(Photo: Carri Kern)
A coalition of advocacy groups, including Saddleback Church, sent a letter to Sec. of State John Kerry asking him to put a stop to U.S. Department of State actions that are preventing orphans from being united with adoptive families in the United States.
The State Department, through the Office of Children's Issues, the letter claims, has done more "to prevent rather than promote progress" on ensuring an effective and secure international adoption system.
The State Department has sought to work through the Hague Convention of the United Nations to ensure that all international adoptions are conducted fairly for legitimate orphans. Since adopting the Hague Convention, however, international adoptions have plummeted, leaving tens of thousands of orphans that could have been adopted by American families stuck in orphanages, the letter points out.
Since 2008, the letter states, 13 countries have adopted the Hague Convention, but no adoptions have taken place in any of those countries because the State Department has ruled they are out of compliance with the Hague. The State Department, though, has no transparent process for how those nations become compliant.
In one of several examples mentioned in the letter, a State Department delegation traveled to Vietnam in 2012 and declared the nation to be out of compliance with the Hague. There was no explanation provided, though, for why they were out of compliance, and what the nation should do to become compliant. USAID even helped fund a program to help Vietnam become compliant, but there has been no accounting of how that money was spent, despite repeated requests.
"We are very concerned about the lack of clear and explicit criteria for measuring a country's compliance with the Convention; the lack of open communication about how such determinations are made, reviewed periodically, and reversed; the lack of information about how the Department of State is engaging with the Central Authorities of the other countries to overcome obstacles; and lack of timeliness in engaging with other countries to help ensure a smooth transition in Hague partnership," the letter states.
Craig Juntunen, one of the signers and founder of Both Ends Burning, and international adoption advocacy group, pointed out that since 2004 international adoptions to parents in the United States have dropped from 23,000 to less than 9,000. And if the international adoption rate had remained the same since 2004, he calculates that an additional 60,000 children would be raised in a family today rather than an orphanage.
"Scientific research has documented," Juntunen said, "the harm that occurs to children in these circumstances. Their mental and physical development is permanently impacted. We are hopeful that Secretary Kerry will take action to re-establish connections with countries whose children are in dire need."
Kerry has a niece who was adopted from China and has spoken of the benefits of international adoption. In a November message honoring National Adoption Month, he called for more international adoptions.
The coalition, which calls itself the "Children in Families Working Group," includes: American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, Both Ends Burning, Center for Adoption Policy, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, Harvard Law School Child Advocacy Program, Joint Council for International Children's Services, Kidsave, National Council For Adoption, and Saddleback Church Orphan Care Initiative.