Who Is Responsible for the Decline in International Adoptions?

The U.S. State Department lays the blame on adoptive parents and adoption agencies. The adoption agencies, per the National Council on Adoption, say the decline is due to overly restrictive regulations and anti-adoption advocates. The voices we are not hearing enough of in this discussion are the birth/first parents and the adoptees themselves.

Last week, the State Department released figures showing the ongoing decline in numbers of children being placed to the United States for international adoption: 5372 children in FY 2016. You can read the report here.

The State Department cited three main reasons for the decline: adoptive parents failing to send post-adoption reports to the children’s country of origin; the incidences of adopted children being re-homed; and unethical practices by adoption agencies.

Post-Adoption Reports

The reports are a reasonable requirement. Sending countries want to know the outcome of children sent abroad for adoption, and adoptive parents are supposed to send the reports. Different countries have different requirements, which are essentially unenforceable once the adoption is full and final. The adoptive parents may have an ethical obligation, but their compliance is subject to their willingness. “Several countries have conditioned the resumption of intercountry adoptions on receiving post adoption reports from parents who previously adopted children from that county,” according to the State Department.

I’d be curious as to whether State has statistics on compliance, or has done research on why parents do not send the reports in. I’d guess a few reasons: Parents have so much going on with family life that the reports fall to the wayside. The parents are mad at the agency and refuse to work with them once the adoption is done. The parents don’t believe the country will ever read the reports. The parents don’t care about whether their failure to send reports will affect future adoptions. The parents are struggling with the child (or have disrupted the adoption, or have re-homed the child) but don’t want the country to know.

Some international adoption agencies have suggested to adoptive parents that the reports would also be sent to the birth/first parents. The birth/first parents may have been told they would receive reports. When the agency failed to get the reports to the families, which anecdotally I have heard many times, parents may have stopped sending them. Some send reports directly to the birth/first family, but not to the government.

Another aspect is the country of origin’s ability to maintain the post-adoption information in an archival, accessible way. That is, a country like China, Korea, or Ethiopia would potentially have received thousands of reports over many years. Does the government have the interest and the infrastructure to file and maintain the reports? Do they scan them and keep them well-organized?  The reports from the US are in English, and I doubt they would be translated into national or local languages. It is unclear to me whether the birth/first parents would have any access to the reports. However, I would argue there is an ethical obligation for the country of origin to provide it to the birth/first parents.

Unregulated Custody Transfer (UCT)

Unregulated Custody Transfer is a benign sounding phrase, but is frightening in its manifestation. The State Department equates UCT with “re-homing,” where adoptive parents hand over their adopted children, with little or no legal process or safeguards, to other people. It has happened more often than anyone would like to think, sometimes making the news, sometimes conducted in an underground. Reuters produced a significant report on the problem. Many US states have begun enacting laws and policies to reduce re-homing. The State Department has a UCT Working Group focused on “strategic for preventing UCT and for responding to UCT situations when they occur.”

Prevention, of course, is the best approach: better pre-adopt preparation, and better post-adopt resources and services.

Internationally adopted children also end up in US foster care, a legal means of moving a child to a new family. Some are listed on Second Chance, a program of Wasatch Adoptions. Both of these (US foster care and Second Chance) are technically not “re-homing,” because they are done through legal channels. Still, a great deal of controversy exists around internationally adopted children ending up in US foster care or with Second Chance.

There is, of course, an important link between the post-adoption reports and UCT, foster care, and Second Chance. Parents probably do not send reports when their children are moved from their original adoptive placement, whether legally or illegally. “Foreign countries frequently raise concerns about UCT whenever information about a child’s whereabouts is unavailable. These concerns impact their willingness to maintain intercountry adoption as an option for children,” says the State Department.

Adoption Service Provider Conduct

This issue–illegal or unethical practices by some Adoption Service Providers (ASPs) and about countries’ ability to appropriately monitor adoption activities–is far-reaching in time and complexity. The US Justice Department’s indictment of International Adoption Guides, and the subsequent guilty pleas by the top staff, for bribery and fraud is a well-known example. Other adoption agencies have been under scrutiny as well, some closing suddenly, even with full COA accreditation (i.e., Christian World Adoptions). European Adoption Consultants, an international adoption agency in Ohio, was raided in February by the FBI, with allegations around fraud and trafficking.

Agency workers in both the U.S. and in sending countries have been accused of misconduct. Facebook has regular comments in adoptive parent groups about false information about their children’s histories; adult adoptees have traveled to their home countries and found parents they had been told were dead, or mothers who had been deceived into placing their children in an orphanage. There’s no question that adoption agencies and their staffs have been under greater scrutiny in recent years than ever before, in part because of more adopted persons’ and birth/first parents’ voices being heard.

The State Department proposed new regulations last September that would attempt to address some problems in international adoption, around accreditation and other areas. Adoption agencies have been actively opposed to the proposed regs, saying that they are unnecessary, expensive, and rigid. Chuck Johnson, the head of the National Council on Adoption, told the Associated Press in January that “it was possible that under the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, the State Department might adopt policies more to the liking of the adoption agencies.” It’s still early in the Trump Administration to see exactly what direction adoption policy will take, though the State Department’s comments on the newly released adoption numbers give us some sense. Update: While the State Department refers to the proposed regs in the narrative about the statistics, including saying they are “reviewing comments from the public on the proposed regulations,” the regs were withdrawn by State in early April. I’ll post more information when I get it.

In any case, adoption agencies frequently see administrative and regulatory policies to be more responsible for the decline in adoptions than the three issues cited by State.

Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

The bottom line: A whole lot of work needs to be done, by a whole lot of folks (State Department, Office of Children’s Issues, adoption agencies, adoptive parents, state and federal legislators, international governments) if international adoption is going to continue in any meaningful way. Right now, there is a fairly strong current of anti-adoption momentum, via groups who view adoption as equivalent to trafficking as well as vocal individuals, primarily adult adoptees, who are demanding change.

And *if* international adoption is going to continue, adoption agencies and the U.S. State Department should make equity in pre-adoption preparation and post-adoption services to birth/first parents. Those 5372 children had families–we know that few children are actual full orphans, and many have grandparents and siblings. The birth/first families deserve excellent adoption services as much as U.S. adoptive parents do, to make sure adoption is the best option, and to encourage family preservation whenever possible.

Flipping the Script: Predicting the Future of Intercountry Adoption

What would you predict about the future of international adoption? Who will be part of creating that future?

I have an article in the November issue of Adoption Today called “Predicting the Future of Intercountry Adoption.” That was the title of a panel I participated on at the Families First Conference last June. The conference was co-sponsored by the now defunct Joint Council on International Children’s Services and the National Council For Adoption.

Adoption Today asked if I would write an article on the same subject for them, and so I did, covering many of the points I offered at the Families First conference. Here is a brief summary of my predictions from a June blog post:

  • Adoptions will continue to decline unless adult adoptees and first families are included in conferences and policy discussions in advocacy groups, Congress, the Hague, and around the world.
  • Adoptions will continue to decline unless fraud and corruption are overtly acknowledged, not just discussed among agency workers.
  • Openness will be the norm in international adoption, and needs to be promoted by agencies as a positive development. That said, openness is complicated.
  • DNA technologies and social media will expand connections between adoptees and their birth/first families.
  • Most international adoptions will be for special needs children, another reason that pre- and post-adoption and resources must be strengthened.

I hope you will take a look at my article and the others in Adoption Today.

Tomorrow, National Adoption Awareness Month (November) begins. While the commentary has historically been dominated by adoptive parents and adoption agencies, the voices of adoptees and first/birth parents are increasingly being heard. The social media movement #FlipTheScript by adoptees was powerful last November in opening eyes and in questioning long-held narratives that included only adoptive parents and adoption agencies.

I’ve no doubts that this November will see an even greater expansion of #FlipTheScript. That’s another hope-filled prediction, and I am looking forward to reading and learning. We need all the voices, and we need to understand that adoption casts a wide net. Engaging and listening are the only ways to create a better future.

May this November truly bring about an increased awareness of the genuine needs of children (who grow up!), and a deeper understanding of the far-ranging realities of adoption.

IMG_0988

Forest, trees: a manipulated, colorful view of reality. © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

CHIFF Meeting: Suggestions For Agenda Items

For quite a while, there has been deafening public silence from supporters of the Children in Families First (CHIFF) act. CHIFF is an international child welfare bill that sounds so good and reasonable: of course all children deserve safe, loving families. It is, though, full of flaws, and never gained the momentum that the proponents (mostly adoptive parents and adoption agencies/lawyers) thought it would.

The last piece of “News” on the CHIFF website was in June. Their Facebook site has articles about adoption, but nothing for months about the legislation. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a vocal proponent of adoption-related legislation during her tenure in Congress, lost her recent election, and thus her influence will be gone from Congressional actions. She was the leader on CHIFF, which has a 5% chance of being enacted at this point.

Still, there has likely been much action behind the scenes in Washington, DC. In fact, the CHIFF proponents may be meeting again soon, for all I know. If so, I’d like to make some suggestions for the agenda:

Discussion Items for CHIFF

1–The #flipthescript social media movement during National Adoption Month (November), in which adult adoptees (US and international) have shared their experiences and perspectives. Perhaps all the CHIFF meeting participants will watch the excellent video produced by the talented Bryan Tucker featuring 8 powerful women from the Lost Daughters’ writing collective.

IMG_6567

2–E.J. Graff’s November article “They Steal Babies, Don’t They?” The article focuses on Ethiopian adoptions, includes documents attained through the Freedom of Information Act, and provides cross-referenced lists of adoption agencies’ activities.

3–Dan Rather’s December news show on AXS TV, “Unwanted Children: The Shameful Secret of International Adoption.” Use the password danrather to watch the show here. Ethiopians in the US and around the world, as well as the adoptive parent community, have been hard at work to help the adoptees featured in the show. More information on these efforts is available on the Facebook page “Unwanted In America.”

4–Ethiopian Adoption Connection, a free, powerful, grassroots effort which has been successfully reuniting adoptees around the globe with their Ethiopian original families. Many people have found very different information than what they were told at placement. An important corollary is the increasing amount of adoptee-centric and adoptee-led organizations in many countries, such as KoRoot and GOA’L (for Korean adoptees traveling back to Korea). The Facebook group Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora is another example of the increasing presence and power of adult adoptees, who are increasingly engaged in adoption policy work.

5–The failure of CHIFF as introduced and currently to not include retroactive citizenship for international adoptees. More information is available here.

6–The reality that international adoptions in the future will have/must have some form of openness, and thus adoption practice must include far better and long-ranging services to original families, wherever they are in the world.

7–The reality and divisiveness of racism in the US, and how that affects all families involved with transracial adoption. This is a huge, raw, real, vitally important matter. Huge.

IMG_6582

I’ve been a broken record on these additional concerns regarding CHIFF, which may or may not be current agenda items:

* Much needed funding for improved pre-adoption and post-adoption resources
* Federal level legislation on “re-homing” of internationally adopted children
* Lack of support for CHIFF from the State Department, from international adult adopted persons, from international family preservation organizations, and from international first parents
* Pre- and post-placement resources, support, counseling, and information for international first parents

If indeed CHIFF proponents are meeting soon, let’s hope all the above items are on their agenda. These Discussion Items are big and complicated. Resolving them will require, at a minimum, the transparent inclusion of adoptees and of first/original parents if the legislation is truly going to make viable changes in child welfare. That’s the first, overdue step.

CHIFF: LGBT Parents, Censorship, and the Disintegrating Umbrella

We all agree that all children deserve and need safe, loving families. Supporters of the Children in Families First legislation make very clear that this is their unqualified position, the umbrella which supporters hold over themselves.

Unfortunately, there are some serious holes in the fabric of that umbrella. The voices of many significant adoption groups are missing, especially those of adult adoptees. The voices of first/birth parents are missing completely.

And now, CHIFF is okay with supporters who oppose allowing LGBT people to be adoptive parents.

I’d guess that many of the adoption agencies and adoption attorneys who are CHIFF supporters have placed children with LGBT adoptive parents. No, I know they have.

Thousands of LGBT people have adopted thousands of children (children who needed families) through the US foster care system and internationally. Good people. Also, thousands of straight parents have adopted (and given birth to) children who are LGBT. Good people. There are LGBT parents and LGBT adopted persons.

Children deserve and need families, right, CHIFF supporters? 

Today marks the first time I’ve had a comment deleted on Facebook. Why? Because I challenged the welcoming to CHIFF supporters of Rep. Alan Nunnelee, who is on record opposing gay marriage and adoption of children by LGBT parents.

CHIFF admins would have us ignore these realities, and just keep smiling. Let us bring everyone under the umbrella of children and adoptive families and happy ever after.

Here’s the initial post on the CHIFF page:

IMG_1797

Here are comments (including mine, since deleted) on the post this morning, which I did not screen save, but copied:

Gina Murphy Pollock: YIKES! Not sure I’d be bragging about that sponsorship, isn’t the Congressman who stated: “I am proud to have pushed the statutory language prohibiting same sex couples from adopting as well as the Constitutional Amendment prohibiting same sex marriage in Mississippi.”? Is CHIFF going to advocate for similar prohibitions in intercountry adoption? Like · Reply · 2 hours ago

CHIFF – Children In Families First: That’s the beauty of CHIFF — it has united the most unlikely combination of supporters from the Left and Right. Very little does that in a polarized Washington, but the need of every child for a family draws together an amazing coalition that might agree on little else! Like · 2 hours ago

Maureen McCauley Evans: The “beauty of CHIFF” is that the creation of family should not include gay people as adoptive parents? Like · about an hour ago

CHIFF – Children In Families First: Please, friend, that’s unhelpful. Unlike most issues in Washington, CHIFF is bringing together so many remarkable people of diverse backgrounds. There is room here for a variety of perspectives, but let’s not fall into the typical DC sniping when most people of goodwill can agree on the simple truth that children need families. Like · about an hour ago

Here’s the CHIFF page screen save now with my comment deleted:

IMG_1798

I’m a nice, straight, white adoptive parent of children (now adults in their 20’s) through private US and through international adoption, all transracial. I became the foster parent of a young woman when she was 16. I’d seem to be a good candidate to support CHIFF. My comment, though, was “unhelpful,” and has since been deleted. Censored, one might say, to avoid any semblance of a lack of unanimity and good fellowship. To cover over bigotry.

I’m aware it was not so long ago, here in the US, that my family would have been illegal to create. That the first parents of my racially mixed children would have been criminals. That my children could have legally been denied housing and education, and not marry people of other races. Enough.

The condescension my remark elicited–and its subsequent deletion–mirrors perhaps what adult adoptees and first/birth parents receive when they question and push back on adoption policy.

I have been on record opposing CHIFF since September 2013. I’ve made my opposition clear, and thought I’d stop writing about it. Yet here I am again.

We all agree that children need families. That’s an excellent Talking Point, and it’s the umbrella that CHIFF supporters hold over themselves. The umbrella, friend, is leaking badly.

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.