An assistant professor in the BC Law School helped organize 24 full-time law professors to sign a letter urging Congress to support the Children in Families First Act of 2013 (CHIFF), legislation that would redirect U.S. resources to ensure that children grow up in families.
Paulo Barrozo, who focuses on international law, criminal law, and legal theory, worked with Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Bartholet to draft the letter of support. Thirty-four professors from Harvard Law have signed it.
“When I wrote my colleagues with detailed background information about CHIFF they immediately saw the importance of the central provisions the letter highlights,” Barrozo said in an email. “Their overwhelming support was forthcoming, and I felt very fortunate to belong to such a faculty.”
The bipartisan legislation was introduced in the Senate on Sept. 19 by Senators Mary Landrieu and Roy Blunt and in the House on Oct. 23 by Representatives Kay Granger and Karen Bass. If passed, CHIFF would realign U.S. foreign assistance and goals to promote adoption throughout the world.
“[This bill] is about recognizing the fundamental truth-and I think universal principle accepted-that children actually belong in families,” Landrieu said in a press conference about the bill in September. “They are born into families-they should stay in those families where they can, family perseveration is important, but when children are separated from families, we need to do … a better job of reconnecting children to families because it’s fundamentally important to their welfare and development.”
By some estimates, there are over 150 million orphans in the world. Over the last eight years, however, there has been about a 62 percent decrease in U.S. families adopting children from other countries. The process can take years to complete, and on average it costs about $30,000, according to the State Department’s 2012 report on inter-country adoption.
“CHIFF would simplify [the adoption] process for families who want to adopt internationally and help foreign governments develop stronger child welfare systems that can find a caring family for every child in need,” said a press release issued by Granger’s office in October.
The bill would not increase current spending levels, but rather it would redirect current funding to new programs that would work more efficiently and effectively. It would create a new State Department bureau by moving the Office of Children’s Issues, Adoption Division into a new office that would advocate for child welfare abroad. A Senate-confirmed leader would lead the new bureau, which would be called the Bureau of Vulnerable Children and Family Security. Further, the bill would permit the State Department to consider countries’ adoption efforts when allocating foreign aid.
The bill would also streamline the roles of U.S. government agencies dealing with adoptions so that they could better partner with religious communities and adoption agencies.
The colleagues’ letter outlines the three major principles of the legislation that the faculty members support. Most importantly, they highlight that CHIFF will recognize that children have a fundamental right to a nurturing and permanent family, and that the bill will commit the U.S. to vindicate this right domestically and abroad.
One of two sub-points the letter addresses is that the bill would prioritize reunifying children with their original parents or finding them homes within their home countries.
“CHIFF comes after millennia of prejudice against adoption and almost two decades of radical discrimination against adoption that brings adopting parent(s) and adopted children across international borders,” Barrozo said.
Some foreign nations have long sent needy children to institutions before allowing them to be adopted by prospective parents from other countries.
“CHIFF promotes the idea that if countries wish to give preference to families residing in country, that preference should be pursued concurrently with adoption across borders,” he said.
In addition to the writing the letter, Barrozo and Bartholet have also contacted every member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Reps. Joe Kennedy and Jim McGovern have signed on as co-sponsors of their house’s version of the bill.