In Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, considered one of the greatest films of all time, James Stewart portrays a newly appointed senator fighting against a corrupt political system. In real life there is no Mr. Smith to send to Washington, D.C., to fight for adoption causes, but adoption advocacy is occurring in our nation’s capital. Organizations are in place to assist federal lawmakers in addressing adoption and child welfare issues with the goal of finding a stable and loving home for all children.
Since adoption is entirely a creature of state law, federal law does not address the procedural aspects of how adoption is accomplished. Nevertheless, there are issues within the federal purview which impact adoption and can make the process more streamlined and less expensive; these issues can be the subject of federal legislation for which advocacy is needed. Two examples of such issues are the federal adoption tax credit, which provides financial assistance to adoptive parents to defray the costs of adopting and U.S. citizenship for foreign-born children adopted by U.S citizens.
The Congressional Coalition on Adoption (CCA), an organization composed of federal legislators, focuses on issues related to adoption, foster care, and domestic and international child welfare. CCA is an informal alliance of members of Congress and is the largest bicameral, bipartisan congressional member organization. Four members of Congress, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX), Sen. Gordon Humphrey (R-NH), Rep. Tom Billey (R-VA), and Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN), collaborated to form CCA in 1985. These legislators recognized a common goal that transcended party lines and geographical areas—for every child to have a permanent, safe, and loving family of his or her own.
As of July 19, 2019, CCA was comprised of 143 members. With a total of 535 elected officials in Congress (100 senators and 435 representatives), approximately one-fourth of the members of Congress belong to CCA. Among CCA members, major party affiliation is almost evenly split with 70 Democrats and 72 Republicans belonging to the alliance; one Independent is also a CCA member. Both houses of Congress are represented in CCA; 45 members are senators, and 98 members are representatives. CCA has two cochairs in each house of Congress. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), a 2020 election presidential candidate, and Roy Blount (R-MO) are the Senate cochairs. Donna Shalala (D-FL) and Robert Aderholt (R-AL) are the House cochairs.
Rep. Shalala, elected to Congress in 2018, is the newest CCA cochair. She previously served as Secretary of Health & Human Services under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 2001, making her the longest-serving HHS secretary. Shalala has embraced her new position as House cochair for CCA, stating in a press release, “I’m honored to play a role in creating and promoting legislation that will build families.”
With numerous caucuses in Congress, some elected officials may not be aware of the existence of the 35-year-old CCA. Citizens with an interest in adoption and child welfare may contact their elected officials to encourage them to join CCA if they are not already members. A list of CCA members for the 116th Congress can be found at this link.
CCA leads legislative efforts to pass legislation to promote adoption and child welfare. The Hope For Children Act and the Intercountry Adoption Act are two examples of laws which the organization worked to get passed.
In 2001 the then four CCA cochairs created the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI), a nonprofit organization to support CCA. In creating CCAI, its founders sought to provide CCA members with information and resources which would assist them in legislative efforts to provide a home for every child. CCAI, physically located on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C., is funded by gifts and donations from organizations such as the Dave Thomas Foundation For Adoption as well as from individuals. While CCA and CCAI are distinct entities, they work together towards common goals related to the welfare of children.
CCAI has a couple of specific goals. First, the organization aims to raise awareness about the needs of children without families. Secondly, it strives to remove policy barriers which hinder children from experiencing a loving, supportive family. CCAI does not, however, endorse specific legislation.
To achieve its stated goals, CCAI operates several programs. Perhaps the most well known of these programs is the Angels in Adoption Program. Through this signature public awareness program, CCAI annually recognizes adoption advocates from every state in the U.S. Members of Congress may nominate a constituent for work in child welfare, foster care, and adoption. National Angel awards are also presented to those whose contributions have had a national impact. High-profile individuals who have received this national award include Rosie O’Donnell, Laura Bush, Al Roker, Shonda Rhimes, and Bruce Willis. Angels in Adoption award winners are honored in events held each fall in Washington, D.C.
CCAI’s Congressional Resource Program provides objective, timely, and relevant information in order to educate policymakers on topics critical to federal adoption and child welfare policy. The organization recognizes that knowledge is power. It seeks to serve as a catalyst for action by helping legislators use their power to make a difference for children who need a family.
Through CCAI, CCA members are afforded the opportunity to participate in educational events throughout the year, including congressional briefings. These members may also contact CCAI with specific adoption or foster care policy questions or concerns. CCAI maintains online resources available to CCA members including facts and statistics and policy resources both domestic and international. In order to keep CCA members informed, CCAI sends out legislative alerts, monthly policy update emails, and policy reports. Policy reports cover a range of foreign and domestic topics including the federal adoption tax credit, adoption and immigration, and foster care reform. The organization offers roundtable discussions as well as phone consultations and in-person meetings.
Not only is CCAI a good resource for CCA members, but also citizens in general can benefit from the organization’s efforts. CCAI provides a summary of pending legislation which impacts the adoption, foster care, and child welfare areas. This summary can be accessed via the Internet at this link. On this site, the legislative summary for the 116th Congress as of September 26, 2019, 18 pages in length, may be reviewed. Information provided in the summary includes the bill number, name of the bill, the date the bill was introduced, the sponsor of the bill, and the status of the bill.
One of the bills listed in CCAI’s legislative summary as of September 26, 2019, is the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2019. This bipartisan legislation seeks to close a loophole in the Child Citizenship Act which prevents children adopted internationally who are now adults from receiving U.S. citizenship despite being raised by U.S. citizen parents; if enacted, this legislation would ensure that such individuals are granted automatic citizenship. Senate Bill 1554 was sponsored by Sen. Roy Blount, a Senate cochair of the CCA, clearly indicating that members of CCA are actively involved in introducing and moving forward legislation which will impact child welfare. Similarly, a House cochair, Rep. Robert Aderholt has sponsored dozens of bills relating to adoption and child welfare issues.
The FYI (Foster Youth Internship) Program is a CCAI summer program which allows twelve current or former foster youth to serve as congressional interns for nine weeks in Washington, D.C. Begun in 2003, the highly competitive program raises the awareness of federal policymakers by allowing them to interact directly with undergraduate or graduate young adults who have personally experienced the foster care system. In order to be eligible for selection, an individual must have spent at least 24 consecutive months and/or at least 36 months in the U.S. foster care system.
The intensive FYI program offers its interns the opportunity to use their personal experiences to help effect legislative change. A tangible product from the summer internship is a federal child welfare policy report created by the interns. The information from the polity report is presented in a briefing to members of congress and to via a press conference to the public. Since 2003, over 205 current or former foster youths have been given the chance to work on Capitol Hill as a result of the FYI program.
CCAI’s 20/20 Vision Program is a public-private partnership which seeks to build relationships and increase communication and dialogues between members of Congress, government officials, and leaders in the private sector. The program offers organized educational fact-finding trips both in the U.S. and abroad which allow participants to learn firsthand about the needs of children living without families. Briefings by experts also provide valuable information to 20/20 Vision Program members.
In addition to these specific programs, CCAI partnered with the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Children’s Action Network, and others, in founding National Adoption Day. The annual event, which allows thousands of adoptions to be finalized, seeks to bring attention to the need for adoptive homes for children in foster care—a number in the six figures. Over 400 cities in the U.S. plan one-day events for National Adoption Day. As a result of these efforts, over 70,000 children in foster care have realized their dream of having a forever family.
With CCA and CCAI in existence, mechanisms are in place in the nation’s capital for adoption advocacy to occur. But are such organized efforts necessary? With approximately a hundred bills listed in CCAI’s current list of pending legislation, the need for adoption advocacy is clear.
Legislation before the 116th Congress related to adoption and child welfare covers a wide array of topics. Subjects addressed include, among many others, citizenship for adoptees, the federal adoption tax credit, intercountry adoption statistics, provision of services for placing birth mothers, support for older caretaker relatives, and healthcare coverage continuity for former foster care youth. Elected representatives cannot be experts on every subject. CCAI is available to provide helpful information to CCA members so that representatives are in a position to make informed decisions when faced with a vote on pending legislation or when they are considering sponsoring legislation.
The Adoption Tax Refundability Act of 2019, S. 1652, sponsored by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), is a good example of legislation for which elected officials might need information CCAI could provide. Tax issues are complex, and an understanding of the change in how the tax credit is handled (refundable versus nonrefundable) and how that change might affect adoptive parents would be important for a congressman to know before voting on this legislation. Learning that two of the thirteen cosponsors of the bill, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Roy Blount, are cochairs of the CCA might indicate the change is one viewed as beneficial for adoptive parents. CCAI, which regularly disseminates adoption statistics, would be able to provide elected officials with facts and figures about the high cost of adoption, a driving factor in the reason why the federal adoption tax credit was devised.
Adoption advocacy may not have the drama and entertainment value of a classic movie such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but its impact for children in need of a family can be life-altering. CCA brings together a significant number of elected officials in Congress in an alliance that transcends party affiliations. Despite the existence of a divisive political environment, these members are undertaking a unified effort to produce and pass legislation which assists in the goal of providing a home for children who need one. CCAI, although not endorsing legislation, exists to support this effort by providing facts, information, and expertise to CCA members, private sector leaders, and government officials who work in areas involving or affecting adoption, foster care, and child welfare; it also runs programs which raise awareness of issues in these areas.
Many things in Washington, D.C., may be characterized as broken, but adoption advocacy is not one of them. It is a shining example of efforts in the political arena which are working to aid some of the most vulnerable members of society—children. This advocacy may not win a Best Picture Award, but it will make a difference in the lives of those who are our future.