The Tragedy of Children Left in Limbo

The U.S. needs to do more to ease the international adoption process.

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Kyrgyz orphans play in an orphanage in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013.

According to reliable estimates, there are nearly 10 million children around the world who, if global bureaucrats would merely get out of the way, could be adopted into loving, permanent families.

Unfortunately for those involved, the process to complete an international adoption is often time-consuming, paperwork laden and expensive. Some estimates put the total cost involved in adopting a child from an overseas orphanage at close to $30,000. And it can takes years between the time a match is made between prospective parents and an adoptable child before they can live together as a family.

There are many villains in this tragic story. One is UNICEF, the United National International Children’s Fund, which will show up in a developing country and offer the government large quantities of cash if it will only establish a regularized social welfare system to care for abandoned and orphaned children. Too often, UNICEF’s intervention leads to a cessation of international adoptions until all of its recommendations are in place.

[See Photos: Obama Pays Visit to Preschool Children.]

Another is the United States Department of State, which is not doing what it needs to do to protect the interests of children, and instead is all too deferential to the international adoption bureaucracy born out of The Hague convention on the issue.

It is a tragedy that so many children of so many races, creeds and ages are waiting in sub-standard conditions without anyone to hold them or care for them or love them. It is equally tragic that so many American families who would welcome these children, who would take them in as their own, are not getting the support they need from the U.S. government.

A new documentary film, Stuck, executive produced by Craig Juntunen and the group Both Ends Burning, shows just how the system isn’t working. It shows how, time and again, children who have already been matched to a family and who have met their prospective parents have their adoptions blocked by faulty paperwork, bureaucratic requirements and, worst of all, plain, ordinary indifference by U.S. officials.

The problem has come to the attention of some in Congress and they are getting ready to propose a way to deal with it. Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., are preparing legislation, Children in Families First, to establish and fund an inter-governmental agency that is intended to get a handle on the problem. It will be modeled on what was done in the apparently successful effort under George W. Bush to finally get serious about combating international trafficking in women and children.

[Read Peter Roff: How the U.S. Could Do More to Aid Kidnapped Children]

It’s a well-intentioned effort that should streamline, simplify and consolidate the processing of international adoption cases. It will establish additional and improved post-placement follow-up services for international adoptions, which many believe will help the United States work better with other countries and support the needs of adoptive families here in the U.S.

The problem, and there is always a problem when making changes of this magnitude, is that there will almost certainly be bureaucratic resistance from within the State Department itself, which values stability and the status quo above all else. A new agency to push international adoptions through will likely be viewed as a hindrance to the normal course of business in which the diplomats and foreign services officers that make up the department’s career employees are so busily engaged.

In order to really address the problem, Congress does not need to propose or even pass legislation; it simply must get serious about communicating to the State Department bureaucracy that children – whether they are part of an international adoption, are being trafficked into the sex trade or have been abducted from the United States by non-custodial parents or guardians and need to be brought back home – are now a priority. Congress needs to turn up the heat at Foggy Bottom and make sure everyone is clear that business as usual is no longer an option, not while so many children around the world are suffering and so many Americans are willing to take them in.

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