"There is one issue on which all Americans agree, every child needs a family." This is the slogan used by the supporters of the proposed legislation Children in Families First Act (CHIFF) on their website. The law focuses on solutions for the so-called world orphan problem. Who could be against that platitude? On the website for this law, introduced by democratic senator Mary Landrieu (L.A.), the number estimate of orphans is over 200 million. And CHIFF is there to help them,
[It] brings the need for ethical, transparent and accountable child welfare systems to the forefront. By ensuring systems are in place to help children remain in their family of birth, be reunited with family or be adopted locally or internationally, CHIFF promotes a holistic and preventative approach to strengthening child protections. This strategy is critical to decreasing children's exposure and vulnerability to trafficking, exploitation, violence and neglect.
Who could be against a holistic and preventative approach?
We love Captain America who goes out in the word to save it. And do good for 200 million orphans! But let's also see what he has in his wallet. He has, says the website "a small portion of $2 billion the U.S. Government already spends on assistance programs for children internationally." And politically savvy it adds it won't cost the American taxpayer anything. This whole thing, to save 200 million orphans, can be done for free? Not against that!
Now let's calculate that small portion of $2 billion. Would that be $50 million? I think that is a high estimate, but let's hope for the generosity of all the government agencies, which until now spent that money on other international child welfare issues and which are I gather happy to abandon the kids who they were helping. Of that $50 million, Captain America, says the plan, needs an office in the Department of Foreign Affairs to make sure Captain America can work in coordination and under strong leadership. I worked for Foreign Affairs, albeit for her small Dutch sister, but boy, those offices ain't cheap. $5 million annually, I guess? With spaces and people and communication and travel, lots of travel. And then this office has to find its place in an organizational context of seven different federal departments and 30 different government agencies. As said, I worked for Foreign Affairs, and I know what is going to happen: Let the infighting begin.
But let's look in the wallet again, in detail: Captain America has exactly 22 and half cent per orphan. Wow, that is disappointing. For that money Captain America has to work with the governments of China, Haiti, Poland, Congo, Korea, Vietnam, Ethiopia and so on to help them to set up child welfare systems that could actually provide the choices that CHIFF promises, ensures: family preservation, extended family adoption and in-country adoption. An investment of 22.5 cents per orphan won't you bring very far, even if you believe in America's power to convince other nations to change their ways drastically and to follow America's fine example of the organization of its own child welfare.
In the old lonesome cowboy and superhero tradition, Captain America goes it alone. Why work with other countries? Or with international organizations? 22.5 cents per orphan must do the trick of saving the world. Captain America thinks dollars and doesn't need other people's money.
It is scary that such an unrealistic financial proposal for an enormous human tragedy gets so much attention. Or is CHIFF about something else? Are there other sources of money? Before we go there, it might be good that Captain America researches the realities of child welfare in the countries he wants to help. He only has to open Kathryn Joyce's book The Child Catchers about child trafficking, corruption and fraud; and Laura Briggs' work on the disappearance of the first mothers and families in the common adoption narrative. He can go online and find the academic works on child laundering, of David and Desiree Smolin and their website "Fleas Biting." Captain America can browse in the "PoundPupLegacy" site and then read the Yahoo pages of PEAR (Parent for Ethical Adoption Reform). And he can find these days in the newspaper at least one international adoption scandal on a weekly basis. What Captain America will discover is the total lack of an ethically functioning child welfare system in most foreign countries and discover the corrupting influence of the money of all those American, Dutch, German and French citizens who want to adopt: babies are stolen and trafficked, mothers and fathers deceived. The idea that Captain America could help with family preservation in that dark world with 22.5 cents is fully illusory.
Back to the money. The only serious money available for international child welfare comes from parents who want to adopt through the many, many adoption agencies in the U.S. and elsewhere. But that kind of welfare is necessarily only focused on adoption, the opposite of family preservation and in-family and in-country adoption. The 22.5 cents the American government adds to the welfare money is so low that it can't compete with the money of the agencies. And so international adoption will stay the primary solution for the "orphan crisis." And so will the corruptive influence of private money of individual adopters continue. That means that 200 million children are waiting for an adoptive family: Captain America has to find 40 million viable families in the U.S. and have each family adopt five kids.
This law would not been so flawed and not so much in favor -- maybe not intentionally but for sure technically -- of international adoption, if from the get go those who experienced American international child welfare were not excluded from the discussion, that is the adoptees themselves. Those who were from the fifties on, adopted from Korea and China and other countries got voices, strong voices in their organizations, on the blogs, in their academic studies. These voices were passed by and are still not heard. A rather prestigious academic conference this week at the New York Law School, which is devoted for a part to CHIFF has as speakers only promoters and supporters of the law. Requests to change their panel into a more multi voiced and more democratic platform of exchange led only to haughty irritation with the organizers.
It is hard to tell in what way an orphan law with the input of adoptees would have been different from the current law, but it would for sure have given space not only for rigorous research in the practices in the countries with which the U.S. collaborates, but also in the practices of the adoption agencies here in the country, since money didn't corrupt just only the others, but also us. A law on international child welfare now, without serious reforms in the U.S. and in the target countries first, cannot be pulled of in an ethical manner, since it would continue the often horrible practices under which kids and their families currently suffer immensely. And one other thing would be addressed, I imagine: Captain America had to work with his colleagues in other countries. International adoption is, the term already expresses it, international. And so is the corruption and the fraud.