In­ter­na­tional adop­tion bill or­phaned

Crit­ics say new pol­icy aims to pro­tect pricey for­eign adop­tions

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY CH­ERYL WET­ZSTEIN

A bi­par­ti­san bill to re­form in­ter­na­tional adop­tion in the U.S. is run­ning into stiff op­po­si­tion.

Pro­po­nents say U.S. for­eign pol­icy and pro­gram­ming need to be re­or­ga­nized to help en­sure that mil­lions of or­phans are re­lo­cated from in­sti­tu­tions to fam­i­lies, and that eth­i­cal, in­ter-coun­try adop­tion by Amer­i­cans is part of that so­lu­tion.

“We be­lieve this bill will in­crease the pro­tec­tion of chil­dren” and help en­sure that par­ents raise chil­dren, not gov­ern­ments, Sen. Mary L. Lan­drieu, Louisiana Demo­crat and lead spon­sor of the Chil­dren in Fam­i­lies First Act (CHIFF) in the Se­nate, said Tues­day.

Op­po­nents counter that the pro­posed bill is an ef­fort by adop­tion agencies to save the lu­cra­tive but dwin­dling prac­tice of in­ter­na­tional adop­tion.

Barely 7,000 for­eign-born chil­dren were adopted into the U.S. in fis­cal 2013, com­pared with nearly 23,000 chil­dren in fis­cal 2004, State Depart­ment data show. The me­dian cost of an in­ter­na­tional adop­tion was around $28,800, with half of adop­tions cost­ing more than that and half less than that, the agency added in its an­nual re­port on in­ter-coun­try adop­tion, is­sued in March.

Thou­sands of U.S. adop­tions of or­phans have been blocked, ap­par­ently by “ar­bi­trary” State Depart­ment poli­cies, as adop­tion agencies told Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry in De­cem­ber.

Mrs. Lan­drieu and Rep. Trent Franks, Ari­zona Repub­li­can, told a Tues­day we­bi­nar that the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion would sub­stan­tially ad­vance the idea that or­phaned chil­dren should not be left in in­sti­tu­tions — or to fend for them­selves on pub­lic streets — when there are ways to find fam­i­lies for them.

The bill would cre­ate a bureau for “vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren” in the State Depart­ment — re­lo­cat­ing in­ter­na­tional child wel­fare and adop­tion un­der the depart­ment’s hu­man rights of­fice. It would also af­fect U.S. agencies for in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment and im­mi­gra­tion and cus­toms, and ad­dress is­sues re­gard­ing adop­tions with both mem­ber and non­mem­ber coun­tries of The Hague Con­ven­tion on In­ter­coun­try Adop­tion.

The bill’s goals in­clude end­ing “adop­tion-case ping-pong” — where fam­i­lies and or­phans spend months wait­ing for agencies to re­solve their pa­per­work is­sues — and en­sur­ing that “fam­ily preser­va­tion, fam­ily re­uni­fi­ca­tion and adop­tion are true pri­or­i­ties” in U.S. for­eign aid and diplo­macy. Prog­no­sis for pas­sage, how­ever, is not as­sured. “There is push­back from the State Depart­ment,” Mrs. Lan­drieu told the we­bi­nar. She and Mr. Franks an­swered crit­i­cisms about the bill but agreed that fresh di­a­logue about the bill’s lan­guage could very well lead to both cham­bers pass­ing CHIFF this year.

Op­po­nents, how­ever, say CHIFF doesn’t ad­dress prob­lems dog­ging in­ter­na­tional adop­tion, such as U.S. adop­tive fam­i­lies de­cid­ing to “re­home” their un­wanted, for­eign-born chil­dren into new fam­i­lies they find on the In­ter­net. There are also fears that by reshuf­fling federal re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, over­sight on adop­tion abuses, like traf­fick­ing or baby-steal­ing, will get worse in­stead of bet­ter.

It is “a bad ve­hi­cle,” said Mau­reen Flat­ley, a child wel­fare con­sul­tant in Mas­sachusetts who is part of a “Stop CHIFF” ef­fort on Face­book and other so­cial me­dia.

The “adop­tion in­dus­try” has lost more than 60 per­cent of its busi­ness due to scan­dals in­volv­ing child traf­fick­ing and child abuse in sev­eral coun­tries, pound­pu­ple­gacy.org wrote on the anti-CHIFF Face­book page. The bill can’t be fixed or amended, so it should “never leave com­mit­tee,” the group added.

Some op­po­nents won­der why law­mak­ers are fo­cus­ing on in­ter­na­tional adop­tion when there is a do­mes­tic need. There are hun­dreds of thou­sands of adopt­able chil­dren in U.S. fos­ter care, so “why are we go­ing abroad?” asked Mari Steed, a leader of the Adop­tion Rights Al­liance and the Philom­ena Project, named for the Ir­ish mother who searched in vain for a son who was sent to the U.S. for adop­tion with­out her knowl­edge.

CHIFF, in­tro­duced in Septem­ber by Mrs. Lan­drieu, has 16 co-spon­sors; a com­pan­ion bill filed by Rep. Kay Granger, Texas Repub­li­can, now has 48 co-spon­sors, her of­fice said Tues­day.

Sup­port­ers in­clude the Na­tional Coun­cil for Adop­tion, Joint Coun­cil on In­ter­na­tional Chil­dren’s Ser­vices, Kid­save and Both Ends Burn­ing. “This leg­is­la­tion is truly a light at the end of a long tun­nel of de­spair,” said El­iz­a­beth Bart­ho­let of Har­vard Law School.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“We be­lieve this bill will in­crease the pro­tec­tion of chil­dren” and help en­sure that par­ents raise chil­dren, not gov­ern­ments, Sen. Mary L. Lan­drieu, Louisiana Demo­crat and lead spon­sor of the Chil­dren in Fam­i­lies First Act in the Se­nate, said Tues­day.

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