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 Adoption Advocate No. 15:  NCFA Supports the Families for Orphans Act (FFOA)and the Foreign Adopted Children Equality Act (FACE)
Published August 2009 by Elisa Rosman, Ph.D.


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The Families for Orphans Act (FFOA)

          Research and common sense make clear that permanent homes and families are good for children. The Families For Orphans Act (H.R. 3070 and S.1458), sponsored by Representatives Diane Watson (D-CA) and John Boozman (R-AR) in the House and Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and James Inhofe (R-OK) works towards permanency for all children on an international level. FFOA establishes the Office of Orphan Policy, Diplomacy and Development within the Department of State and provides diplomatic authority to help the millions of children orphaned worldwide and the millions upon millions of vulnerable children who have lost one parent or are at risk of losing parental care.

          In the legislation the term `orphan' means any child:

  • who lacks permanent parental care because of the death, the disappearance of, or the legal, permanent relinquishment of such child by both biological parents;
  • who is living in the care and custody of an institution; • whose biological parents' rights have been legally terminated; or
  • whose country of origin has determined lacks permanent parental care. The new office would be responsible for developing and implementing a comprehensive strategy to support diplomacy and policy focusing on the preservation and reunification of families and the provision of permanent families for orphans. FFOA presents a continuum of options for children which the new office will promote, from reunification, to legal kinship or legal guardianship, to domestic adoption, to international adoption.

           The new office will elevate the plight of children, giving the United States a clear, dedicated diplomatic authority to represent the interests of orphaned children. The office will advise the Secretary of State and President in all matters related to global family preservation and permanent parental care options for orphans. The new office will also conduct research designed to better understand the size of the population of children living without parental care and global efforts to support these children. Finally, the office will also oversee three grant programs to encourage foreign governments to meet minimum standards in terms of child permanency, to support NGOs that are setting the standard for providing services to preserve families and provide permanent parental care for orphans, and to implement a pilot of a model program designed to preserve and reunify families and provide parental care for orphans.

          Terry Baugh, President of Kidsave, highlights the activities supported by the Families for Orphans Act, in the children’s countries. These include:

  • improving public policy in support of the preservation and reunification of families and permanent parental care for orphans reducing the number of children abandoned;
  • reducing the number of families at risk of dissolution;
  • increasing the number of children reunified with their parents;
  • increasing the number of children obtaining legal guardianship and kinship care;
  • increasing the number of children placed for adoption domestically;
  • supporting international adoption for children who cannot be adopted domestically, or reunified with their biological parents;
  • drafting laws and develop systems designed to promote ethical, evidence-based practice in international adoption;
  • increasing the level of expertise and understanding of foreign governments working to preserve and reunify families and promote permanent parental care for orphans;
  • creating and supporting connections with caring, committed adults to older children at risk of or in the process of aging out of institutional care;
  • developing mentoring, visitation and foster adopt programs aimed at recruiting a larger number of individuals willing to provide permanent parental care for orphans; • increasing adoption support services; and
  • creating and improving child welfare and judicial infrastructures, that strengthen and support permanent family care for orphans. While detractors worry that the bill gives the United States too much power over global welfare strategies, might hurt birth families by removing children who are not actually orphans, and favors international adoption over other options, NCFA believes that those criticisms are unfounded. This bill works for the best interest of all children and families, supporting families in reunification efforts when possible, and helping countries push for permanent, stable options when reunification is not possible. International adoption is considered as one of the acceptable child welfare continuum options but only after timely family preservation and kinship and domestic adoption options are not possible.

          This bill would truly be an important step forward for children around the world. As Senator Landrieu said when introducing the bill, FFOA brings much needed coordination to policies related to orphans. It also helps the United States focus on things beyond just health, food, and housing for orphans. Senator Landrieu argued that there is an insufficient global focus on reuniting children with their extended family, and when this option is not possible, looking beyond the family to the possibilities of domestic and international adoptions. Chuck Johnson, Coalition member and Chief Operating Officer for the National Council For Adoption explains that, “The Families for Orphans Act emphasizes that activities that keep a child in the country of birth through family preservation, domestic adoption, legal guardianship and kinship care, are always the preferred child welfare methods. However, when these are not timely options, a family through international adoption is clearly in the best interests of those children languishing in orphanages or living in temporary foster care.”

For the full text of the bill, see: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h111-3070

 

The Foreign Adopted Children Equality Act (FACE)

          The Foreign Adopted Children Equality Act (FACE, H. R. 3110 and S.1359) was also introduced by Representatives Diane Watson (D-CA) and John Boozman (R-AR) in the House and Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and James Inhofe (R-OK). It allows for a child adopted internationally to acquire U.S. citizenship at the time his/her adoption is finalized in the country of the child’s birth, rather than waiting until the child enters the United States. If enacted, internationally adopted children will be classified as “citizens from birth” and able to travel home as Americans, and not on immigration visas.

          FACE brings needed changes to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA). The CCA was originally enacted to provide automatic U.S. citizenship to internationally adopted children of American citizens. As it stands now, however, the internationally adopted child of a U.S. citizen only receives U.S. citizenship once the child enters the U.S. to reside permanently. If enacted, the FACE Act would allow such children to acquire U.S. citizenship at the time their adoptions are finalized in their country of birth. The child would then enter the U.S. as a U.S. citizen with citizenship documentation in hand. This removes internationally adopted children of American citizens from the immigration process saving time, money and, for many, travel costs. Passage of the FACE Act also fixes one unintended consequence of the current system. That is, there are large numbers of internationally adopted children that have lived most of their lives in the United States but unknowingly are not citizens because their parents failed to take the necessary steps at the time of adoption to acquire citizenship status for their children. These individuals are not entitled to the basic rights of U.S. citizenship, and have been denied scholarships, military service, and some have been deported for committing minor crimes despite being the children of U.S citizens and having lived in the U.S for the majority of their lives.

          FACE makes an additional change impacting older orphans and allowing for them to be adopted. These children were overlooked in the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. “Prior to the Hague’s passage, children age 16 to 18 whose younger siblings had been adopted by an American were able to be adopted by the same American family,” said Terry Baugh, President of Kidsave. “The Hague eliminated all adoption opportunities for children 16 and over. The FACE Act will fix this oversight and expand the opportunity of a permanent family to all children up to age 18.”

          Detractors are concerned that passage of FACE would eliminate safeguards that are in place to protect children adopted abroad and would diminish the birth histories of adoptees and ties to their countries of birth. NCFA, as well as numerous other adoption advocates, disagree with these arguments. FACE does not alter any requirements for adoptive parents. It also continues to uphold all safeguards that are currently in place to ensure that fraud and trafficking are not involved with placing a child for adoption. As for the argument that FACE will erase a child’s birth history and ties to his/her country of birth, McLane Layton, the president of Equality for Adopted Children (EACH) eloquently counters this argument. “Granting of citizenship from birth cannot eliminate the fact of where a child was born, or to whom that child was born, or deprive them of their original citizenship rights any more than what occurs now when U.S. citizenship is granted to them under the CCA. To the extent a foreign country allows dual citizenship and the privileges that accompany that citizenship, that child will always have those privileges as a citizen of that country in the eyes of that country. No legislation passed by the U. S. Congress can change citizenship laws of other countries.”

          This bill is another important step forward for internationally adopted children and their families. As McLane Layton concludes in her open letter to the adoption community, “The sponsors of the FACE Act - Senator Mary Landrieu, Senator Jim Inhofe (S.1359) and Representative Diane Watson and Representative John Boozman (H.R. 3110) are great friends and supporters of the adoption community and have crafted a bill that will provide equality under the law for our internationally adopted children and allow them to benefit in all ways from full American citizenship.”

For the full text of the bill, see: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill

 

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Both of these bills are wholeheartedly endorsed by the Families for Orphans Coalition, a group formed to focus attention and resources on the plight of orphans worldwide. Member organizations are: Buckner International, EACH, Joint Council on International Children’s Services, Kidsave International, NCFA, The Institute for Human Services/North American Resource Center for Child Welfare, The Institute for Orphan Advocacy, Weaving Families, and Worldwide Orphan Foundation.

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