Families run into all types of barriers as they try to remain together. As they try to do everything possible before they have to relinquish or abandon their child. Poverty, famine, social norms and lack of medical care are all causes of children being abandoned, relinquished or placed into an institution. Each one of them is a barrier to permanent family life.
And children living outside of a permanent family; they too run into barriers as we try to find them a permanent family. Lack of government prioritization, indifference, overly restrictive public policy and cultural barriers to adoption all play a part in denying children one of their most basic human rights – a loving family.
But barriers can sometimes come from a most unlikely source. The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) as part of its mandate to protect the public health, recently implemented Tuberculosis testing protocols for immigrants into the U.S. The CDC, while well intentioned, put into place a system which was overly aggressive and resulted in children remaining in orphanages, foster care and other inappropriate settings, long past the time necessary.
One child caught in this problem and forced to remain in foster care while her adoptive parents waited to bring her to their family in the U.S. is Harper. While even an extra day outside of a family is too long for any child, Haprer’s problems were resolved relatively quickly – thankfully she is now at home with her new family. Harper’s unnecessary stay in foster-care became very high profile which brought much needed public attention.
Another lesser known tragedy is that of Jaylee. Due to the CDC’s testing requirments, Jaylee flipped between an orphanage and foster care for over 9 months. An unnecessary 9 months. After almost a year of testing and re-testing, it was finally determined that Jaylee could enter the U.S. If all goes well over the next week, Jaylee will soon be united with her adoptive parents.
The barrier that kept Harpe and Jaylee from joining their adoptive families is coming down. It is expected that the CDC will soon publish revisions to the testing requirements and eliminate this barrier for hundreds and hundreds of children.
So how did this barrier come down? The answer to that question is an almost perfect example of what Be The Answer is trying to do. It took a lot to remove this barrier, but sometimes it takes a lot…and more. Here is how the community banded together and became The Answer for Harper, Jaylee and hundreds of other children.
After learning of the new testing requirements, we along with other child advocates like the National Council for Adoption and the Center for Adoption Policy, talked to the CDC and with each other. We educated ourselves on the medical issues. And we began to raise awareness of the impact these new rules would have on children.
Joint Council launched a petition: Build Families, Not Barriers, which elevated public awareness and saw over 8,000 individuals lend their signature to the cause. Many of us met with the CDC, Members of Congress, the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security (both play a significant role in the implementation of the testing requirements). Other advocates like the Grace Children’s Foundation, began working with the families and children. They raised awareness through social media like Facebook and blogs. They raised funds to assist the parents with their unexpected costs.
The Joint Council Medical Institute was brought into the discussion and was supported by pediatric tuberculosis experts from around the country including Dr. Jeffrey Starke. Other advocates like EACH, brought in even more medical experts, some of whom had experienced the problems of the testing requirements first hand. The Worldwide Orphans Foundation led by Dr. Jane Aronson and the University of Minnesota International Adoption Clinic lent their expertise on orphan care and the impact the new testing requirements were having on institutionalize children.
The press jumped on the stories of children forced to remain outside of their new family. The Washington Post, National Public Radio and the Associated Press all published articles detailing the impact of the CDC’s testing requirements. And Examiner.com’s Cathy Doheny ran a series of articles covering virtually every aspect of the new rules.
The CDC reached out and engaged the community of medical experts, advocates, families and children. The Department of State began working to minimize the impact of the testing requirements. The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute facilitated briefing for Congress. And Senators and Representatives got involved with families, with advocates and with the CDC.
Bringing down this one barrier required raising awareness amongst families and government officials. It required mobilizing medical experts, child welfare professionals, advocates, parents, children and the public. And it required raising funds to help children actually get to where they belong – out of an orphanage and into a permanent family. Bringing down this barrier involved over 10,000 individuals all united with a singular goal.
This is what Be The Answer is all about. Raising awareness, raising funds and mobilizing for change. Maybe it is corny, but imagine what barriers we can bring down. Economic barriers that cause parents to abandon their child or force them to be placed into an orphanage. Social barriers that keep families of one ethnic group from being a family for a child from a different ethnic group. Government barriers that provide no funding for children to be adopted by families of their own country. And barriers that keep children from being adopted internationally – even when it is their only option for a loving, safe and permanent family.
Imagine what we can do.
Impossible? Not if you and me decide to… raise awareness, raise funds and mobilize tens of thousands.
P.S. If there is one hero in raising awareness and mobilizing thousands, it is Dr. Jeffrey Starke. Thanks Dr. Starke for choosing to Be The Answer for Harper, Jaylee and hundreds of other children.