RIP CHIFF. Hello CAPP? (Part 2)

CHIFF focused heavily on international adoption, and not so much on family preservation and empowerment. CAPP focuses heavily on improving outcomes for vulnerable children and families around the globe. Adoption, both domestic and international, will always be part of child welfare policy. As a community concerned with children, can those of us involved with adoption find common ground that both strengthens families and includes ethical, transparent adoptions? This post looks at one angle of the legislative conversations. There’s so much to say.

The information in RIP CHIFF. Hello CAPP? (Part 1) is not exhaustive regarding all that is happening with the implementation of the Children in Adversity report (APCA). So many agencies and acronyms. Public and private partnerships. Lofty goals with complex implementation. Millions of dollars. An enormous undertaking. I cannot disagree with the goals: vulnerable children and families deserve support and resources all around the globe.

CHIFF and CAPP Proponents: Overlap?

International adoption was a huge part of the failed Children in Families First (CHIFF) bill. It seems to be a tiny part of CAPP, the Children in Adversity Policy Partnership. What overlap is there between the proponents of the two?

The Joint Council on International Children’s Services is at the forefront of CAPP, as it was of CHIFF. JCICS, however, has been moving steadily away in the last 10 years or so from focusing on adoption agency services, and moving steadily toward a much broader mission of international child welfare. It still has adoption agencies as members, but fewer than was once the case (far fewer than when I worked at JCICS, from 1995-2000, certainly).

One of the biggest proponents of CHIFF, Both Ends Burning, does not seem to be involved with the CAPP. Peter Leppanen, BEB’s Strategic Advisor, is listed as a member of CAPP in a July 2014 Child Policy University Consortium document. His affiliation with BEB is not noted there. Many adoption agencies (and CHIFF supporters) are also listed as members of CAPP. The membership list may well have changed in subsequent months, and current CAPP information does not include BEB, as far as I can tell.

How much should we read into the fact that one of CHIFF’s biggest proponents is not involved significantly with CAPP? BEB has always been first and foremost an international adoption advocacy group. In November, they hosted a Global Symposium on permanency options for children. Looking from the outside, my impression is that BEB is intent on following its international adoption goals, and not committed, as least explicitly, to partnership with the Children in Adversity crowd. I hope, as BEB forges on, they will include the significant, genuine involvement of adult adoptees and first/birth parents.

The National Council for Adoption does not figure in CAPP either. NCFA supported CHIFF: “Chuck Johnson President and CEO of the National Council For Adoption said: “Children all over the world are languishing outside of family care…CHIFF re-aligns existing resources and re-prioritize how the U.S. Government serves this population of vulnerable children. NCFA enthusiastically supports CHIFF.” NCFA’s endorsement of CHIFF, as well as that of JCICS, Both Ends Burning, Christian Alliance For Orphans (CAFO), and others, is here.

In its January 2105 listing of legislative priorities, NCFA does not mention the CAPP, though they refer to CHIFF. This is not surprising: their primary focus is on US and international adoption issues.

CAFO posted its own support for CHIFF here. Jedd Medefind of CAFO has also endorsed the goals of the Children in Adversity report per this USAID press release.

Intercountry adoption is a much smaller part of CAPP than it was in CHIFF. There is minimal mention of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption in the APCA. Clearly CAPP has a broader goal. And a cast of thousands, if not millions. It is an astonishing configuration of government, public, and private organizations. It makes my head spin.

I have no doubts that CAPP, the Global Alliance, and the attendant organizations, policies, and proposals have their fair share of challenging problems: the role of US AID, the failure of the US to approve the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the abilities of countries receiving assistance to have a role in that assistance, and so on.

Still, given the laudable goals of CAPP to improve early childhood outcomes, to preserve families, and to protect children from exploitation, will the need for international adoption be diminished?  Given the huge decline in the number of children being internationally adopted, for whatever combination of reasons, perhaps an approach that looks to achieve those laudable goals is timely.

Implications

So who doesn’t benefit from CAPP? Many of the same people who didn’t benefit from CHIFF.

CAPP does not, as far as I can tell and I would be happy to be incorrect about this, prioritize funding for pre- or post-adopt resources for internationally adopted children, nor for the birth/first parents of internationally adopted children. NCFA includes Post-Adoption Services on its list of legislative priorities. I have to wonder, as international adoption declines and agencies close, who will be responsible for providing post-adoption services to adoptees and their families, here and around the world. JCICS member agencies placed many of those international children, and they are rapidly changing their focus away from adoption services. Will NCFA step up?

Further, like CHIFF, CAPP does not address retroactive citizenship for all international adoptees. To its credit, NCFA does list “Citizenship Equality Intercountry Adoption” as one of its legislative priorities.

The issue of re-homing here in the US is not a part of CAPP, and nor was it part of CHIFF.

Retroactive citizenship and re-homing are admittedly complicated issues. They require a lot of collaboration and consensus to move at the federal level. The citizenship issue means tangling with immigration foes in Congress. On re-homing, some states have begun to look into and pass legislation on re-homing, but many international adoption advocates would like to see a uniform federal law.

Collaboration and consensus will be needed to move legislation and policies around improvement of pre- and post-adoption matters such as improvement of home studies, increased funding for adoption competent therapists/social workers, and better access to effective post-adoption resources. Providing pre- and post-adoption support to first/birth parents is especially complicated, because those parents are geographically and linguistically far removed; most cannot pay for services. None of this means we should advocate any less for them.

CAPP, it seems to me, is moving ahead with the support of far-reaching US government agencies, big name foundations, child welfare experts, and a variety of advocates. CAPP will probably have little impact on specific adoption policies in the US; certainly it appears not to have CHIFF’s intense focus.

I hope that CAPP will do or has done what CHIFF did not: Include the experiences and insights of those vulnerable children who have grown up, including adoptees and orphans. Include at the table the voices and realities, if not the actual presence, of first/birth parents who lost their children unfairly to adoption, due to poverty, corruption, fraud, social stigma, or other reasons, and prevent such tragedies from happening again.

So many important issues are hanging in the balance for internationally adopted children, and for those who are now international adult adoptees, and their families. Perhaps it will be those adult adoptees who will lead the way. Recent high level media news articles such as the New York Times “Why a Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to South Korea” and the Washington Post’s “Please Don’t Tell Me I Am Lucky” give anyone connected with adoption plenty to consider.

Will future advancements and policy decisions regarding adoption be the result of genuine collaboration and consensus, acknowledging the spectrum of experiences among adoptees, birth/first parents, and adoptive parents, and moving ahead to effectively help vulnerable children and families? I hope so. Let’s keep talking–and listening.

AAI, Hana Williams’ Agency, Is Out of Business: Now What?

2014 has been a rough ride for international adoption agencies: Celebrate Children International was the subject of a 48 Hours investigation, and International Adoption Guides is under indictment. The so-called Children in Families First legislation is under siege and appears to be foundering. And now Adoption Advocates International is closing. What other signs are needed to convince agencies and agency-affiliates that they need to change the way they are doing business?

On March 7, Adoption Advocates International, the Washington state adoption agency used by Larry and Carri Williams to adopt Hana and Immanuel Williams, announced it was closing its Ethiopian adoption program. Today, March 12, it appears they are closing their doors completely.

An article about AAI’s closing was printed here, in today’s Peninsula Daily News.

Many people are happy that AAI is closing, given AAI’s role in the placement of Hana Alemu and Immanuel Williams. As always in complex situations, though, there are other elements to consider. Many families in the process of adopting through AAI, not just from Ethiopia but from Burkina Faso, China, and perhaps elsewhere, are now in a difficult emotional and financial position. AAI has placed some 4500 adoptees over the last 3 decades whose records must be (I hope) kept available for them, somewhere. There are now children who will not be adopted, who perhaps legitimately needed new, safe, loving families. There are first/original parents, always the most marginalized in adoption, who may not be able to access information about their children.

Interestingly, AAI is a Hague-accredited agency, certified by the Council on Accreditation through April 2016. That COA accreditation is intended to be a high standard that signifies an agency is in excellent financial and programmatic health.

Christian World Adoptions, a South Carolina adoption agency, suddenly closed its doors and declared bankruptcy early in 2013. It was also a COA/Hague certified agency, right to the end. It startles me that 2 COA-accredited agencies within about a year can suddenly just close. What went horribly wrong in their financial status that COA totally missed?

According to the COA website:

Hague management standards apply to all adoption service providers regardless of the type of provider or services provided. These management standards promote accountability and include:

  • Licensing and Corporate Governance
  • Financial and Risk Management
  • Ethical Practices and Responsibilities
  • Professional Qualifications and Training of Employees
  • Information Disclosure, Fee Practices, and Quality Control
  • Responding to Complaints and Records and Reports Management
  • Service Planning and Delivery

When 2 COA-accredited international adoption agencies abruptly close within about one year of each other, many questions are raised about COA accreditation. Certainly it casts a shadow on the strength and value of the accreditation process for other currently accredited adoption agencies.

According to page 36 of COA’s 92 page Policies and Procedures Manual-Hague, when an agency closes, it has to provide to COA the following: a listing of all Hague adoption service(s), the closing date, detailed description of reasons for the decision, and the transition and referral plan for consumers.

In this case, I am guessing that “consumers” are the prospective adoptive parents: the paying customers. I’d like to think that COA would also demand information about the plans and needs of all the children (some of who are surely adults now) who were adopted through AAI, and even of the first/original parents.

Ethiopian adoptions have been problematic for a while, for many reasons: increased awareness of fraud and corruption, implementation of new procedures, increased costs due to labor/time of ensuring the accuracy about why children become available for adoption, and more. There have been far fewer adoptions from Ethiopia in recent years, and there is increasingly great concern in Ethiopia about the outcomes of adopted children. The majority, of course, do fine, but the reality of Hana and Immanuel weighs heavily on many minds around the globe.That’s true for other Ethiopian adoptees. Kathryn Joyce’s Slate article, Hana Williams: The Tragic Death of an Ethiopian Adoptee, And How It Could Happen Again, describes other placements by AAI, and how these Ethiopian adoptees are greatly struggling.

The recent death of Korean adoptee Hyunsu O’Callaghan surely makes all of us–adoption agencies, adoptees, adoptive parents, first/original parents–pause and reflect with sorrow as well. What now?

Indeed, it’s hard to cheer about AAI’s closing. So many doors are still left open for vulnerable families and children around the world.

This could be an incredible opportunity for adoption agencies and adoption agency-related organizations (Joint Council on international Children’s Services, National Council For Adoption, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, for example) to reach out to those who’ve been too often excluded from adoption policy discussions: adult adoptees (yes, including those whom agencies have written off as angry and rude), international first/original parents (to whom adoption agencies have a deep, ethical obligation), and even adoptive parents who disagree with them. We all want children to be in safe, loving homes. We all agree that if adoption is a viable option, it must be transparent, and all involved must be held accountable. Some are happy to see adoption agencies close, and most of us also know that the closures don’t mean that vulnerable children are now safe and cared for.

It’s time to have some really hard conversations, and not simply because adoption agencies are closing. It’s because all voices are needed if we are going to see viable, positive change in adoption policy. Pay attention, adoption agencies and coalitions: the changes are happening now, due to the adopted adults and first parents who are stepping up, speaking out, and creating overdue change. 

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.