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.





300 Lives

14 07 2011

Seven of us walked into an orphanage in rural China, a brightly lit, clean and active place which serves as home for 300 kids. It was, like so many buildings in China, only a few years old. We walked into a building with new cribs (17 to a room), a well-equipped tactile stimulation room and a clean cafeteria with seating for over 200. But what we really walked into was not simply a building. We walked into 300 lives. 300 little lives filled with activities and therapies but void of a mother’s love. Void of their father’s kiss good night. And void of the hope that someday someone would give them a new life, a new reality…a new family.

The orphanage director was rightly proud of the facility, but also clear about the needs that remain – and grow every day. With the birth defect rate jumping over 40% in the past three years, it’s a challenge just to keep up, let alone expand.

And that is why we are here. To help. To partner. To preserve families and create new ones. To connect and to learn. To give a child with a cleft pallet a specially designed bottle that provides life giving nourishment. To share our collective passion. And privately shed our tears To share what we know, give what we can and marshal the resources to fill in the gaps. To give a moment’s love to a child who won’t make it to age 5. To build a sustainable garden and advocate for more. To walk into 300 little lives…and never leave.

By the ninth day of our journey in China, Christina and I will have assessed dozens of children, evaluated eight orphanages housing over 1,200 children and strategized with 22 government officials at central, provincial and city levels. But much like entering the orphanage, what we really did was enter many lives and allowed them to enter ours.





Christian Alliance Adoption Summit on May 12-13

2 04 2011

The Christian Alliance for Orphans will hold their seventh orphan summit, SUMMIT VII, on May 12-13, 2011 in Louisville, KY.

Tom DiFilipo along with Kathleen Strottman, Executive Director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute and Chuck Johnson of the National Council For Adoption, are the scheduled luncheon presenters on the state of intercountry adoption. While we have attended six of the seven Summits, this is the first year that we will support the SUMMIT by presenting. We greatly appreciate the work of the Christian Alliance for Orphans and value our growing collaborations.

Details on SUMMIT VII including registration, can be found at any of the following links: Summit Events, Special Features, and Sessions.

We look forward to seeing you at the Joint Council Conference and Medical Institute on April 11-13 (click here for details or to register) and at SUMMIT VII.





Ambassador Jacobs Travels to Cambodia and Vietnam

15 03 2011

The US Department of State has issued the following statement regarding Special Advisor for Children’s Issues Ambassador Susan Jacobs visit to Cambodia and Vietnam.

Since joining the Office of Children’s Issues, Ambassador Jacobs has been a tireless advocate traveling to Kyrgyzstan, Guatemala, South Korea and Ethiopia.  Joint Council both appreciates and supports Ambassador Jacobs continuing efforts to work with governments around the world.

The full text of the Department of State’s statement can be found below and here.

 


Special Advisor for Children’s Issues Ambassador Susan Jacobs will visit Cambodia and Vietnam March 16 – 23 for meetings on intercountry adoptions.

In Cambodia, she will meet with government officials and non-governmental adoption stakeholders to discuss how the United States can work together with the Cambodian government to further support Cambodia’s efforts to fully implement a new law on intercountry adoption. Adoption from Cambodia was suspended in 2001.

In Vietnam, Ambassador Jacobs will meet with government officials to discuss Vietnam’s stated goal of acceding to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. The United States welcomes Vietnam’s strong efforts to create a child welfare system and an intercountry adoption process that will meet its obligations under the Convention. The processing of adoptions for Vietnam was suspended in 2008.

For more information about intercountry adoption in Cambodia and Vietnam, visit:
http://adoption.state.gov

For updates on Special Advisor Susan Jacobs’ trip, follow her on twitter: http://twitter.com/childrensissues





Ethiopia – Update 3/14/11

14 03 2011

Various blogs and listservs are reporting that the Ethiopian Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs has announced a revised plan which includes the processing of 20 adoption cases per day.  While Joint Council has also been provided with this information, it is our understanding that no decision has been made or announcement published by the Government of Ethiopia.

We believe that it is premature to speculate on the intentions of the Ministry but rather seek to continue to partner with the Government of Ethiopia and use this opportunity to increase child and family protections while continuing intercountry adoption.  Joint Council fully supports the government’s efforts to increase the capacity for regulatory oversight of service providers, strengthen the review of each adoption case and expand social services to Ethiopian children and families.

 

 





Ethiopia: Washington Times Article by Andrea Poe

13 03 2011

Author and journalist Andrea Poe published Ethiopia Adoptions May Be In Peril in the Washington Times on Friday, March 11, 2011.  See below or click here for the full text of the article.

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NEW YORK – Ethiopia is poised to overtake China as the number one country of origin for foreign adoptees in the United States.

Young residents from the Joshua Youth Academy in Debrezeit, Ethiopia, an orphanage for children whose parents died of A.I.D.S. (Photo: The Washington Times)

Matches between orphans and families have been on the increase in what’s widely been recognized a one of the most successful intercountry adoption programs in recent years.

However, many adoption experts are now pointing to signs that that may soon be changing.  There’s a danger that the window for adopting from Ethiopia may be closing as so many other intercountry adoption programs have done.  Although American agencies are still processing dossiers and the Ethiopian government remains open to these adoptions, there is a general unease about what may happen in the near future.

Winds of Change

Prospective parents should give great weight to a statement by Doug Webb, the chief of child protection at UNICEF in Addis Ababa, who in December said, “The next 12 months are going to be crucial.”

As with other countries whose programs have been shut down (i.e. Nepal, Vietnam, Guatemala) to Americans, there have been accusations of child trafficking and the presence of unscrupulous actors who trade on the misfortune of birth families for profit.  There have been allegations of coercion of birth mothers to relinquish babies.  On the orphanage side, there have been accusations of fraud, in particular, reports that some Americans have been misled about the age of the child they’re adopting.

Further, many American agencies that facilitate adoptions are under review by the Ethiopian government.  In December one agency, the Minnesota-based Better Future Adoption Services, had its license revoked by the Ethiopian government amid charges of “fraud.”  Families who were working through this agency have seen their adoptions halted and have been advised by the U.S. State Department to seek legal counsel.

Susan Jacobs, U.S. Ambassador and Special Advisor to the Office of Children’s Issues at the Department of State, has urged all agencies working on intercountry adoptions to be Hague-accredited, including those operating in Ethiopia.  And recently the Ethiopian government has reversed its course and announced that it plans only to work with Hague-accredited agencies going forward, although the government has given no timeline for this change.

Separately, the U.S. Department of State recently reported that it has concerns “about reports highlighting adoption related fraud, malfeasance and abuse in Ethiopia…”

The U.S. Embassy has issued notices to American adoption agencies telling them to expect delays up to several months or more as investigations are initiated into individual cases.  The  State Department warns parents not travel to Ethiopia unless their adoption agencies has confirmed that they have a visa appointment, which means their child has been cleared to be brought into the U.S.

A current State Department posting reads: “We understand that this may result in a longer period before parents are able to bring their adopted children to the U.S.  However, this additional scrutiny is required to ensure that the adoption is legal under both U.S. and Ethiopian law.”

To Hague or Not to Hague

Ethiopia has not signed the Hague Convention.  There is international pressure on the Ethiopian government to ratify the treaty.  Although it has not done so yet, it has begun to study the effects of the implementation of the safeguards that child protection advocates have lobbied for.

On the surface, additional safeguards for children and the crackdown on corruption sound like positive steps.  And they will be if indeed the current discussion results in actual implementation and a streamlined process.

However, experience in other countries has shown that all too often these steps do not result in improvements, but rather in the slowdown and ultimately shut down of intercountry adoptions.

If these signs on the horizon in Ethiopia do wind up indicated what many in the international adoption community fear — the beginning of the end of Americans ability to adopt from Ethiopia– this would be a tragedy.

The United Nations Children’s Fund estimates that there are 5.5 million orphans, children who are the casualty of poverty and illness, especially since AIDS deaths are on the ascent in the country.

Although for the 2010 fiscal year, the U.S. State Department reports that there were only about 2,500 adoptions from Ethiopia, that number reflects a significant uptick over the 284 orphans adopted by Americans six years ago. These rising numbers mean that fewer children are destined to spend their lives in orphanages or living on the streets.

Conditions in Ethiopian orphanages tend to be poor—many go without running water– and, in some cases, dangerous with reports of beatings and sexual abuse.  Every child who is adopted is one more spared a childhood spent in these overcrowded conditions.

As the international community has intensified its scrutiny, Mahadir Bitow, the head of the Ethiopia’s Child Rights Protection Agency, has responded by announcing that she intends to close 25% of Ethiopia’s orphanages.  She does not say where these orphaned children would go.

All prospective parents looking to adopt from Ethiopia should pay close attention to the rapidly changing conditions.  And the entire world should keep watch.

A shrinking intercountry adoption program in Ethiopia, a country where there is an extremely limited domestic adoption program available, will be a dangerous sign that once again adults –even those with the best of intentions — will once again stand in the way of helping children.

Read more Red Thread: An Adoptive Family Forum in The Washington Times Communities.





Ethiopia Update 3/10/11

10 03 2011

Processing Limit
It has been confirmed that the new policy of limiting the number of adoption cases processed by the Ethiopian Ministry of Women’s, Children’s and Youth Affairs went into effect today, March 10, 2011 with 5 cases being completed.   While a staffing change at the Ministry was confirmed as having occurred earlier in the week, this did not affect the implementation of the new processing limit.

Emergency Campaign for Ethiopian Children
To date, over 29,000 concerned individuals have signed the petition requesting a reconsideration of the new policy.   We continue our daily dialogue and will respectfully present the signatures, petition and letter to the Government of Ethiopia early next week.

Briefing by the Department of State Office of Children’s Issues
We, along with other key stakeholders and adoption service providers licensed by the Ethiopian government to provide intercountry adoption services, will participate in a briefing by the Department of State Office of Children’s Issues, on Friday, March 11, 2011.  An update will be published sometime after the meeting.

Ongoing Discussion
It is our understanding that discussions regarding the new policy and its impact on children living without permanent parental care continues within the Ethiopian government and amongst all stakeholders.

We remain hopeful and continue to support the Ethiopian government’s efforts to increase the capacity for oversight of adoption cases, regulation of service providers and provision of social services to vulnerable families and children.








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