There are millions of children worldwide who are living without families, either in orphanages or on the streets. Oftentimes, the orphanages are understaffed and ill-equipped. According to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, there are approximately 17.9 million orphans who currently need homes.

The official website for the Children in Families First Act (CHIFF Act) describes the plight of these children: “Children without parents are the most vulnerable children in the world. They are alone, they are often out of sight, and they are voiceless.”

This is why it is alarming to many that international adoptions in the United States have been in sharp decline for nearly a decade. In 2004, nearly 22,991 children were adopted internationally. In 2012, that number fell to 8,668. A large part of that 62% decrease in international adoptions is the result of countries changing their policies. Many countries used to release large numbers of orphans to foreign adoptive families. China imposing stricter requirements for adoptive parents in 2007 is one significant example. Another is Russia’s gradual decrease in (and eventual 2012 ban of) U.S. citizens adopting Russian children.

Monitoring Adoption Requirements

However, many people believe that the U.S. government has control over the factors leading to decreased international adoptions. These include the way the U.S. determines whether countries are in compliance with certain adoption requirements.

Advocates of the CHIFF Act have remarked that there is a tendency for the United States to close off countries for adoptions too quickly—and then to reopen them too slowly.

In a December letter to Senator John Kerry, a group of adoption advocates described specific concerns about how the U.S. has determined a country’s compliance with various adoption requirements. It described concerns about nations experiencing unnecessary restrictions while housing children in desperate need of families.

These adoption advocates write,

“As a first example, on December 5, we learned that the Government of Cambodia has announced plans to resume placing children for international adoption beginning in 2014. This is welcome news as it has been more than 12 years since all international adoptions from Cambodia stopped. During this period, tens of thousands of children in Cambodia have had no chance at a permanent family and have instead grown up or died in institutional care or ended up on the streets. Closing international adoptions did nothing to alleviate the plight of unparented children in Cambodia (or anywhere), and, in fact, serves only to eliminate an important protection option for such children. Thus, we welcome the news that Cambodia, which has made changes to their internal structures, is now ready to resume international adoptions.

“However, the Department of State as the Central Authority has retained its notification pasted on its website indicating that the United States does not consider Cambodia to be a Hague partner country because they are not in compliance with the requirements of the Convention. Further, the Department of State has not signaled when, if ever, it will consider Cambodia a Hague partner country, and on the contrary continues to state public venues that Cambodia remains non-compliant.”

The letter specifically endorses CHIFF as a means for implementing meaningful solutions to the problems it outlines. CHIFF is advocating for regulation within the context of continued adoptions.

“It’s really important, when thinking about international adoption, or any humanitarian program, not to lose perspective and get misled because a few tragic cases go badly,” states the official website. “We all grieve those cases. But we don’t shut down hospitals because a hospital’s error causes harm to a patient. We don’t shut down the banking system because a bank gets robbed. Instead, we work to ensure that there are laws in place that protect against errors and crime and prosecute wrongdoers.”

CHIEFF’s advocates are also concerned about the lack of U.S. funding directed toward assisting orphaned children in finding new homes.

“According to a recent report from USAID,” the official website for the act states, “In 2010 US government invested $2.62 billion in 1,900 orphans and vulnerable children projects in 107 countries. According to this same report, only 52 of these projects focused on children outside of family care and ‘finding or supporting permanent families’ was nowhere among the list of interventions funded. This is still the same today. And that is why CHIFF is so important. Without it children outside of family care will continue to be unspoken for and family will remain a consequence, not a focus of, US foreign assistance.

For more information:

Children in Families First Act Seeks to Increase the Number of Orphaned Children Placed With Families

Children in Families FIrst Act is Not the Solution for Child Welfare, Say Opponents