The Upside of the CHIFF Debate

On Monday, May 19, the Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) sent a letter providing our input on The Children in Families First Act of 2013 (CHIFF/S1530) to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senate sponsors, other key Members and the Secretary of State.

Along with many of our friends and partners in the adoption and child welfare communities, we have recognized that CHIFF is concerning on many levels. As our letter states, DAI supports CHIFF’s laudable goals: – to place children without families in them, to make intercountry adoption (ICA) by Americans “a viable and fully developed option,” and to “protect against abuses” and ensure children’s best interests in ICA. The unfortunate reality, however, is that S1530 was conceived with only limited stakeholder input and without all of the relevant research and data. As a result, it oversimplifies the complex and multi-layered challenges and possible solutions related to international child welfare and ICA. CHIFF could dilute safeguards, undermine the best interests of the child standard and encourage unethical practices. It also would not assign adequate resources for improving child welfare policy and practice.

DAI’s letter calls for congressional hearings on intercountry adoption and child welfare, suggests specific amendments to the legislation to ensure family placements are in the best interests of children, and recommends that sufficient funding be allotted to enable robust technical assistance to foreign governments to build their child welfare infrastructures.

We’ve spent the last few months carefully reviewing the substance of the bill, engaging in conversations with organizations and individuals, and listening to all sides. During this vetting process, it became evident that nearly everyone agrees that the current intercountry adoption system requires improvement. Unfortunately, CHIFF as it is currently written is not the remedy. The deeper issues underlying the reasons that children become separated from their original families must be addressed, and quality preparation and services to children and families must be included when intercountry adoption does occur.

The upside to the passionate and robust debate surrounding CHIFF is that it demonstrates just how complex the issues surrounding international child welfare and intercountry adoption are and clearly highlights the need for collaborative efforts by all sides to find holistic solutions for children and families.