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Boston College and Harvard Professors Advocate for Unparented Children

In late May, Democratic co-sponsors David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Brian Higgins of New York, Jim McDermott of Washington, and Republican Representative Tom Marino of Pennsylvania introduced a piece of legislation that would enable the United States government to remedy institutionalized discrimination by reforming domestic adoption practices. Professor Elizabeth Bartholet, Faculty Director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School and Professor Paulo Barrozo, Director of the Clough Center for Constitutional Democracy at Boston College Law School, have sought to encourage adoption reform in such a capacity over the past few years and have been following recent congressional initiatives to address the dilemma. The bill introduced in late May can be said to build on the provisions that Professors Bartholet and Barrozo have advocated for in earlier bills, including the Children in Families First Act (CHIFF).

The new bill seeks to make the State Department discontinue discriminatory practices against institutionalized children whose fundamental rights have been violated through faulty adoption practices, the passage of which "would put the United States in an important position of international human rights leadership," Professor Barrozo commented in an article co-authored with Professor Bartholet.

The bill can also be said to represent the culmination, per se, of pleas to Congress made by Harvard and Boston College faculty members in recent years to implement reformative measures with respect to the faulty and imprudent adoption system. For instance, in 2014, 34 faculty members from Harvard Law School and 24 from Boston College Law School signed and sent a letter to Congress encouraging it to pass the Children in Families First Act–a piece of legislation that laid some of the groundwork for the introduction of the May 2016 bill.

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Photo courtesy of Tumblr

CHIFF was introduced by Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana in Oct. 2013, and it sought to expedite the often tedious and drawn-out adoption process by rapidly placing children in families. The bill stressed the fundamental right of every child to a permanent family. Landrieu consulted Professors Bartholet and Barrozo in drafting the bill in order to solicit guidance regarding legal jargon.

"The purposes of this Act are to support the core American value that families are the bedrock of any society," read the first lines of the Children in Families First Act, which can be found here."Preference should be given to initiatives that optimize a child's best interest, which generally means options which provide children with fully protected legal status and parents with full legal status as parents, including full parental rights and responsibilities."

Children in Families First (CHIFF) sought fundamentally to affirm the acknowledgement of a child's inalienable right to a permanent family, and the provisions made therein committed the United States government to the vindication of that right. CHIFF also emphasized that the discernment of whether or not adoption is domestic or international should be prioritized as it is not always logistically facile to reunify children with their biological parents.

CHIFF additionally called for the priority of domestic adoption through "concurrent planning," so in the case that domestic adoptive homes are not "ready available," children would be placed in "international adoptive homes."

The new bill introduced in May 2016, which built upon the provisions made in CHIFF, has received widespread support and acclaim from a contingent that represents experts in human rights and child welfare in cahoots with other organizations that have demonstrated their dedication to protecting the rights of unparented children over the years. These organizations include the National Council for Adoption, the Center for Adoption Policy, the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, Both Ends Burning, Saddleback Church Orphan Care Initiative, and the Harvard Law School Child Advocacy Program.

Professors Barrozo and Bartholet's endeavors to advocate for and preserve the rights of unparented children also include bringing a case before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. The case emphasized the permanence of the family unit and the family's duty to provide children with the resources needed to grow and thrive. Professor Barrozo has since commenced work on an initiative to design a global strategy to aid of children who do not have a family environment to benefit from.

Commenting on the bill introduced in May 2016, Barozzo and Bartholet asserted: "It is a simple bill, [consisting] of only a few lines of text; but it would have a profound effect on one of the most significant human rights crises of our time."

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