CCAI Report – What Barriers Remain: Areas of Needed Adoption and Foster Care Reform in the 113th Congress


What Barriers Remain:
Areas of  Needed Adoption and Foster Care Reform in the 113th Congress

This coming Saturday, November 23rd, we will celebrate National Adoption Day and approximately 4,500 adoptions of children in foster care that will take place in courthouses across the nation. It is a day of celebration as well as a poignant reminder of the nearly 100,000 children in foster care still awaiting their own adoption day.

The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute exists because we not only believe that every child needs a family, but also that they can find that family – no matter what their age or circumstances. Toward that goal, we continue to raise awareness of the policy barriers that prevent children in the U.S. and around the word from finding their forever families. We will work daily with policymakers to address these barriers until every last one is removed.

We are pleased to announce the release of our report, What Barriers Remain: Areas of Needed Adoption and Foster Care Reform in the 113th Congress This report highlights several areas where the U.S. Congress might work to reduce the number of children living without families in the U.S. and abroad.   It is our hope that all who read this new report, from Members of Congress to adoptive parents, Members of the Administration to foster youth, will work in partnership with us until every child in need of a family finds permanency.

What Barriers Remain



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

Former CCAI Foster Youth Intern Testifies Before Congress

This morning, former CCAI Foster Youth Intern (FYI), Talitha James, testified before Congress at the hearing Letting Kids Be Kids: Balancing Safety with Opportunity for Foster Youth. Below is Talitha’s testimony, which speaks to the importance of normalcy for children in care.

Former FYI Talitha James (third from the left)

My name is Talitha James. I am a graduate of California State University of Fullerton, a former CCAI intern of the U.S Senate Committee on Finance and I am a former foster youth! I would like to share with you my life experiences while growing up in California’s foster care system in the county of Los Angeles. I am hopeful that this opportunity will help people within this forum to truly understand the struggle that many foster youth endure in their attempts to achieve “normalcy.”

I was declared a ward of the court at the age of two. Transitioning in and out of many foster homes became a way of life for me. I was placed into the homes of strangers who had every good intention of caring for me and became ticked off when they realized that the most important thing to me at the time were my friends, my biological family and my love for sports.

During my tenure while growing up in foster care I was not granted the opportunity to spend the night at my friend’s house because the county required that all persons over the age of 18 living in the home would have to complete and pass a background check, home assessment and sign documents that ensured they would not “run off” with me. I remember my friend wanted to know so badly why every time she invited me over to her house I declined the offer. I never told her back then the real reason why I couldn’t spend the night over her house.

Growing up in the foster care system, I felt like I was in captivity. Many times I was separated from the things that meant so much to me and the only reasoning that was given to me was, “ It’s the County rules” or  “ We have to get the County to approve.” This reference was towards the same County officials who skipped out on mandated monthly visits, placed me into foster homes that were unfit for any child to live in and overlooked my plea to play sports because it was more important for me to see a therapist. I remember the many different experiences that I had as a foster child where I would pray to God to take me off this earth because I wanted so badly not to be a foster child.

Another experience I would like to share was about a time when I wanted to play volleyball but couldn’t do so because of the unrelenting barriers that restrict foster children from being normal. As a foster child, I needed court approval to travel more than 100 miles outside of the county I resided in.  This barrier prevented me from playing sports. I went through most of my junior high school years yearning to play sports. It wasn’t until I was placed in the care of my aunt where I was granted the opportunity to play sports.  The same strict rules applied to me when my aunt became my caregiver, but she had seen my desire and allowed me to play sports. She knew that there would be consequences if anything were to happen to me while she was caring for me. I am thankful that she realized my desire to play sports and to be a part of a team was the best therapy that anyone could offer me at the time.

The late great Dr. King professed, “ I grew up in a family where love was central, and where lovely relationships were ever present. It is quite easy for me to think of the universe as basically friendly, mainly because of my uplifting hereditary and environmental circumstances.” The opportunity we have here today is to offer youth in foster care, regardless of their environmental circumstances, the dream that we have always hoped for, the chance to be normal again.

Talitha and Chairman Reichert
Talitha and Representative Joe Lewis
Talitha and Representative Joe Lewis

In his Opening Statement, Chairman Dave Reichert of the Subcommittee on Human Resources also mentioned another former FYI, John Paul Horn, and incoming FYI, Georgina Rodriguez. Reichert said the following:

Entering foster care is a life-changing experience for children. Foster children are faced with a dizzying array of changes that are anything but normal. They are separated from their parents. They are often sent to live with a family they have never met. They may start attending a new school, have to make new friends, and make new efforts to participate in sports and other activities they previously took for granted.

On top of all of this change, we know some child welfare policies have the unintended effect of making life even harder for these children. Rules may keep them from spending time with friends, participating in sports, and even getting a driver’s license or finding a summer job.

To read Chairman Reichert’s entire Opening Statement, click here.


CCAI Welcomes Delegation of Guatemalan Officials

CCAI Executive Director, Kathleen Strottman, on a delegation to Guatemala.

Three months after I became CCAI’s Executive Director I received a call from a frantic mother whose son’s orphanage, Casa Quivera, had been raided by the Guatemalan authorities the night before.   The raid, she was told, was a part of the Guatemalan government’s effort to investigate the orphanage director whom they believed engaged in corrupt practices. Over the next year, I met hundreds of other parents whose adoptions had become immersed in a sea of similar investigations while their children languished in orphanages.

It was under this lens that our focus on the child welfare system in Guatemala began. We would soon learn that the passage of the 2007 Adoption law, although a necessary step, has presented two very real challenges for the Guatemalan government.  First, it left hundreds of children whose international adoptions were not complete in legal limbo.  Without a clear path forward, these cases underwent investigation after investigation. Six years later, approximately one hundred of these adoptions remain incomplete today.  Secondly, it required that the Guatemalan government invest time, money and resources in developing domestic alternatives for children in need of family care.


Our first step was to raise awareness among Members of Congress about these challenges and to enlist their support in advocating for change. We are proud to have partnered with the Joint Council for International Children’s Services (JCICS), the National Council for Adoption (NCFA) and Guatemala 900 to host several briefings on the status of pending cases.  Once we had the support we needed from the US Department of State, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and nearly 100 Members of Congress, we began to bring this support to bear in Guatemala.

Over the past two years, CCAI has been part of five high-level delegations to Guatemala.  Through these visits we have not only had the chance to advocate for the rights of the children unnecessarily trapped in orphanages, but we have also had the chance to learn more about the Guatemalan government’s efforts to build a Hague-compliant system of child welfare. There is undoubtedly a lot that still needs to be done in this regard.  Yet at the same time, the Guatemalans have been aggressive in their efforts to put in place a new system, one that is less reliant on institutional care.

Late last night, CCAI welcomed 14 delegates from Guatemala’s courts, governmental agencies and universities to Washington, DC. We have invited these individuals to participate in our Pathways to Permanency project because of their direct involvement in the welfare of children in Guatemala.  Our hope is that this exchange will inspire these individuals to become agents of change in their own communities.  The week ahead will be filled with presentations by US experts in child welfare; conversations among judicial colleagues; meetings with Members of Congress and the Administration and lessons in best practice from other regional models.

I have many hopes for the week ahead, but chief among them is this: that everyone who participates in this week comes away with a deep desire to see every child in Guatemala have a safe, loving and permanent family to call their own.  I hope that they will see that achieving this goal requires the use of all options for permanency.  And most importantly, I hope that like those of us at CCAI, they will be willing to work to remove every barrier that stands in the way of this hope becoming reality.


In My Eyes: Limitations of the Affordable Care Act for Foster Youth

Dustin Haley
Dustin Haley

Today’s guest blog post is written by Dustin Haley, a CCAI 2013 intern, University of Texas undergraduate student, and former foster youth.

As the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is rolled out, many former foster youth will have increased availability for medical coverage.  Starting in 2014, youth who aged out of foster care will be eligible to remain on Medicaid until age 26, a huge win for child welfare advocates and former foster youth.

Youth in college will now have the peace of mind of always having their health insurance covered, and will not have to choose between books and medical care.  Former foster youth who are working part time will also be able to support themselves without having the unnecessary burden of healthcare costs. However, limitations to the ACA will negatively impact many of the former foster youth. As a former foster youth myself, I am all too familiar with these restrictions but it wasn’t until I started interning with CCAI that I learned I could advocate to change this policy.

First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization, recently took a look at this regulation, in addition to the rest of the ACA as it applies to foster youth.  They found that as it stands now, coverage will only be guaranteed to those who remain in the state where they resided when they were 18.  This is a huge issue for foster youth around the nation, as they often travel to different states for extended periods for school, jobs, or internships.  Many also move to be closer to support systems, whether they are close friends or extended family.  First Focus points out that restrictions on residency only apply to foster youth, not to adopted children nor to youth raised in a traditional family.

During CCAI’s summer Foster Youth Internship (FYI) Program, foster youth from around the nation come to DC work on Capitol Hill.  Most all of them come from different states and thus are not eligible to receive Medicaid in DC.  Since I’ve started interning at CCAI, I’ve learned about one of last summer’s interns, who ended up needing medical treatment, but experienced difficulties because he was not in his “home” state.

I contacted Josh to learn more about his experience and he explained how he had just returned from a trip to Ecuador when he started as an FYI participant last summer.  Soon thereafter, Josh started to experience serious stomach issues stemming from possible parasites contracted while abroad.  He went to a quick-service clinic in DC and had to pay full cost for treatment.  Unfortunately, the practitioners in the clinics are not specialists and could not figure out what he had contracted.  Seeing a specialist in DC would have cost Josh too much money out of pocket and was thus forced to fly back to Tennessee.  He was able to get the proper treatment from a specialist there and he soon recovered.

I too have run into the same struggles as Josh since being out of my home state—Texas—and completing my internship in DC this semester.  I recently injured my knee, but due to the limitations on Medicaid, I was not able to seek out treatment.  Had I seen a doctor, they would have surely ordered X-Rays and possibly an MRI.   Without insurance, these bills quickly add up.  My struggles, along with the struggles of all foster youth, should not be lost on child welfare advocates.

The Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services recently opened up to debate the section of the Affordable Care Act regarding former foster youth.   Organizations have been able to submit comments, many of which proposed medical coverage for former foster youth irrespective of the state they resided in when they were 18.   I, for one, hope to see change that eventually leads to greater benefits to the youth.