Representatives from both parties of Congress are coming together to support a measure that will make intercountry adoption less chaotic. The Children in Families First Act (CHIFF) aims to help overseas orphans find homes by refocusing funds to encourage both domestic and intercountry adoption rather than simply funding orphanages and foster homes.
CHIFF would fix the funding focus of the Hauge Convention on Intercountry Adoption, which established uniform standards for intercountry adoption between the United States and other countries.
“Every child needs and deserves to grow up in a family,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., the bill’s chief advocate. “While our foreign policy has done much to keep children alive and healthy, it has not prioritized this basic human right.”
The number of international adoptions has steadily declined in recent years. While American families adopted 22,884 overseas orphans in 2004, the number dropped to 8,668 in 2012.
The National Council for Adoption’s (NCA) president, Chuck Johnson, says the bill would tweak the current process using the knowledge the United States has gained from moving the emphasis of its own domestic system away from foster care and applying it to other countries. “We have seen a lot of negative impact from orphanages and institutional care,” Johnson said. “It is not a system that works well and even if the kids don’t return to their biological families, they need to be adopted by a permanent family.”
In an NCA study, researchers say the need for children to have a permanent family starts at a very young age—especially for their physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral development.
Ryan Hanlon, the executive director of programs at American Adoption World Association, said the bill also would bring much needed change to adoption divisions in the federal government that are “not doing a good job working with other countries.” The Department of State would move responsibilities for processing adoption cases to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) instead of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, which has gained a reputation for being rude and inefficient.
“The Bureau is currently not cooperating and treating those in other countries rudely,” Hanlon said. “Many of the staff are not willing to work and are not knowledgeable with the problems they face.” Hanlon hopes the USCIS will have a better understanding of human issues and treat officials in other countries as well as families seeking intercountry adoption with more respect.
As of mid-December, the bill had 32 co-sponsors in the House and 17 in the Senate. Landrieu, mother to two adopted children, hopes to keep building support for the bill with the goal of clearing committees in both chambers by spring.
The bill also would wrest adoption policy control from UNICEF, the U.N.’s agency for children, according to Landrieu’s official website. “We need to retake control of U.S. foreign policy on this critical issue and lead the way in shifting the world’s focus on to the importance of family for all children.”