What’s new in intercountry adoption?

Just a few days ago, the U.S. Department of State announced the launch of their new intercountry adoption website.  This site is a great resource for families interested in international adoption or those who are already going through the process.  Resources available include country alerts, statistics, latest news, information about who can adopt and what the process is, as well as a Hague-accredited adoption agency search to name a few.


In the wake the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan on March 11th, many have expressed their concern for Japanese orphans.  One article discusses why this may be a very different emergency response than that surrounding the earthquake in Haiti last January.  Japan is a developed nation, with more capacity to respond to the disaster and care for its orphans than Haiti.  And while the U.S. allowed a special humanitarian parole for those children in Haiti matched with U.S. adoptive families prior to the earthquake, the U.S. government then as now with Japan did not encourage families to try to begin the adoption process.  Japan has not suffered this same sweeping devastation and does not face an overall lack of capacity to shift resources around to care for children in need of parental care – and thus while the ongoing needs and devastation of the country cannot be quickly forgotten, it is important to recognize the vast differences between these two countries’ plights.


Earlier this month the Chinese Center of Adoption Affairs announced they will again allow single woman to adopt.  In 2007, China stopped allowing singles to adopt, in addition to a myriad of other restrictions on age of prospective adoptive parents, weight/BMI, and past antidepressant medication usage.  China has long been the top sending country to the U.S.  Peaking in 2005 with 7,903 adoptions, China has since been on the decline in the number of adoptions to the U.S., in part because of these restrictions instituted in 2007 combined with an effort to promote domestic adoption in China.


On March 9th, the Government of Ethiopia announced they would drastically reduce the number of intercountry adoption applications that it was processing each day by 90%.  This Washington Times article explains the rationale behind Ethiopia’s decision and looks ahead to what lies ahead for Ethiopia’s orphans.

CCAI releases ‘What Barriers Remain for the 112th Congress’

Kathleen Strottman, CCAI’s Executive Director, authored a report highlighting what areas of reform the 112th Congress may consider addressing this legislative session.  The report discusses several issues advocates, families, and professionals alike have raised.  Visit our website or click here to read the full report.

In keeping with CCAI’s mission to not only identify instances where policies are standing in the way of children finding their forever families, but more importantly to highlight ways that policymakers might act to eliminate them, CCAI raises areas where reform is needed.  A few of the topics covered in the report include:

  • Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA):  With 30,000 youth aging out of foster care each year having never been adopted, advocates have suggested that federal policymakers begin to study the frequency and reasons for recommending APPLA as a permanency plan for a foster youth.
  • Adoption Affordability:  We also know from the National Survey of Adoptive Parents that 57% percent of adoptive parents surveyed reported being at or below 300% the federal poverty line ($67,050 for a family of four).
  • Universal Accreditation:  Where the Intercounry Adoption Act falls short is that it only applies to adoptions between countries that are both parties to the Hague Convention, meaning that if an adoption is between the U.S. and a non-Hague country such as Russia or Ethiopia, the agency performing the adoption does not have to be accredited and the family involved is left without the corresponding services and protections.

Social workers make a difference…

Throughout March, Social Work Month is being celebrated by social work professionals and students across the country.  I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight how social workers are helping children to remain a part of or find safe and loving families.

One of our former Foster Youth Interns, Christina Miranda, recently spoke at our New Congress Forum to address legislative priorities for this Congress.  One of the areas needing reform that she highlighted was the child welfare workforce.  Christina said that social workers and caseworkers need more support to achieve the goals of their positions.  “Social workers have a major influence on making critical and life changing decisions for families and youth.  They need to have skills and training to inform their decision-making and ultimately promote the best interest of children and families.”

Christina went on to explain that as a social worker herself, she has seen the qualifications for caseworker positions vary from state to state, or even between different regions of the same state.  “In some localities, you have social workers with a Master of Social Work degree, but in other areas, you have caseworkers doing the same job, but with a Bachelor’s degree in Art.”  These caseworkers do not have the educational background to inform their work.

Survey results published in 2005 by APHSA on the child welfare workforce showed that:

  • nearly 10% of all child welfare worker positions remain vacant, which requires existing workers to maintain higher caseloads than national or state standards
  • the average child protective services worker’s tenure is about 3 years, meaning that some workers are “in foster care” less time than the children they serve
  • the average incumbent child welfare caseworker’s salary was about $35,000, which is less than teachers, police officers, firefighters, or other public service positions

While supporting and developing the child welfare workforce is an important part of child welfare reform and promoting better outcomes for youth in care, Christina did not see specialized professional training and support end with social workers.  “Everyone from child protection to child welfare administration, from guardian ad litems to family court judges, from state legislators to Members of Congress need to be aware of issues affecting children in foster care.”


Perspectives on this Congress’ legislative priorities

In an article from last week, CCAI’s shared in part the discussion that took place at our 112th New Congress Forum where Members of Congress addressed their legislative agendas for this year.  It was a vigorous and insightful hour-long discussion.  Perhaps the most captivating out of all of the speakers at the round table were the individuals who had direct experience with the foster care system or domestic and intercountry adoption.

Alixes Rosado bravely began with his story explaining while life on the streets was tough he felt the streets were safer and more loving than some of his foster homes.  After hearing this, Sen. Mary Landrieu expressed her interest in working to improve the foster parent recruitment processes across the nation to promote quality homes and better support foster parents.

Christina Miranda, also a former foster youth, changed schools 6 times between the age 11 and 18, and discussed the difficulties this school instability posed to her educational success.  Rep. Michele Bachmann highlighted a piece of legislation she introduced last Congress and plans to continuing working on, “School Choice for Foster Kids Act which would allow foster parents to send any foster child to his or her original school.”  To this, Sen. Landrieu said she would introduce a companion bill in the Senate to encourage the passage of this law.

Panel of individuals who shared their personal stories.

Samuel and Mildred Stewart adopted 3 children from foster care.  They stressed the need for mental health services to be provided to adopted children, as they have and continue to struggle to find services for their son.  She suggested how helpful it would be for families if parents had services, such as support groups or respite care.

International adoptive parent, Jeromy Smith, told his moving story of adopting his daughter and son from Kenya.  “Orphans struggle not only with physical poverty, but with relational poverty. Every night millions of kids—both those with empty stomachs and full stomachs—go to bed wondering if anyone, anywhere will ever love them.  Their souls ask the question, ‘Do I even matter?”  Read his full remarks here.

Nicole Dobbins, Executive Director of Voice for Adoption and former foster youth, stated, “I sometimes have to pinch myself when I say ‘executive director’ because it is hard for me to believe sometimes, when I think about where I have come from. I am delighted to share in the context of both my professional and personal capacity, if it will help push the agenda on foster care and adoption policy, because waiting children truly deserve to be at the forefront of every discussion.”  Read her full remarks here.

Executive Director of C.A.S.E., Debbie Riley shared that from her experience as both an adoptive mother and adoption  professional, “according to adoptive parents, one of the greatest post-adoption support needs is mental health services provided by someone who knows adoption.”

These speakers brought most of the room to tears with their personal stories and helped Members realize that the 112th Congress has some work ahead of them to improve foster care and adoption.  Members shared their commitment to use their position to bring about change for these children and families.

What laws keep children out of families?

To mark the beginning of 112th Congress, CCAI hosted a round table discussion to bring federal policymakers together with adoptive families and foster youth.  The goal of the discussion was for individuals with direct foster care, foster care adoption, or international adoption experience to share what policies they would enact if given the opportunity based on the successes and barriers they faced.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, Sen. James Inhofe, Rep. Michele Bachmann, and Rep. Karen Bass, the co-chairs of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, convened other Members of Congress to discuss their legislative agendas based on what they heard directly from youth and families.  Sen. Roy Blunt, Sen. Ben Cardin, and Rep. Tom Marino attended in person, along with representatives from the offices of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Tim Johnson, Sen. Chuck Grassley, Sen. Barbara Boxer, Sen. John Kerry, Rep. Jim Cooper, Rep. Dave Camp, Rep. Billy Long, and Rep. Dennis Cardoza.

Congressman Marino, an adoptive father himself, urged that children are our most precious resource, and we have an obligation to care for them.

Congresswoman Bass shared about her experience in the California state legislature and the time she spent traveling around the state talking to current and former foster youth.  One of the comments she often heard was, “I want someone to care about me who isn’t paid to do so.”

Congresswoman Bachmann commented that even after being a foster parent to over 20 adolescents herself, she is moved each time she hears the story of a foster youth.  She spoke about her legislative work on allowing children in foster care to remain in their school of origin despite moving out of the school district with each foster home move.

Senator Inhofe, an adoptive grandparent, recognized how challenging it is to navigate the intercountry adoption system.  As a U.S. Senator himeself, and his daughter, a tenured professor, they found the process complicated.  He shared his priority to remove bureacratic barriers to adoption to ensure an efficient process to place children in families.

Check back next week to see what the panel of individuals who have personal experience with these issues recommended, and learn how the Members of Congress responded.

Front: Alixes Rosado, former foster youth
L to R: Rep. Bass, Rep. Marino, Sen. Landrieu, Rep. Bachmann
L to R: Nicole Dobbins, Debbie Riley, Sen. Cardin, Lindsay Ellenbogen, Jeromy Smith

It’s budget season…

Reports have been published that show spending money on children and youth in foster care today will save significantly in the future by lowering rates of incarceration, welfare dependence, homelessness, and the need for other public services.  However, elected officials are not looking years down the road when they are plagued by such budget shortfalls today.

Here on the Hill and in states and localities across the nation it’s budget season.  Last month President Obama sent his proposed FY2012 budget to Congress.  However, Congress hasn’t yet passed a spending bill for the remaining 7 months of FY 2011.  Just yesterday they passed a continuing resolution for 2 weeks to avoid a federal government shutdown set to take place this Friday.

With all of the uncertainty surrounding federal spending, and the vast state and local budget shortfalls, one thing is for sure–child welfare programs are at risk.

While ultimately budget decisions are left up to Congress, the President’s budget proposes slight decreases in overall discretionary funding for child welfare programs.  First Focus released a report outlining the proposed changes to child welfare funding.  “Among the most notable aspects of the budget is the inclusion of an increase in funding of $250 million in mandatory funds in FY 2012 to support a reform agenda focused on providing incentives to states to improve outcomes for children in foster care and those who are receiving in-home services from the child welfare system. This increase is part of the Administration’s broader proposal to provide $2.5 billion over ten years to support a comprehensive child welfare reform proposal aimed at making improvements in the foster care system to prevent child abuse and neglect and keep more children safely in their homes and out of long-term foster care.”

Elected officials across our nation are met with the challenge of funding necessary services and programs to serve the needs of their constituents.  It is important to remember that budgets are not really a matter of dollars and cents, but a matter of how the well-being of lives will ultimately be impacted.  A good reminder of this is a quote by Hubert H. Humphrey which is imprinted on the wall at the U.S. Health and Human Services building, “It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

In an op ed byPaul Krugman appearing in the New York Times, Krugman raises some tough questions about the impact of budgets and spending on America’s children.  “When advocates of lower spending get a chance to put their ideas into practice, the burden always seems to fall disproportionately on those very children they claim to hold so dear.”  While Krugman discusses the child population in general, we all know that children and youth in foster are even more vulnerable to poor outcomes and have a higher level of need for government programs.

Krugman asks, “The really striking thing about all this isn’t the cruelty — at this point you expect that — but the shortsightedness. What’s supposed to happen when today’s neglected children become tomorrow’s work force?”

Photo Credit: photographer Vik Orenstein