In April of this year, at little girl named Daria, who would have turned 3 in May, died from an undiagnosed heart ailment in her orphanage in Nizhny Novgorod, a city about 250 miles east of Moscow.  While the death of any child is a tragic event, what makes Daria’s passing all the more heartbreaking is that she died alone, instead of in the loving arms of her American family that had hoped to adopt her but couldn’t because of the Russian adoption ban.  When I heard the news that a waiting child had died, I could not help but cry.  My tears were for the life she would never live, but they were also for the thousands of other children who, like Daria, have had their lives ended by the stroke of a government’s pen. Over the last ten years, children in Russia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Nepal, Ghana and Rwanda have lost the right to find a family through international adoption.

As if this is not enough to invoke tears, countries that close their doors to international adoption too often struggle to provide family based alternatives for their children.  They soon realize that it takes time and resources to build a child welfare system in which families are able to stay together and provide alternative loving homes for children whose families’ were not.  Some never get to the point of realizing that truly protecting a child’s right to a family requires both legal and cultural change.  And so it is that millions of children are condemned to life in prison for the simple crime of being born.

For fifteen years, I have had the honor of fighting for these children in Congress.  I have begged people to consider the fate of the hundreds of Cambodian children whose families were ready to care for them, I have cried with the families whose children were trapped in Guatemala and have flown half way around the world to implore the Government of Vietnam to provide their children with all options for finding a home.  But we cannot keep fighting this battle a country at a time.


I have also read everything I can find on how human relationships affect human development, especially in early years.  It is amazing how much scientific evidence there is to support the notion that children not only deserve a family, but they NEED one.  Children who have a secure, stable relationship with a parent thrive, and those that are deprived of this type of relationship deteriorate.  It is really that simple.

For these reasons, I am convinced the time has come for all those who believe in their core that children have a basic human right to a family to stand up and be heard.  If we don’t, there is no doubt in my mind those who have obscured the world’s view on international adoption will succeed in eliminating it as an option and most governments will just continue to rely on orphanages to raise their children.  Scarier still, we will continue down a path which ends with tens of millions of children whose development has been hindered: making them more likely to engage in crime than finish school, more likely to be a government dependent, than a productive member of society.

This week Senator Mary Landrieu and Senator Roy Blunt called on Congress to change the way the United States Government views the welfare of children abroad.  Their vision is to move the United States away from a system that views children as an immigration enforcement issue to a system that embraces the opportunity to protect their right to be safe from abuse and to be loved by a family.   Their bill, Children in Families First, would align the United States Government’s efforts around what most Americans agree is a core value of our society: family.

For those of you who have not spent the last fifteen years working on adoption issues, let me try and summarize what this bill does.  Right now, neither the State Department and the USAID, which are the two agencies responsible for advancing child welfare issues abroad, have a high level office that focuses on the welfare of children.  At State, if a child is a refugee, they would be covered under the Bureau that addresses refugee issues; if they are a victim of trafficking, they may benefit from the work done by the Office to Combat Human Trafficking and so on.  The same is true at USAID, if they are in need of immediate health care, they will likely get this assistance from the Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program, if they are a victim of AIDS, and their assistance will be spearheaded by the Office of the Global AIDS coordinator.  And if you are a child who is outside of family care, you better hope you fall into another covered category because otherwise no one in our government is responsible for developing policies and programs on your behalf.


You do not need to be a policy expert to appreciate the flaws in such a system.  Practically speaking, what this means is that a United States Ambassador working in a country like Vietnam might know very well what the USG could do to help reduce the number of children living outside of family care in Vietnam, but he has no counterpart in his own Department to turn to for assistance and no resources at USAID dedicated to such work. As we well know, a common reason given for suspensions and closures of international adoption is the need to create better systems for safely and ethically processing adoptions, a need that cannot be met on a wide scale basis without US leadership and support.

Let me be clear, while the bill is calling for a new approach and clear leadership on behalf of parentless children, it is not suggesting we increase the role or size of the federal government. Since it is Fall, let me use a football analogy to explain this further. CHIFF is not saying we need another tight end  or a receiver. It is saying that if you think you can win a football game without a quarterback, you are sorely mistaken.  Under the current structure, we are without the leadership needed to help protect children who need our protection.  As a result, we are throwing incomplete passes instead of making touchdowns.

And finally, why should you care?  If you are reading this and you care about the welfare of children who have no families, for whatever reason, we need you.  Battles in Washington are won when a group of convicted people use a unified voice to call for change.   If we do not speak out now, I am not sure we will have the opportunity to do so again, the battle will be lost, and the children like Daria will continue to die alone instead of in the loving arms of a mother.

Don’t waste one more minute – visit and learn what you can do to make a difference.


Kathleen Strottman with son Noah

Punching Holes in the Darkness: U.S. Foreign Assistance for Children in Adversity

Come Share Your Dreams
Photo Credit: Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit 9
May 3, 2013 Nashville, TN

As a boy, renowned author Robert Louis Stevenson lived on a hillside in Scotland, his family’s home overlooking a small town below. Robert was intrigued by the work of the old lamplighters who went about with a ladder and a torch lighting the street lights for the night. One evening, as Robert stood watching with fascination, his parents asked him “Robert, what in the world are you looking at out there?” With great excitement he exclaimed, “Look at that man! He’s punching holes in the darkness!”

Three years ago, CCAI set out to punch holes in the darkness. Frustrated by the fact that the United States Government, a leader in so many other areas of global concern, lacked a clear and effective strategy for reducing the number of children living without the support of a family; we started by asking why? Why was it that a value so clearly a part of the U.S. Government’s efforts to protect children had not made it into our foreign policy?  Why was such a fundamental American value, the value of family, not better represented in our programming abroad?

The more we learned, the more our concern grew. We learned that while an estimated $2 billion dollars a year was reportedly being invested in international programs focused on the care and support of orphans, little to none of this funding was being spent on preventing orphanhood. We learned that despite overwhelming scientific evidence that institutions seriously damage children, our lack of advocacy for family based care was resulting in an increasing number of children being confined to a life in them.  And perhaps one of the hardest lessons we learned: despite national experience with international adoption as a worthy and effective way of securing a safe and stable family, we watched as global leaders suggested otherwise.

And so we had a choice to make. We could stand idly by and allow the futures of millions of children be cut short by this darkness or we could punch holes in the darkness in the hopes that bringing light to these issues would inspire change. We chose the latter.  We began by educating federal policymakers on what emerging brain science tells us about how urgent the need is for global policies to better reflect the right to a family as a basic human right.  We also outlined how U.S. policies, programs and priorities might be improved to better protect this fundamental right. Finally, we hosted two national and one regional convening to engage foreign leaders in a concrete conversation on moving their child welfare systems away from orphanages and toward families.

Our Haiti Convening illustrated that it is not only possible but preferable for the Government of Haiti to focus on rebuilding its families instead of rebuilding its orphanages. Our Way Forward Project sought to stimulate dialogue among the world’s experts on both the need for family-based care but also the ways in which laws, policies and programs might be developed or expanded to support the use of family-based care for children in need of it.  And most recently, our Pathways to Permanency Project provided permanency training for 15 key leaders from Guatemala.

Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs held a hearing on the newly launched USG Action Plan for Children in Adversity (APCA).  In providing testimony to the committee, Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg acknowledged that APCA is the first ever high-level USG policy that acknowledges that children need families to thrive.  He also acknowledged that the Action Plan is a critical realigning of U.S. investments in children abroad around three key objectives, the second of which is to reduce the number of children without families.

Today, Mr. Stevenson, I felt like that lamplighter.

Home Is Where the Story Begins

Carlos Duran is the founder of Hombres de Palabra (Men of their Word), an organization that works to help men reach their maximum potential through education, training and initiatives. Carlos is also the recipient of the White House’s 2012 Champion of Change award. On Monday evening, Carlos delivered a keynote address to the delegation of Guatemalan officials. Excerpts of his speech are included below as are pictures from this week’s meetings with the delegation. For a copy of the full speech, please email


We are meeting today for a common cause. This common cause is the future of the children in our communities, and therefore the future of our nations. Because when it comes to children we are talking about the largest and most important natural resource and wealth in a nation; a richness that has to be cultivated, cared for, protected and educated so that it can reach its potential and write history.

…Our children, and the goal of providing them the environment that helps them reach their potential, should be the motivation that calls us to do the work that we have been assigned to. This week, as we look to develop programs or safety nets to protect our nation’s unprotected children, we must try to develop programs that deal with the roots of these problems. We must have a holistic approach to these problems, one that addresses the roots and the symptoms of it. 


…Programs such as adoption and foster homes are safety net programs. What exactly is a safety net? It is a net that catches a person walking on a tight-rope, or on a trapeze, and grabs them when they fall. But a safety net has special features: first of all it is full of holes; second it is very difficult to walk or stand on; third it is very easy to get caught in, or tangled in, and is often it seem to be a trap; and fourth, it doesn’t help you achieve your goal, it only catches you when you fall.

 …If you want to succeed, you have to get back on the trapeze and learn to swing, and this is only achieved through training and practice. Every child who falls into those programs is already in a disadvantaged position and has to overcome many challenges in order to reach their potential.


I want to emphasize three things that are important as we do our work:

First, to understand that we have been given the moral responsibility of caring for future generations, that being here today is not an accident but a call to transform the lives of thousands of children and hence generations. We have been given the public trust that we will not look out for our own interests but the interests of the children and our nation. That perhaps we will never see the fruit of our work completely because this is a work that transcends generations.


Second, we must be clear that seeing a hungry child, helpless, without education, in poverty, ill, should not be norm, it is not right and for that reason we need to create solutions that work. Do not let your heart be hardened. Let us not, the ones called to fix the problem, be insensitive to the suffering of our children. 


Third, be creative and be innovative. Do not settle to repeat what others do. Guatemala, Washington D.C. requires specific solutions for each city. Find allies where you have not looked before. I believe that faith-based organizations are a tool that we have not fully utilized. The basis of organizations of faith, you can call it a church, mosque or synagogue, is to serve and love your neighbor.

…Why not put some effort to equip them, train them and give them the necessary funds so they can serve the community?


…A. Dickerson said “Home is where the story begins”. I charge you to lead by example, to go home and love your family, strive for being the role model that they are waiting for and will be eager to follow. I encourage you to fill your heart with compassion and love for your community, to be innovative, not to conform to the past. I encourage you to take upon your shoulders the trust and responsibility that has been given to you by your government, by your community and by destiny, the trust and responsibility to write history one child, one man, and one family at a time.  

CCAI Featured in Award-winning Documentary Film about International Adoption


We are proud to announce that STUCK—an award winning documentary about international adoption—features CCAI’s Executive Director, Kathleen Strottman. As Kathleen explains in the documentary, which uncovers the personal, real life stories of adopted children and their parents, “the right to a family is a basic human right and our policies have to start recognizing that.”   The film also features CCA Co-Chair Senator Mary Landrieu, Senator Richard Lugar and Charles Nelson, Co-Principal Investigator of the Bucharest Early Intervention Project.

On March 1st, Both Ends Burning Founder Craig Juntenen will be launching a 60 city bus tour to promote the film and issue a call to action for the United States Government to promote international adoption as a worthy and effective way to find homes for children without families.

To view the trailer for STUCK, follow this link:

To learn about how you can help spread the word about STUCK, click here:

CSPAN’s Washington Journal Features CCAI

Kathleen_CSPANOn Saturday, CSPAN’s Washington Journal interviewed CCAI Executive Director, Kathleen Strottman, about the Russian adoption ban, international adoption, and how Members of Congress can affect adoption and foster care issues. Click on the picture to watch the full interview or follow this link: