“Families for Orphans Act”–All about adoption, or something more?

It is interesting to note the debate over a new legislative initiative designed to focus US foreign policy more squarely on the global social orphan problem–the Families for Orphans Act.  JCICS and other child welfare and adoption groups are spearheading an effort to have interested persons contact their congressional representatives to support passage. See the JCICS explaination, at http://www.jcics.org/families%20for%20orphans.htm

This has not surprisingly stirred a bit of controversy. The adoption reform group, Ethica, seems to see in this a back door way to promote international adoption over what it calls “local solutions”–by ignoring what it refers to as “cultural norms.”  Ethica recommends that the US get itself into the global mainstream of children’s rights by ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, for instance. See http://www.ethicanet.org/international-adoption-ethica%e2%80%99s-positions-on-pending-legislation

 

The legislation raises many complex issues, but my own view of the initiative and the reactions is roughly as follows:

–It is important for the US to articulate a coherent, multifaceted policy that insists on permanency and makes clear that the US will support permanency–also that where adoption is available, foster care (apart from circumstances I have already described) is not an adequate alternative.  The spectacle of the US simply criticising countries for non-ethical adoption procedures (which is fine in itself) but then stopping there–not investigating, not helping to develop better policies, has been very troubling. (Has the US government been pro-active enough on orphan issues in Vietnam and Cambodia, for instance?)

–Secondly, the US, and adoption advocates in general, will not be successful without paying close attention to issues of poverty and dispossession. Original families and cultures matter, and really matter. But the point at which reunification efforts must end and rights to alternative arrangements for children begin will be a matter of effort, investment and individualised determination.

–Ratification of the UNCRC would be tremendously important, allowing the US to get a voice at the table on the Committee on the Rights of the Child and elsewhere. The UNCRC has been badly interpreted and applied in the orphan context–I have long said so. It is ambiguous and is often relied on in ways that do not in the end serve the interests of children.

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