A bill was introduced yesterday that would establish a new State Department bureau, with a Senate-confirmed leader, to handle international child welfare issues, including the increasingly thorny issue of international adoptions.
The Children in Families First (CHIFF) Act – introduced yesterday by U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) – would establish the Bureau of Vulnerable Children and Family Security at the U.S. Department of State.
“There is no substitute for a permanent, loving family,” said Landrieu. “And while our foreign policy has done much to keep children alive and healthy, it has not prioritized this basic human right.”
The new bureau would replace the Office of Children’s Issues as the central authority at the State Department on these issues. It would be led by a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary under the Secretariat for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights.
Chief among the new bureau’s priorities, according to the bill language, would be:
Representing the U.S. government in discussions and negotiations related to international adoptions. The assistant secretary will have lead responsibility in determining whether countries are eligible to participate in international adoptions under the Hague Adoption Convention.
Helping foreign governments “respond to” and “protect children from” abuse and neglect.
Building family preservation, reunification and kinship care capacity in other countries, while also promoting domestic and international adoption.
CHIFF also relieves the Justice Department from a role in international child welfare activities, and places its responsibilities with the Department of Homeland Security, which did not exist when the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 was signed into law.
Those responsibilities include the development and maintenance of two databases: one tracking international adoption agencies, and another tracking internationally adopted children.
The bill would also establish, with an authorization of $120 million over four years, a Center of Excellence on Children in Adversity, to be housed at the United States Agency for International Development.
The bill will begin with six co-sponsors: Richard Burr (R-N.C.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mark Kirk, (D-Ill.), Elizabeth Warren, (D-Mass.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)
John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change