption agencies are responding to the decline.

A relatively minor roil to start: Yesterday, the US State Department announced that Children’s Hope International has “voluntarily relinquished” its Hague accreditation status. Thus, CHI may not independently provide international adoption services. The State Department announcement doesn’t share the news that CHI has merged with Nightlight Christian Adoptions, known perhaps primarily for its controversial “Snowflake embryo adoptions.” CHI thus will continue to operate in international adoptions under the Nightlight umbrella. Nightlight has Hague accreditation, according to the sole accrediting entity, Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity.

The much bigger news was the merger between two large adoption agencies, Holt International in Oregon and World Association for Children and Parents (WACAP), announced on February 7. You can read Holt’s announcement here, and WACAP’s here.

Here’s a quote about the merger from Holt’s CEO, Phil Littleton, who is also an adoptive parent:

“By merging with WACAP, we have an unparalleled opportunity to combine our resources and knowledge to help more orphaned and vulnerable children both in the U.S. and in countries around the world. In recent years, many agencies specializing in international adoption have closed and others have struggled. Longevity and sustainability have been especially difficult for some agencies whose primary source of revenue is adoption. But through robust philanthropic efforts, Holt has grown the mission-critical funding we need to continue our increasingly difficult work in international adoption. At the same time, WACAP’s expertise — particularly in finding loving, trauma-informed families for children in the U.S. foster care system — will be an incredible asset and strengthen our efforts to help children here in the U.S.”

Here’s a quote from WACAP’s CEO, Greg Eubanks:

“For our Board of Directors and our Senior Leadership, many of whom are adoptive parents, it was a choice worth making. We have always held Holt in the highest regard for both its breadth and quality of services as well as its ethical and inclusive practices. When we began to connect with Holt leadership and staff at all levels, we quickly confirmed that we are a good match. By combining our expertise and resources, our mission will go on.  As a part of the Holt organization, we will continue to serve children and families, both internationally and in our own communities.  We will work to ensure every child has a loving and secure home.

This merger will also allow us to continue the expansion of services to children in the foster care system.  (Boldface in original)

For years, WACAP has found adoptive families for children in foster care, over 800 children as a matter of fact.  As we continue that work, and implement innovative recruiting efforts for adoption, we are now seeking families to become foster parents.  These families will provide temporary care for children of all ages until they might reunite with birth parents or relatives, or until they are legally free for adoption.”

Among the issues that Holt will be dealing with is the lawsuit by Korean adoptee Adam Crapser against Holt and the government of South Korea. In late January, Crapser filed what the Associated Press called a “landmark lawsuit” over “gross negligence regarding the way he and thousands of other Korean children were sent to the United States and other Western nations without accounting for their future citizenship.” Crapser is among thousands of adoptees for whom their parents failed to acquire citizenship; he was deported in 2016 back to Korea.

The Adoptee Rights Campaign estimates that there are tens of thousands of other adoptees who do not have citizenship, and could be in danger of deportation. Adoptees have been killed and have died by suicide after being deported. At a minimum, many have been isolated, depressed, and harmed by being returned to countries with which they have no connection, language, work opportunities, family of friends—because they were adopted by Americans to ostensibly have a better life with a forever family.

NBC recently aired a segment about these tragic deportations.

An adoptee from India, who lived in Oregon for decades having been adopted through Holt International, was deported back to India and has struggled ever since.

Neither Holt nor WACAP mentions either deportations nor citizenship issues in their press releases about the merger.

Without big and small adoption agencies robustly, frequently, and collaboratively speaking out about deportation and citizenship, as well as about the genuine concerns of international adoptees and first/birth parents, we are not moving ahead in any meaningful way.

I feel confident we will see more adoption agencies closing, or merging and then closing. On a certain level, that will only leave more adoptees and birth parents without access to their records, without access to post-adoption services, and without recourse to redress the fraud, trauma, and corruption. Until international adoptees AND first/birth parents (not adoptive parents, not adoption “experts”) have many, many seats at the table in the international adoption agency community, I don’t see how the future of international adoptions can even be considered fully and ethically.

Adopt an African Child–Through US Foster Care

It’s true. There are listings of African children (from Ethiopia and elsewhere) who are now available for adoption through the US foster care system.

Here’s the deal: these children left their first country, after their American parents had (we hope) followed all legal requirements to adopt them. They then lived with those parents, in the US, with all those adjustments of internationally adopted children. Then those parents terminated their parental rights (voluntarily or otherwise), the children ended up in foster care, and now they have to find another family.

Wow.

Since they usually become US citizens upon arrival to the United States, internationally adopted children who end up in US foster care may not be immediately or publicly identified as international adoptees. I feel confident there are plenty of other internationally adopted children (from Russia, Guatemala, Haiti, and elsewhere) who have joined the approximately 100,000 children looking for families through the US foster care system. Children in foster care spend an average of 2 years there, while reunification and adoption are considered.

About half the children in US foster care return to their families. That does not seem a possibility for these internationally adopted children: they can’t return to their original countries, and they no longer have a US family.

In other news:

Black American infants, primarily from Florida, are being placed with Canadians, ostensibly because many of the mothers don’t want their children to face the racism here in the United States.

Petitions and protests are being heard from American parents who have legal custody of children from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is not issuing exit visas to the children, because of concerns around fraud and corruption.

The Facebook site Second Chance Adoptions has many postings about internationally adopted children from Congo, Russia, Ethiopia, and elsewhere, whose placements with their American families have disrupted, and now they need new families. These children aren’t in public foster care, and they aren’t being re-homed in a Wal-Mart parking lot. I’m not sure who has legal custody of them, but the process and expense, I imagine, for a new family will be the same as a private adoption here in the US. In these cases, though, it’s the (first set of) adoptive parents who will sign legal rights over to the (new) adoptive parents. Many of the adoptions are eligible for the adoption tax credit. I wonder how many of their first adoptions were also eligible for the tax credit.

The adoption agency behind Second Chance Adoptions is Wasatch International Adoptions, located in Utah. On their web page, they offer information about adoptions of children from the DRC, with this caveat: “Children who come into our orphanage are generally between the ages of 2-5 or 6. We do not have children who are older because we have found that older children do not adjust well to an American home and family.”

I can only how imagine how they learned that sobering bit of information.

I have a few questions, although my head is spinning.

What more evidence do we need that better pre-adoption screening and better post-adoption resources are needed?

What is the trajectory for these internationally adopted children who arrive in the US and then their adoptive placement falls apart?

Do the US adoption agencies which placed the children the first time have an ethical responsibility to the children? And the second time? What does that responsibility look like? What is their ethical responsibility to the country of origin, if not the family of origin?

How does the US foster care system deal with the needs of internationally adopted children? How are their needs different from US children born here, raised here, and placed in foster care here? Children generally end up in foster care because of abuse and neglect. The international children would likely also have experienced that either in their country of origin or here in the US or both, but have some extra losses by virtue of leaving their countries.

What is the role of racism in the lives of any of these children who are from Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, or Asia? They go from living someplace where most people look like them, and then enter the US and live with families who may not look like them at all. Maybe they live somewhere in America where few people look like them. Then they must leave that family for another family (maybe). Racism here in the US will impact them now and for their entire lives, along with whatever issues of loss and trust they may be dealing with. Meanwhile, black American children are going to Canada, where the First Nations and the Inuit have certainly had their struggles

All children deserve safe and loving families. I hope that all these children find families and healing.

What is going on with our child welfare system? Before we consider anything like the Children in Families First act, we need to resolve the many issues facing current international adoptees.

My head hurts and my heart aches. That discomfort pales beside what these children are going through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Time to Oppose CHIFF

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.

  1. Examination of currently existing needs in the international adoption community, such as adequate post-adoption resources for families and children.
  2. Ensuring that all individuals brought to the United States for the purposes of adoption have US citizenship.
  3. Establishment of equity in the services provided to the first families (sometimes referred to as birth families) of children placed for international adoption.
  4. 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.).
  5. 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.

Sincerely,

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.

 

 

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.

 

What CHIFF Lacks and Why It Must Be Abandoned

I wrote a couple of days ago about the Children in Families First (CHIFF) Act, recently introduced in the US Senate as S.1530: Why CHIFF Will (and Should) Fail.

My main arguments were (1)  the legislation fails to include the voices of adult adoptees and of first/original international parents, and (2) the main supporters are adoption agencies, who have a significant economic stake in international adoption. Those 2 reasons are significant enough to suggest the bill is poorly grounded and inadequate (while being very expensive), and should be abandoned.

If that though isn’t enough, this post discusses additional reasons that CHIFF should be discarded.

It’s not because international adoption policy does not need to be reformed (it does), nor because children around the globe don’t deserve safe, loving families (they do), nor because family preservation should not be an essential priority (it should).

CHIFF should be discarded because it fails to include the perspectives of vital stakeholders (adoptees and international first parents) directly impacted by and knowledgeable about international adoption, though with nothing to gain financially from it, unlike adoption agencies, the bill’s current main supporters. Further, CHIFF should be discarded because it fails to acknowledge the astonishing problems facing us here in the US, while explicitly using substantial USAID and other taxpayer funds “to jumpstart implementation of a National Action Plan in 6 countries over 5 years.”

CHIFF In a Nutshell

Here’s a brief summary, drawn from their website, of the goals of CHIFF:

CHIFF “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.”

Specifically, CHIFF establishes a new bureau in the State Department (transforming and enlarging the current Office of Children’s Issues, apparently), as a “foreign policy and diplomatic hub on child welfare.” The new bureau will still be the Hague Convention’s Central Authority “for diplomatic purposes,” but “operational responsibilities will be under US Citizenship and Immigrations Services,” (US CIS) which is under the US Homeland Security Administration.

It “streamlines, simplifies, and consolidates responsibility for intercountry adoption cases under US CIS,” thus under the Department of Homeland Security, except for final immigrant visa processing, which remains with State. Adoption service provider accreditation will now be under Homeland Security too, not the State Department.

The new bureau is tasked with “building international capacity to implement effective child welfare systems, with particular focus on family preservation and reunification, and kinship domestic, and intercountry adoption.”

The CHIFF infographic cites adoption in 2 of the 3 potential intended results of the bill, with the third being a realignment “of foreign aid with American values.”

Here are additional reasons that CHIFF will and should fail:

CHIFF does not meaningfully address current needs here in the United States regarding international adoption policy, yet it would use USAID and other taxpayer money to increase international adoptions, to create new bureaucracy here, and to establish new programs around the globe, instilling American values.

It turns out we have plenty of work that needs to be done here at home.

  • CHIFF does not address the huge, gaping need for genuine, rigorous pre-adoption preparation nor for substantive, effective, accessible post-adoption counseling and resources here in the United States. We can craft adoption policy far better, in terms of preparation and counseling of birth/first parents and of adoptive parents prior to adoption, and in terms of post-adoption resources and services for everyone. I’d like to see some degree of equity in counseling and services (before and after placement) for international birth parents as compared to US adoptive parents. I’ve recommended re-vamping the US adoption tax credit as one means of doing this and wrote about it here.  No new money–just an equitable, sane distribution of revenue (billions of dollars) that the US federal government is already providing to adoptive parents.
  • CHIFF does not address the great, grim cloud of corruption and fraud in international adoption. Many US families have brought children to the US only to find out the children have families who wanted to keep them, but were trafficked or otherwise brought to the US in unethical circumstances. Adult adoptees have traveled back to their home countries and learned very different stories from what the agencies told their adoptive parents. One of the reasons for the slowdown in international adoptions is that adoption agencies and governments are now doing investigations about the truths of children being placed for adoption. It’s an effort by the agencies, arguably late in the game, and it’s costly and time-consuming, though perhaps will ensure more ethical adoptions. In any case, CHIFF minimally acknowledges the corruption that exists in international adoption. The fraud and corruption should be acknowledged, researched thoroughly, and (ideally) eliminated as a first priority.
  • CHIFF does not address the tragic and disturbing practice of “re-homing” here in the US, recently cited in the powerful Reuters series which looked at re-homing practices over 5 years. There are numerous reasons that re-homing has occurred, and perhaps some have been valid. But better preparation and better post-adopt services (including respite, training, access to therapists who understand adoption, trauma, and related issues) surely would have prevented some of these tragic cases.
  • The impact of the re-homing news has begun to create a global backlash. China is outraged. This article “China adoption agency furious over ‘child exchange’ report” quotes the China Centre for Children’s Welfare and Adoption as saying, “As to the report that refers to American families who are using the Internet to relocate children they have adopted and are not willing to keep raising, we are very shocked and furious.”
  • Further evidence of the global rippling effect: The Democratic Republic of Congo has just announced a 12 month suspension of adoptions, and specifically cited the re-homing of children as one significant reason. Here is a quote from the US State Department notice about the DRC’s decision: “This suspension is due to concerns over reports that children adopted from the Democratic Republic of the Congo may be either abused by adoptive families or adopted by a second set of parents once in their receiving countries.” Other countries likely have deep concerns about US adoption practices, and I would guess we will hear more in the near future.
  • CHIFF does not address the concerns of many in the adoption global community about what the Congo suspension alludes to: children being abused or killed by their adoptive parents. I have written dozens of posts about the recent Washington State trial and conviction of the adoptive parents for the murder of Hana Williams, an Ethiopian adoptee. The parents were convicted as well of first degree assault of Immanuel, also an Ethiopian adoptee. These tragic cases are not common, not representative of the vast majority of adoption, and not acceptable on any level. Note above that CHIFF specifically calls for “programs funded with US tax dollars to…increase the capacity of other governments to better protect their own children.”  Hindsight may suggest that the deaths and abuses here were preventable, but we need to be more proactive than ever in demanding rigorous scrutiny of prospective adoptive parents and in providing oversight and assistance to families in trouble. I wrote here about how the adoption community failed Hana. I also found the CHIFF FAQ answer cold and dismissive about these tragedies. I can only imagine what the perspective is of the families and governments of origin regarding these children.
  • CHIFF does not address the plight of international adoptees who are now in the US foster care system. Those numbers are difficult to know for sure, but there is clear evidence and research that many international adopted children end up in US foster care. They, like US-born foster care children, often age out and face difficult next steps. Nor does CHIFF address the international adoptees who are now legal adults and legal US citizens and who have been who have been discarded by their adoptive families, and are now struggling in “underground” communities. Many did not meet the families’ expectations (and again, this would seem to me to indicate poor preparation, or inappropriate placements, or inadequate post-adoption resources). I wrote about some of these concerns in my Case Study: Part 2, regarding the role of agencies.

There are other concerns, and I’ve no doubt other people will be writing about them. I would argue that, before we work toward increasing the numbers of internationally adopted children, and before we venture into other countries to tell them how to protect their children, we address the needs of current adoptees and their families here in the US.

Before anything like CHIFF goes forward, before we use additional funds and resources to increase the numbers of internationally adopted children, we need, at a minimum, the following:

  • Good data, solid research, and substantive information about current realities in the US international adoption community.
  • Good data, solid research, and substantive information about fraud and corruption in international adoption practices.
  • Inclusion and buy-in from adult international adoptees and from international birth/original parents, and not solely from adoption agencies and adoption attorneys.
  • Funding and training for pre-adoption and post-adoption resources that are effective and accessible.
  • Legislation and/or other resources that provides guidance and oversight for families in crisis, with transparency for adoption disruptions and services for children.

CHIFF excludes vital stakeholders, is expensive, and ignores genuine needs in the US and international adoption community. It should not move forward. Surely we can do far better than this.