International adoption: a bad rep in recent news?

With the recent buzz surrounding Artyom Savelyev, the 7-year-old boy who was sent back to Russia alone on a plane by his adoptive family in the USA, and the Russian government’s subsequent threats to freeze adoptions from the country, international adoption continues to be a prominent issue in the world.

CCAI takes these issues very seriously, and we expect to release a statement regarding the current state of international adoption in Russia in the near future, so keep your eyes here and on our website for updates. For some background information and a general overview of international adoptions from Russia, you can also check out our country update page for Russia.

In the meantime, we would like to address some general concerns about international adoption, and how it is perceived in the world today.  Below are some questions that we have recently received, followed by our responses:

1) Isn’t international adoption often used as a guise in child trafficking?

While the safety and protection of children is always utmost concern, a number of measures have been put in place both by the U.S. government and increasingly foreign governments to ensure the ethical adoption process.  USCIS uses the Form I-604 Request for and Report on Overseas Orphan Investigation to ensure the child is an orphan.  When a country is suspected of unethical adoption procedures, both the U.S. and the foreign government has the power to cease adoption processing until measures have been put in place to ensure children are not trafficked nor are birth families being coerced to give up their children.

2) Why are monies not given to the child’s birth family or a family in the child’s country of origin so that the child is not removed from their homeland?  Isn’t this in the best interest of the child?

The reality is that many foreign countries lack sophisticated child welfare systems like what we have here in the U.S when we moved away from orphange-type settings in favor of foster homes in the 1970s.  As a result, children in foreign countries spend years of their life in institutions.  Research and common sense tells us that children do not develop emotionally or physically without the attention and human interaction that a family provides.  A recent study found that Children adopted from institutional care performed worse than those raised in families on tests measuring visual memory and attention, learning visual information, and impulse control.  Children living in orphanages are at risk for disease, malnutrition, or even death.  This pictures speaks for themself:

Inside an orphanage

Rows of infants in Palna, India orphanage

3) Why are adult adoptees’ voices not heard?  They are the true experts?

Read an article by an adult Colombian adoptee to get insight into her experience.  The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute conducted a survey in 2000 to examine the adult adoptee’s perspective on international adoption.  They found that, “despite the many questions about how adoptive parents were chosen and many statements of mistrust of adoption agencies, few adoptees expressed dissatisfaction with the institution of adoption.”

While we must admit that international adoption is not a perfect system, we cannot ignore the millions of orphans around the world who are forced to rock themselves on the floor because they have no mother to hold them.  We do not believe that international adoption should be the first resort, rather, we believe in strengthening child welfare systems around the world to promote safe care and domestic adoption, but when domestic options are not possible, international adoption.  Because, every child deserve the safety, support, and love that only a family can provide.

Celebrities Adopting

Yesterday, Jessica Alba appeared on ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.  The family featured, the Beach family, had adopted 8 children in addition to 4 biological children!  Father Larry Beach said, “No matter if you’re in a travel trailer or a big house like this, we all have one calling; we’re all special to God.  That’s why we search out children who otherwise wouldn’t have a home. That’s what we hope comes out of all this.  There are a lot of children out there. Maybe they’re not perfect in the world’s eyes, but they deserve a home as much as any child.”  So inspired by the Beaches, Alba went on to say that she plans to adopt herself.  Alba is currently a mom to her 2-yr-old daughter Honor Marie with husband Cash Warren.

Alba on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

I wanted to highlight a couple other celebrities who have chosen adoption.  When these individuals speak out and share their adoption experience, families and individuals across the country are made aware the need for adoption and are shown that all it takes is for someone to step forward and want to make a difference in the life of a child.

Recently, Katherine Heigl and husband singer Josh Kelley adopted a daughter with special needs, Naleigh, from Korea.  Heigl has always known she wanted to adopt, and even approached the subject with her husband before they were engaged.  Heigl’s sister, Meg, is Korean, so the choice of where to adopt from seemed obvious.

Heigl with her husband and daughter

Just over a month ago, actor Willie Garson’s adoption of a 8-yr-old boy from foster care was finalized.  “From the first time I met him, I said, ‘That’s my kid.”  Garson met his son, Nathen, at an adoption fair in Los Angeles.

Garson with son, Nathen

While Nathen’s story has a happy ending, Garson commented on the older teens in foster care who were at that same adoption fair.  Their stories more often have a sad ending of aging out of foster care without ever being adopted.  Across the country, this is true for almost 30,000 youth each year.  Together, we can raise awareness about these youth, and dispel the negative myths about youth in foster care.  These celebrities are helping to show Americans that we can step up and make a difference.

All you need is love?

This Saturday, the state of California will begin limiting the number of children each foster family can have to 6 children total–whether they are foster, biological, and/or adopted children.  Officials hope this new limit will improve the quality of service children receive while in foster care.

Just yesterday we posted a news article detailing this change on our Facebook wall.  Already, there has been an outpouring of comments related to this significant change.  The comments received have been mixed–several who spent time in care themselves advocate this is a much-needed change, while others with personal experience provide opposing opinions.

The fact of the matter is that limiting the number of children in foster homes is not a new concept.  The National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice and Permanency Planning looked into this issue and published a list by state of limitations on the number of children in foster homes.  Their most recent report shows that the majority of states also have a limit of 6 children total in homes.  While some state have limits as low as 4 or as high as 8 children, there are other requirements based on factors such as special needs or mental health diagnoses.

Recently, Florida was in the news after a 17-month old child died in a foster home due to overcrowding.  This led to the creation of a task-force to investigate foster homes with more than 5 children.

On the other side of the coin, we also cannot ignore that there is a severe gap in the number of children in care and the number of licensed foster homes across the nation.  Already, over 75,000 children currently in foster care live in group homes or institutions.  Research and common sense tell us that children need the structure and support that a family provides.  Recruitment is one topic CCAI will be exploring this year during a May Congressional briefing in celebration of National Foster Care Month.

What’s new with federal child welfare financing?

In November 2009, there were over 40,000 registered lobbyists in Washington, DC.  Not one of these lobbyists was working without a bias for children in need of families.  Unlike big industries with money, orphaned children do not have a voice on the Hill or a presence in DC.  This is exactly the reason CCAI exists.  We represent the needs of children by using our unique relationship with Congress to cut through the noise of many voices who seek federal policymakers’ ears to ensure that the needs of orphans and foster children are heard.

Yesterday, a member of our Advisory Board and longtime supporter of CCAI, U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) introduced a bill to use revenue from a new online gambling tax for foster care programs.  McDermott’s bill will be a companion bill to a bill that will legalize online gambling.  There are several other bills currently pending in Congress that address federal financing for foster care.

Just earlier this week, President Obama signed into law the health care legislation which includes an extension to the Adoption Tax Credit.  The Adoption Tax credit was originally set to expire the end of 2010, however, this new provision increases the tax credit from $12,170 to $13,170 for adoptions occurring after January 2010, and extends the tax credit to the end of 2011.  CCAI will be releasing a 411 Report on the history and future of Adoption Tax Credit next month to give more information on why it was introduced and how it is working.  Be sure to check our website for this report.

Another hot item related to child welfare financing is President Obama’s proposed FY 2011 budgetCWLA published a report to analyze how Obama’s proposed budget will impact federal financing of child welfare programs and services.

CCAI continues to monitor legislation that will impact foster care and adoption, as well as provide education and resources to policy makers as they work to introduce and pass legislation that will affect vulnerable children around the world.

Counting down to ‘FYI Season’

It’s no secret around here that summer is one of the most exciting and favorite times for CCAI.  With our programs in full swing, and almost as many interns as staff members, there’s a certain energy in the office that cannot be matched.

Now, those of us in DC are finally putting away our winter coats, driving around with our windows rolled down, and anxiously awaiting the cherry blossoms‘ peak bloom.  But we think what’s even more exciting  is that in just 2 months the 2010 FYI Class will be ascending on DC to start this year’s FYI program.

Picture of the 2009 FYI Class taken during the retreat to Danville, PA

Just earlier this week one of our FYIs from last summer called the office.  We’re privileged to not only share a life-changing  summer with these interns, but to also be included in their lives months and years after they return to their homes.  John Paul said something to us so touching that I asked him if I could share his thoughts.  I believe his words are powerful and speak to the influence of the FYI program much better than any CCAI staff member ever could.  John Paul said,

John Paul, left
‘When I came to the FYI program, it was different.  I had never experienced a program for former foster youth that treated us like capable adults or expected us to be able to surpass our peers.  Chelsea, Emily, Mark, Rebecca, and Kathleen pushed us and encouraged us when times got hard.  My supervisor from last summer and I still talk to each other and have lunch together when I visit DC. During the FYI program, I learned so much about myself and my abilities that I have been able to push pass the fear that I might not be good enough for the real world.  Every time things start to get hard or I start doubting that I can do something, I just remember the experiences I had with the FYI program and how I could do things I never thought I’d be able to do.  I got the opportunity to do something that so few people my age get to do, let alone former foster youth.  Without the FYI program, I know that I would never be aware that I could be as good as anyone else, if not better.’

Please continue to check back as we continue to prepare for the arrival of 12 extraordinary students who will soon be making their way to DC to forever impact the lives of foster children as they too are forever changed.

An Intern’s Perspective: Inside CCAI

This week marks the beginning of my third month as an intern at the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

When I first began working here in mid-January, I knew exactly what I hoped to gain from my internship—work experience, exposure to federal policy, and a better understanding of the international adoption process that brought my cousin to the United States last year. However, I wasn’t really sure what would be expected from me. Coming into my internship, I had some knowledge of CCAI and its activities, but only a vague image of the role that I would play in the organization. Part of me was afraid that I would spend the entire spring doing menial tasks.

It didn’t take long for that to change. Within my first week on the job, I was taking notes at a State Department briefing on the state of intercountry adoptions in Haiti. Since then, I have done everything from updating the CCAI website, to researching pending foster care legislation for our bimonthly newsletter. A couple of weeks ago, I was on the phone all day alerting members of congress about an opportunity to sign on to a letter concerning adoptions from Nepal.

Of course, that isn’t to say that I don’t do my fair share of clerical work. As one of only two interns in the office, I spend a lot of time doing things like entering people into our database, editing spreadsheets, and answering the phone.

But while I used to think that stuffing envelopes and making copies was nothing but busy work, that has changed in the time that I have spent at CCAI. No matter how many envelopes I stuff, or how many copies I make—I have never once felt like any of the work I do here is meaningless. We have such a small office that the impact of my work is readily apparent, and such a close-knit staff that it is always appreciated.

The view from behind my desk.

A lot of things have changed since I started working here, but my personal favorite change has been to the wall in front of my desk. Initially it was pretty boring to look at, but I have started to decorate it over the past few weeks. Each sticky note has some words of wisdom or inspiration passed on to me from a member of our staff. At the end of my internship, I hope that I can look up and see an entire wall filled with notes.

And, much like I can say now that CCAI is helping me to change my wall into something that I can enjoy looking at, I hope that I can someday look back and say that I helped them change the world into a place where more children and families can enjoy living.