I am greatly honored, and thrilled, to serve as the Special Advisor for Children’s Issues. From my tenure as Director of the Office of Children’s Issues, which focuses on preventing and responding to cases of international parental child abduction and promoting intercountry adoption as a viable option for children in need of loving, permanent homes, I know and appreciate the importance, sensitivity, and complexity of the issues that I will work on. We always say that you can tell a great deal about a country by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens – its children. We owe it to the children to protect their interests and ensure their safety and welfare, whether through returning parentally abducted children to their country of habitual residence or helping orphans find loving, permanent families.
I know that the job won’t be easy. Many cases are hard to resolve and many challenges exist. But that’s all the more reason to keep trying – to promote the Hague Abductionand Adoption Conventions as viable international frameworks addressing international parental child abduction and intercountry adoption so that we and our counterparts overseas all address these issues with a common perspective and a single rulebook, to help countries understand why acceding to and implementing the Conventions are in everyone’s best interests, and to seek resolutions to individual cases.
Ensuring the safety and welfare of children is important work, and I look forward to being part of it. We never forget that there are people involved. That there are parents and children who suffer when a child is wrongfully removed or retained by the other parent. Or the joy of an orphan who joins a loving, permanent family through intercountry adoption. Thankfully, I’m not alone – I am honored to work with a tremendously dedicated team in the Office of Children’s Issues, along with colleagues throughout the Department of State and the U.S. interagency, as well as Congress. We work closely with stakeholders in the private sector as well – individuals, groups, and organizations. It must be a team effort if we are going to make progress on the issues we care about.
I also look forward to working with our international partners, including the Hague Permanent Bureau and our counterparts in foreign Central Authorities. Over the years, we have seen how much can be achieved through these strong partnerships. Working together, we can and do make a difference – not just in one or two cases, but for all the children involved in either international parental child abduction or intercountry adoption.
Since I last worked on these important issues, we have made tremendous progress. As more countries sign on to the Hague Abduction Convention, the resources and options available to left-behind parents have increased. We work closely with our interagency partners to prevent parental abductions from the United States through the Prevent Departure program. And while political, social, and economic factors have meant that fewer children are eligible for intercountry adoption globally, I am proud of the fact that American families continue to adopt half of the world’s orphans, many of them children with special needs or older children. And finally, we have worked with countries of origin to encourage them to develop transparent, ethical child welfare systems that include intercountry adoption.
These are issues that I care deeply about, and it is a great privilege to dedicate my attention to them.
About the Author: Michelle Bernier-Toth is the Special Advisor for Children’s Issues in the Bureau of Consular Affairs.