We believe that Senate bill 2475, “The Children in Families First Act of 2014” is flawed in its design. Written without the consultation of either adult adoptees or first families, this bill pressures countries to open a pipeline of children for intercountry adoption and does so with funds redirected from current aid projects that serve vulnerable families and children around the world. We strongly support ethical intercountry adoptions, but feel that this bill will open the door to more fraud and corruption throughout the system. However well-intentioned it may be, CHIFF is not the comprehensive reform bill that intercountry adoption needs.
Our Full Statement:
You may have heard recently about a bill currently up for consideration in the House and Senate known as “Children in Families First” (CHIFF). It has the support of many members of Congress, as well as some of the biggest names in the adoption industry. What is this bill about? At first glance, it seems like the kind of bill no compassionate person could ever oppose. It says that children should be loved and cared for, that they should have a family, and should be protected from violence and abuse. And we agree. Absolutely. Where CHIFF goes wrong is in its sense of priorities. “Children In Families First” ironically gives little priority to keeping Children In Their First Families. Based on the priorities spelled out in the bill, a more accurate title might be: “Children For American Families FAST.”
As we have said before, we are in no way opposed to international adoption. In many cases, that may in fact be the best solution for a child. But without first seeing if that child could be reunified with his/her parents or extended family; without verifying that the child in the orphanage has no one who desires to care for them; without giving local families a real opportunity to adopt that child, how would we know it was for the best? The reality is that adoption – any adoption – involves loss. The loss of parents, extended family, a child’s first home. To add to that the loss of their entire country, culture, and language is no small thing and should not be treated as though it is an equivalent – or worse, a better option — than any of the in-country solutions.
The supporters of CHIFF say that family preservation and domestic placements are given priority over international adoption, but the actual wording of the bill belies that claim.
The principle of subsidiarity, which gives preference to in-country solutions, should be implemented within the context of a concurrent planning strategy, exploring in- and out-of-country options simultaneously. If an in-country placement serving the child’s best interest and providing appropriate, protective, and permanent care is not quickly available, and such an international home is available, the child should be placed in that international home without delay.
Normally when something is given preference, it means that it comes first. But in this case, though preference is supposedly being given to in-country solutions, those are not being sought first. International adoption is being pursued concurrently. In theory, this means that authorities should be seeking to reunify a child with his/her family, searching for additional family who could provide kinship care, and even seeking a family to adopt the child locally while at the same time they are going through the process of clearing the child for an international adoption. Each of those very weighty steps takes time and money. Only one of them results in a large paycheck for the authorities and others involved in finding “permanent care” for the child. So while it may sound like the bill gives equal weight to all possible solutions, in reality the money that drives international adoption will propel that option to the top every time.
Unfortunately, it seems that money drives the priorities of this entire bill.
According to the promotional website for CHIFF, the bill requires no additional funds but simply “calls for the redirection of a modest portion of the $2 billion the United States currently spends on children living abroad toward ensuring that all children grow up in a family.” That redirection might more accurately be called a sleight of hand. Because if that money is “redirected” it means it can’t be spent in the ways it was originally intended. The current budget includes funds for feeding children, vaccinations, and other aid that helps the most vulnerable children to survive with their families. What happens if money that was previously spent providing aid to impoverished families is now redirected to a bureaucracy tasked with getting children placed without delay? Isn’t it possible that some of those impoverished families will be forced to the brink, forced to relinquish their children rather than watch them starve to death? Would we not then being exacerbating the very problem we say we want to solve? Priorities.
But shouldn’t we give priority to the millions of children who need families now? The backers of CHIFF say “By some estimates, there are 200 million orphans in the world, but because children in orphanages and on the streets are not even counted, we have no idea just how many need our help.” So, by that logic, there could be even more than 200 MILLION orphans in the world? Why on earth wouldn’t we want to make a way for all those children to be adopted quickly?
In fact, that sentence says the very opposite of what it sounds like. On the one hand “some estimates” say they are 200 million orphans in the world. Whose estimate is that? In fact there is no reliable source for such a number. The highest sourced number is one put out by Unicef a number of years ago, in which they said there were 143 million children who had lost one or both parents; a definition that expands the word “orphan” far beyond what most people understand it to mean, and one that does not allow for the possibility that a child is being cared for by older siblings or other extended family. Suffice it to say that anyone who is making an estimate in the ballpark of 200 million is greatly exaggerating the numbers – and the most truthful thing in CHIFF’s statement is that they “have no idea just how many need our help.” Further, the vast majority of children in orphanages and on the streets are older children – not babies. Older children are much more difficult to place, and have a much more difficult time transitioning to an entirely new culture, language and way of life. In some cases, in-country placements may serve a child’s best interests in a way that international adoption cannot.
Who is behind this bill? The list of endorsing organizations is long. The vast majority of them are adoption agencies. Also JCICS and other lobbying groups that represent the interests of agencies as well as the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys and other adoption lawyers.
Who is opposed to this bill? The other two sides of the adoption triad – Adult Adoptees and Birth Families. The writers of the bill didn’t even bother to consult with them. Also opposed are a number of organizations that advocate for ethical adoption practices, like PEAR.
Why? A number of reasons, but it basically boils down to the fact that this bill makes international adoption a priority above all other options for vulnerable children around the world. Consider the third section of the bill, titled “Promotion of a Comprehensive Approach for Children in Adversity” in which the Administrator of the new agency established by the bill is tasked with implementing the “Action Plan for Children in Adversity” in at least six countries within the next five years. The purpose of this initial launch is to “establish model programs that… will be available for replication on a global basis.” And the criteria for launching in those six countries? All of them MUST agree to “support the full complement of permanence solutions” – including “intercountry adoption”.
In other words, money would be siphoned off of funds currently used to aid and support vulnerable children around the world for the clear and stated purpose of incentivizing intercountry adoptions. Who stands to gain the most from that approach? Adoption agencies, adoption attorneys, and others who work in that industry.
As Adoptive and Prospective Adoptive Parents, please consider your part in this debate. Our role begins when we are shepherded by adoption agencies who have the honor and responsibility of leading us through the adoption process and introducing us to our children. We might feel a strong connection and sense of loyalty to our agency, but in the end, they are a business providing a service. The lasting relationship is the one we have with our child. It is our children who deserve our loyalty. We must put their needs above our own. Are we willing to put the best interests of children ahead of our own desires to adopt a child as quickly as possible? Do we have the courage to insist that every effort be made to protect vulnerable families so that only children who truly need us will be made available for adoption?
In the Vietnam adoption community we have seen firsthand what happens when expediency is put ahead of ethics. In the short term, it gets results. But in the long term, it only leads to heartache. Let us learn from the mistakes of the past. And let us hold our agencies and our government officials to a higher standard. Consider adding your voice to those speaking out against this misguided legislation. Call or write to your Senators and Congressmen, and ask them to Say No To CHIFF.
We are admittedly quite late to this conversation. A number of other voices have spoken against CHIFF. To learn more about why CHIFF is not a good bill, we recommend starting with the following links: