60 years ago, Bertha Holt championed legislation that helped her and Harry Holt adopt their children from Korea. Since that time, political advocacy has been a cornerstone of Holt’s work. Holt president and CEO Phil Littleton reflects on our development as an organization, and how supporting policies and initiatives that put children first has helped improve child welfare standards and adoptee rights in the United States and around the world. This is the final post in a three-part series. You can read part one here and part two here.
In many ways, Holt International’s roots are planted in political advocacy on behalf of orphaned and abandoned children.
When Harry and Bertha Holt pioneered international adoption in the wake of the Korean War, they first had to enlist the help of the U.S. Congress to legally adopt eight children from Korea — passing what’s become known as the Holt Bill.
In the 60 years since, Holt has had a steady presence drafting, supporting or championing legislation to increase safeguards for children, expand adoption reform and push for greater adoptee rights in the U.S. and abroad. Policy and advocacy is an unwavering commitment of our organization.
Always, we’ve sought to support legislation that puts good policy for children first.
In the 1970s, we sent representatives to help draft the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In the 1980s, two representatives from Holt participated in the Special Commission to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, a treaty, which standardized ethical laws and regulations for international adoption. We’ve also advocated on both state and national levels for access to open records as part of adoption reform.
We also organized the first major gathering of adoptees — the International Gathering of Korean Adoptees in 1999 — and the first reunion of Vietnamese adoptees in 2000.
Today, there are formal and informal adoptee gatherings all over the world and while Holt does not organize these events, we are gratified to see adoptees coming together to celebrate their unique identities and shared history, and joining together in activism.
At times, we’ve also opposed initiatives or efforts that we found violated children’s rights or ultimately could have caused harm to children — even if they seemed to support our core mission. When a massive earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010, leaving thousands dead, we discouraged adoption as the first course of action for children. We knew that many of these children may have been separated from still-living relatives, and that every exhaustive effort should be made to reunite these children with their families.
At the invitation of foreign governments, we’ve been a critical voice and expert in crafting child welfare policies around the world. We’ve advised and helped implement critical child welfare practices in China, Guatemala, India, Vietnam, Australia, Korea, Romania and Thailand, including introducing foster and group home care as preferred alternative for orphaned and abandoned children growing up in institutional care.
In 2000, we supported legislation that granted automatic citizenship to every international adoptee through the Child Citizen Act. While this act passed, it did not grant citizenship to adoptees who were already home, and still many adoptees were left vulnerable to deportation. Through the years, we have intervened in specific deportation cases involving adoptees, advocating for their right to stay in the United States. And today, we support the efforts of adoptee activist groups and lawmakers who seek to pass the Adoptee Citizenship Act, a bill that will grant citizenship to all adoptees, regardless of the year they came home.
Today, adoptees in particular are often at the forefront of advocacy and reform. Many adoptees are full-time activists, championing not only equal rights for adoptees, but raising awareness about racism, the marginalization of people with special needs and gender inequality. These issues have historically perpetuated child abandonment throughout the world and there are no greater voices in the fight to end discrimination and marginalization than adoptees.
This year, we celebrate 60 years of service to children and families around the world. We take great pride in how much we’ve grown, expanded and changed as an organization — particularly our work surrounding policy and advocacy. Our field of work is complex. The issues that cause children to be orphaned, abandoned or vulnerable are different from country to country and child to child. International adoption is also complex, as no one child and no one family is the same. However, we remain committed to a world where every child has a loving and secure home. To achieve this vision, it will take everyone working together — policy makers, lawmakers, activists, adoptees, child development experts, birth families and adoptive families. Whether in Washington, D.C., Seoul, Addis Ababa or Beijing, we can agree on this: no child should ever be alone in the world without a family.
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