Putting Family First – The USG’s Action Plan for Children in Adversity

19 12 2012

zemzemI first met Zemzem in a southern village in Ethiopia.  As we sat in her small store which proudly stood at the entrance path to her village she told me about her sister who had died four years prior and of her struggle to raise her four nieces and nephews.  With no income other than a monthly contribution from a U.S. based sponsorship program, she found caring for four children more than she could bear.   With no government help available and no aid other than the inadequate monthly stipend, Zemzem placed the youngest of the children in an orphanage and expressed her hope that another family would love and parent her niece.  After months of languishing in the orphanage, her niece ultimately found an appropriate, safe, permanent family in the U.S.

As we continued to sit in the cramped space that was both her store and the home for herself and her now three children, Zemzem spoke with sadness about her loss, her longing to know how her niece was doing with her new family, and her decision to place another of her children in the orphanage.  And yet despite the sadness in her story, Zemzem’s eyes lit up with a hope and pride I so often see in the families I meet in my journeys.

Why with so much loss and sadness did Zemzem’s eyes light up?  Because the NGO that facilitated the adoption of her niece began an innovative family strengthening program in her village.  After one-year of training and two small loans, Zemzem has a thriving business selling much needed grains, bread and nuts to her community (with plans to begin wholesaling!).   With great pride Zemzem spoke of how she no longer needs the monthly aid on which she had become dependent.  Her business produced more than 3 times the income of the stipend and she no longer felt the need to place any of her children in the orphanage.

Zemzem closed our time together with pride, hope, and also a bit of a sales pitch asking for investors in her business.  But what I really saw in her was not only a savvy business owner, but a proud mother who with some one-time support, moved from loss and sadness to hope and fulfillment.

Before there was a US Government Action Plan for Children in Adversity, Zemzem’s life and story embodied it.   Just like Zemzem and the programs that gave her the ability to put her family first, the Action Plan puts family first by enabling families to care for their children; prevent unnecessary family-child separation and promotes appropriate, protective and permanent family care.  As just as Zemzem spoke with pride and hope built on sadness, we too should be sad that it took us this long to state the importance of family care for all children and yet filled with hope that the Action Plan will support evidence based programs; from family preservation to intercountry adoption, that make safe permanent family care a reality for all children.





A Historic Day for Children – The USG Action Plan for Children in Adversity

19 12 2012

APCAClick here to read the U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity

Today at the White House, the U.S. Government will release its first-ever Action Plan on Children in Adversity. This historic Action Plan has been designed with input from scientific, faith-based and civil society communities. Preceding the White House launch, a briefing on the first whole-of-government action plan for international assistance to children in adversity will occur, hosted by the Children in Adversity Policy Partnership (CAPP), a coalition of US-based implementing and advocacy organizations, and the PL109-95 Secretariat for Children in Adversity. Panelists representing these communities will highlight the evidence behind the plan, review how the plan will guide the U.S. Government’s development and diplomatic efforts for vulnerable children, and provide concrete examples of programs that exemplify the Action Plan’s three core objectives:

  • Build Strong Beginnings: increase percentage of children reaching full developmental potential
  • Put Family Care First: reduce percentage of children living outside of family care
  • Protect Children: reduce percentage of girls and boys exposed to violence and exploitation.

The event will be moderated by Kent Hill, World Vision, speakers include Anne Goddard, ChildFund International, Kathleen Strottman, CCAI, Greg Ramm, Save the Children, Elizabeth Styffe, Saddleback Church and Neil Boothby, PL 109-95. The program is interactive and will demonstrate how new science is driving changes in international assistance for children.

WHEN

Wednesday, December 19,2012
9:30am – 11:00 am
Event: 9:30 – 10:15
Q & A: 10:15 – 11:00

WHO

Global Experts in Child Protection:
Anne Goddard, ChildFund International
Kathleen Strottman, CCAI
Greg Ramm, Save the Children
Elizabeth Styffe, Saddleback Church
Neil Boothby, PhD, U.S. Government Special Advisor for PL 109-95
Moderated by: Kent Hill, World Vision

Livestream

Event will be live streamed by the Huffington Post and is also available through the Press Club. Click here to watch the December 19th event

About the Partnership (CAPP)

The “Children in Adversity” Policy Partnership (CAPP) is a coalition of US-based implementing & advocacy organizations dedicated to accelerating bold and strategic U.S. policy action concerning children in adversity.

For more information, please contact Steering Committee members:

Arms Around The Child

Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute

Child Fund International

Kidsave

Joint Council on International Children’s Services

Save the Children

World Vision





Left or Right

28 06 2012

A few years ago Rebecca and I met Angelina, a young woman in a Haitian orphanage.  She was 23 years old.  As she shared stories of her life with us it became painfully obvious that this young woman had lived her entire life in that orphanage.  Sadder yet, in 23 years, she left the compound walls only a few times.  When I asked why she lived at the orphanage she said, “I don’t have any friends out there.  I don’t have any family.  When I walked out the door, I wouldn’t know if I should go left or right”.

Angelina

The damage done to children who grow without a permanent, safe family has been clearly documented over the past few decades.  Most recently, the research of Harvard’s Dr. Jack Shonkroff dramatically demonstrates the crushing effect on a child’s brain development and the 10-year study by University of Maryland’s Dr. Nathan Fox shows the permanent damage to virtually every aspect of a child’s physical and emotional well-being. Despite this and other evidence, much of which was presented at last December’s Summit on Children Without Family Care, untold numbers of children continue to suffer permanent damage.  And for those children who escape the trap of the sex trade or child labor, they, like Angelina, grow into adulthood unable to join society, unable to care for themselves…unable to go left or right.

Tom and Rene

On this trip to Haiti, I visited Rene, a young man Rebecca and I first met two years ago.  Rene has spent 13 years in an orphanage. In only a few years he will be out on his own – that is if he as a 15-year-old teenager is able to behave well enough to be allowed to stay at the orphanage.  As our van left the orphanage grounds, I wondered to whom he would go as he walked through the heavy steel door of the compound for the last time.  I wondered if Rene would go left or right on the dusty mountain road.  And I wondered how he would get the frequent medical care his hydrocephalus required to keep him alive.

When I visit children, when I hear their voices tell their own stories, when I see children whose ears have been chewed by rats, I can’t help but think we are all doing something wrong.  Thousands of non-profits and churches and governments run thousands of programs for children.  The US government spends billions of dollars in international aid for children each year.  Tens of thousands of volunteers and professionals work every day to help children.  Yet Angelia and Rene are just two of the estimated 100,000 children living in over 700 orphanages in Haiti.  Simply put – family life for children is not one of the priorities for the vast majority of NGOs or governments – even the United States government.

There is no US government policy which instructs our foreign aid to ensure children live, grow and thrive in a family.  We have offices for hunger, trafficking, HIV Aids, but none that protects children from life without their family.

Maybe we are not doing something wrong.  Maybe we are not doing enough of what is right.





Strong Leadership in Haiti

27 06 2012

One of the primary reasons we came to Haiti was the recent vote by the Haitian government to ratify the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.  Joint Council has been involved with the Convention since its beginnings in 1993, so when we were asked to provide some input into the Haitian process, it was an easy and eager yes.

The Haitian government, specifically the Institute of Social Welfare and Research (IBESR), has made great strides in serving and protecting children.  The new Director at IBESR, Mme. Arielle Jeanty Villedrouin, was appointed only seven months ago yet already she has moved the country towards implementation of the Convention, registered approximately 500 previously unregistered children’s homes, conducted assessments of 200 and closed three of the worst.  Most recently she closed an orphanage that although it was receiving funding from sources in three countries, the conditions were such that some children’s ears were being chewed by rats.  Having worked in Haiti for 12 years, it is extremely encouraging to see such an educated, impassioned and committed leader at IBESR.

As Mme. Villedrouin moves Haiti toward implementation of the Convention, we are confident that Haiti will not add itself to the list of countries where premature implementation resulted in a closure of adoption, rather than a strengthening of protections and services.  As we said to Mme. Villedrouin, we fully support Haiti’s implementation of the Convention and the protections it will bring to children and families and encourage IBESR to use the Hague Guide to Good Practice as the framework for implementation.  In short, the Hague’s Guide calls for creation of all necessary laws, regulations and processes prior to the Convention ‘entering into force’ in Haiti.

And we are also very encouraged by the Presidential Decree appointing IBESR as the Haitian Central Authority for the Convention.  With such astute and capable leadership, we are sure that Haiti will be one of the first developing countries to use the Convention to protect children and preserve their right to a permanent, safe family.





What Matters Most

22 06 2012

It’s 6:37 and I just made it back to Haiti for the first time since June 2010.  Two years have passed but as the old saying goes, ‘it feels like only yesterday’.

As I write this note, I sit on the balcony of a guest house with a mild breeze cascading over the trees, a few remnants of which make it down to the sweltering workers on the ground floor.  Flowered vines camouflage the razor wire.  Voices, impassioned by the work of carrying for Haiti’s most vulnerable children, resonate through the house.  A nocturnal rooster begins his nightly serenade.  I could be anywhere in the Caribbean, but I’m in Haiti.  One of my favorite places in the world.

Tomorrow morning our work will begin and carry forward for four days.  Four days of meeting the people who matter most – the kids.  And the people who care for them.  We’ll meet with the director of IBESR who is making more strides in protecting children than any IBESR’s Director I’ve ever met.   We’ll meet the caregivers and crèche directors who struggle with too few resources to care for what is increasingly too many children.  And if I’m lucky, I’ll meet Rene again.   You might remember Rene from our work after the 2010 Haiti earthquake.  If not, click here.  He’s quite a young man.

After our days here are over, we will carry on our work back in Washington, in suits and in meetings.  Important work.  But not the type I long for.  Here in Haiti, touching lives and having my life touched.  Seeing the policies and programs we help create actually helping children. This is what I long for.

Feeling the heat.  Breathing the dust.  Holding their hands.  And walking together.  This is what matters.   This is what matters most.

-Tom DiFilipo, Joint Council President & CEO





Valentine’s Day is Tomorrow!

13 02 2012

 

For more information, visit http://www.helpkg65.com/.





Where were you 21 years ago?

9 02 2012

Register for the Child Welfare Symposium today!

Twenty one years ago…what were you doing?  Finishing up college?  Having your first child?  Not yet born?  Twenty one years ago, I attended my very first Joint Council Conference (now called the “Symposium“).  I walked in to a room at the 4-H Club in Chevy Chase, MD (what ever happened to Barb Holton?), with about 35 people in attendance.  I  heard people speak that were as passionate as I about children who needed families.  I was hooked (!) and I have only missed one conference since then. The following year, I heard Dana Johnson speak for the first time and the way I looked at children and how institutionalization affects them would never be the same.

In the beginning, I was a “lurker” and just tried to absorb the massive amounts of knowledge that was available at each conference, but soon I had to get involved! It didn’t take long  before the people I looked up to, became my friends.  I would call on them with problems or concerns.  They would reach out to me.  Together we were involved in committees, caucuses, and the medical day.  I remember bloopers from the podium, meeting new friends (Rebecca Harris, now Director of Programs & Services at Joint Council, I remember meeting you for the first time in San Antonio), and reconnecting with old ones.

Some things have changes a LOT in two decades.  Now, instead of lines at the pay phones in-between sessions, people are doing emails and talking on their smart phones!  But, the most important things have never changed.  Adoption still requires passionate, knowledgeable people who are willing to give their all, to each other and to the children, to create families. We need each other.  We need to learn.  We need honest advice.  We need new ideas.  We need accountability.  We need to find families for vulnerable children.  We need to support one another in the hardest times we, as agencies, have seen.

Twenty years from now, where will you be?  Some of us will be gone, some of us will be retired, some of us will still be carrying the torch.  We need the Joint Council Symposium now  more than ever.  Agencies, send your young employees, your experienced ones, your passionate, your willing to work long hours.

I, for one, could not continue to do my job without the relationships and knowledge that have come from Joint Council. I hope to see you in the Big Apple…..I will be the one with bells on!

Best regards,

Sue Orban

Avid Joint Council Symposium Go’er

Outreach & Education Coordinator at Children’s Home Society and Family Services








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