Kathleen Strottman, CCAI’s Executive Director, is a regular contributor to Adoption Today magazine. This blog is her most recent published article. To purchase a subscription to Adoption Today magazine, click here.
Congressional Review and Response to Adoption in the News
Over the past several months adoption has been in the news a lot. Perhaps as a result of the increased media attention, there has also been a corresponding surge in national conversations on the policy and practice issues raised by the various articles. Below is a review of some of the recently published pieces and a brief summary of federal policy conversations they engender.
On September 9, 2013 Reuters and NBC published a five-part series, The Child Exchange, to bring attention to a practice since coined “re-homing”—when adoptive parents who have experienced challenges post adoption resort to privately placing their legally adopted children in the custody of another adult or family. This series of articles not only brought public scrutiny to the practice but also prompted several other national news networks, such as Time Magazine and the Associated Press, to write stories on both what might cause a parent to consider re-homing their child and what might be done to ensure that the practice does not continue to put children at risk.
Since the release of the Reuter’s series, several child welfare and adoption advocacy organizations, including CCAI, have issued reports and statements about the practice of rehoming. In addition to providing a review of existing laws and policies on adoption, CCAI’s policy brief suggests that federal policymakers should consider:
- Reviewing existing federal laws and regulations to ensure that prospective adoptive parents are both well informed and properly trained before an adoption is finalized.
- Providing federal financial support so that child-specific, quality and affordable support services can be provided to more families post-adoption.
- Considering the ways in which the federal government might use the Internet to provide more information and better support to prospective and current adoptive families.
- Strengthening enforcement of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, as well as child abuse, abandonment and adoption laws to ensure that the interests of children are protected.
Members of Congress have also taken notice of the Reuters series and the issues it raises. In September, Senator Klobuchar from Minnesota introduced S. 1527, the Supporting Adoptive Families Act and in October Congressman Langevin from Rhode Island introduced the “Protecting Adopted Children Act.” Both bills seek to curb the practice of rehoming through the provision of training and support services both before and after an adoption. The House bill also calls for the General Accounting Office (GAO) to do an in-depth study of the practice of re-homing including how children are being “advertised” on the internet.
Discussions of the federal policy issues raised by the Reuter’s piece are expected to continue well into the next session of Congress. While Congress has not announced any plans for a formal Congressional hearing on the issue, it is possible some aspects of re-homing might be addressed in this way. To date, Congressional inquiries have been focused on to what extent state and federal child welfare laws protect against improper custody transfers of adopted children and how these laws might be strengthened to avoid future harm to adopted children.
The Evangelical Orphan Boom
In September 2013, the New York Times published an article written by author Kathryn Joyce entitled “The Evangelical Orphan Boom.” Much like her book, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, Joyce’s NY Times article posits the view that the “orphan crisis” is not a global crisis worthy of our universal concern but rather a dangerous myth perpetuated by Evangelical church leaders as part of their conservative, “pro-life agenda.” This movement she says “while well intentioned, has exacerbated a boom and bust market for children.”
The Joyce article also warns that the potential for fraud and abuse in the current international adoption is too high. Specifically, she cites concerns with the use of UNICEF’s orphan estimates as an estimate of the number of children in need of adoption because such estimates include children who are living in the care of family members. She also points to cases of children who were put up for adoption, without their biological parent’s full understanding of what adoption means, as evidence of a system gone awry.
Much like the articles on rehoming, Joyce’s book and subsequent articles have engendered responses from many in the adoption community, the most notable being the Christian Alliance for Orphans. For the most part, these responses have acknowledged that there is a need to reduce the potential for fraud and abuse within the international adoption system, but have also cautioned against calls for reform that obscure the reality that there are millions of children living outside of family care for whom international adoption is the only real hope of a permanent home.
Congress has not responded to Ms. Joyce’s concerns over the role of the Evangelical church has played in promoting international adoption, but there is an ongoing federal policy conversation on how the United States Government might work more effectively to ensure that the instances of fraud and abuse in international adoption are rare. In September of 2013, Senators Mary Landrieu and Roy Blunt introduced a bill called “Children in Families First.” In October, Congresswoman Kay Granger and Congresswoman Karen Bass introduced the same bill in the House. The two bills combined have over 40 co-sponsors. Among other things, the bill seeks to remedy the existing confusion that stems from using UNICEF’s orphan data as a proxy for the number of children in need of adoption by calling for a separate and more appropriate means of assessing the needs of children without family care. It also seeks to reduce opportunities for fraud and abuse by providing technical and financial support to countries looking to establish Hague compliant systems for international adoption.
In October, the Tampa Bay Times featured a story about a fifteen year old young man named Davion Only who took his plea for an adoptive family to members of his church. Within hours of the article on his plight appearing in the Tampa paper and online, the story went viral. In the week that followed, Davion was featured on the Today Show, the View and in People Magazine. His name now generates 1.4 million Google hits and he has had over 10,000 families inquire about adopting him. With all likelihood, he will be celebrating this Christmas with a family to call his own.
While many are calling Davion’s story a success story, it has also raised many important policy questions. First, what can we do to help people better understand that there are 9,999 other children just like Davion waiting for a family? Should we need to have the type of media attention that his story generated for this message to break through? And similarly, would some of the 10,000 people who stepped up for Davion be willing to commit to one of these other youth instead?
Also on people’s mind is the most basic of questions: why did it take so long for him to get to where he is today? According to the original article, Davion has been in foster care since his birth and available for adoption since he was 7. What about our current foster system needs to be improved so that the “Davion Onlys” out there do not have to spend a lifetime looking for the love and support they so clearly need and deserve?
Federal policymakers have made several efforts this year to better address the need for permanency among older youth. Most notably, they are expected to reauthorize the federal Adoption Incentive program as well as make efforts to better focus this program on the needs of older youth.
The media can be an important and powerful tool for raising both the public attention and political will necessary to bring about change. Over the past several months, the above stories on adoption have stimulated important conversations and brought wider public attention to the needs of foster and adopted children. CCAI looks forward to continuing to play a role in ensuring that the federal policy conversations that result from this coverage are both thoughtful and informed.