A Letter to The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee

3 02 2010

In light of the tragedy in Haiti and to help meet the needs of the 30 million orphans worldwide, the Families for Orphans Coalition (of which Joint Council is a founding member) wrote to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee today to urge immediate consideration of the Families for Orphans Act (H.R. 3070 and S. 1458).

The letter and press release follow.

_____________________________________

Families For Orphans Coalition Members
Buckner International
EACH
Joint Council on International Children’s Services
Kidsave International
National Council for Adoption
The Institute for Human Services/North American Resource Center for Child Welfare
The Institute for Orphan Advocacy
Weaving Families
Worldwide Orphan Foundation

______________________________________
February 3, 2010
The Honorable John F. Kerry
Chairman
U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 439
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Ranking Member Lugar,
We are writing today to request that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee immediately take up and pass the Families for Orphans Act, S. 1458. Had this bill been enacted, the Department of State could have been better prepared to address the needs of Haiti’s newest orphans. What’s more, had the policies and practices envisioned by this bill been put in place in Haiti, its children could have been less vulnerable to the isolation and abuse we are witnessing today. While disasters cannot be averted, passage of the Families for Orphans Act can begin to avoid similar catastrophes of untold numbers of orphan children being left to fight trauma, stress, fear and loss without the support of a caring adult.
Before the earthquake Haiti had an estimated 380,000 children who had lost at least one parent. Of them, 50,000 were estimated to be true orphans – 20,000 of whom were growing up in orphanages, the rest on the streets. Now, while no one really knows, the earthquake has left an estimated 10,000 more children all alone. World attention is riveted on them and their futures remain uncertain.
The Families for Orphans Act proposes the creation of an office within the Department of State for the purpose of developing and implementing comprehensive strategies to encourage the preservation of families as well as the provision of other legal, permanent relationships through kinship care, legal guardianship, domestic or intercountry adoption. The bill includes a clear directive whereby intercountry adoption would be an alternative only after a determination that a child cannot be placed in a family domestically but it also acknowledges that adoption is always preferable to long-term foster care or institutionalization. To that end, the Families for Orphans Act addresses the need to expand upon current opportunities to connect orphans to caring adults in their own countries. Finally, the proposed office would be responsible for conducting the research needed to better ascertain the number of children living without parental care worldwide and the global efforts needed to support these children.
Our experience has been that promoting families for children has not been a visible priority for the United States Government. For the most part, this is the result of a development driven focus which focuses on the protection and physical well being of orphan children rather than on the elimination of the social and economic causes of their vulnerability. What’s more, current U.S. funded orphan programs are disorganized, disconnected and promote a wide variety of policies and priorities, some of which are mutually exclusive. Modeled after the successful Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, the Office of Orphan Policy, Diplomacy and Development would address this by providing our diplomats the authority to put solutions for investing in children having families on the table and the tools needed to promote programs that support children and families, not institutions.
If the office proposed in the Families for Orphans Act had been in existence prior to Haiti’s earthquake, much of the current chaos surrounding the protection of Haiti’s orphans could have been averted. Had the thousands of children who were known to have no parents or family able to care for them prior to the earthquake been documented, plans could have already been underway to find families for them through domestic or international adoption, instead of being relegated to what may be years in a refugee camp and a lifetime without parents. This tragedy is compounded because of the growing waiting lists of people with new awareness of the plight of these children who are interested in adopting them.
Families are essential to the healthy development of children. Research in child development has shown that the quality of caregiver-infant relationships in the first years of life may be more important than the quantity of nourishment in facilitating healthy human development. And children who grow up without a family of their own are far more likely to experience homelessness, incomplete education, violence, teen pregnancy, unemployment, emotional disorders, depression, and suicide. The Bucharest Early Intervention Study conducted by researchers from Harvard Medical School, the University of Maryland, Tulane, the University of Virginia, and the University of Minnesota reported that children living in orphanages suffered decreased brain activity (including lower IQs), poor growth, and a variety of developmental and emotional delays.
History has shown that when the United States makes the conscious decision to be a leader in area of great social need, the difference is immeasurable. U.S. led efforts to combat trafficking, provide relief from HIV/AIDS, eliminate hunger and promote democracy are but a few examples of the type of leadership the U.S. is capable of providing. The passage of the Families for Orphans Act is the first step toward truly addressing the global orphan crisis. We are thankful for the bipartisan leadership shown by Senator Mary Landrieu, Senator James Inhofe, Congresswoman Diane Watson, and Congressman John Boozman in introducing this bill and hope that you will add your support to their efforts to provide a family for every orphan.
Sincerely,
The Executive Committee of the Families for Orphans Coalition
Terry Baugh – Kidsave International

Chuck Johnson – National Council for Adoption

Tom Difilipo – Joint Council for International Children’s Services

McLane Layton – Equality for Adopted Children (EACH)

Brian Luwis

Judith Rycus – The Institute for Orphan Advocacy Institute for Human Services

Jane Aronson, MD – Worldwide Orphan Foundation

cc: Senator James Inhofe, Senator Bob Corker, Senator Johnny Isakson, Senator Jim Risch, Senator Jim DeMint, Senator John Barrasso, and Senator Roger Wicker

_______________________________________

PRESS RELEASE

February 3, 2010, Washington, DC – In light of the tragedy in Haiti and to help meet the needs of the 30 million orphans worldwide, the Families for Orphans Coalition wrote to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee today to urge immediate consideration of the Families for Orphans Act (H.R. 3070 and S. 1458).

The chaos resulting from the January 12th earthquake in Haiti has emphasized the vulnerability of children and demonstrated the need for a focused global strategy addressing children living without parental care.  If enacted, the Families for Orphans Act would create the Office of Orphan Policy, Diplomacy and Development within the Department of State responsible for implementing comprehensive strategies to encourage the preservation of biological families and help children without parental care find safe, legal, permanent families – ideally in their country of birth.  It would also fund research to ascertain the number of children living without parental care worldwide — the importance of which has been further underscored by the wide range of estimates and unknown number of Haiti’s orphaned children.   In addition, the Families for Orphans Act includes interventions such as family preservation, reunification, domestic adoption and intercountry adoption, if it is determined to be in the best interest of the child and a permanent family is not available domestically.”

“When devastating natural disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti occur, we must act immediately to mitigate the impact on children by meeting their most basic need – permanent family care,” the letter to Congress read.  “If the office proposed in the Families for Orphans Act had been in existence prior to Haiti’s earthquake, much of the current chaos surrounding the protection of Haiti’s orphans could have been averted.  Had the thousands of children who were known to have no parents or family able to care for them prior to the earthquake been documented, plans could have already been underway to find families for them through domestic or international adoption, instead of being relegated to what may be years in a refugee camp and a lifetime without parents.  This tragedy is compounded because of the growing waiting lists of people with new awareness of the plight of these children who are interested in adopting them.”

The earthquake in Haiti is the third catastrophic natural event in the past decade, after the Tsunami of 2004 and the devastating earthquake in China in 2008 that has left many thousands of children without a family of their own.  The Families for Orphans Coalition stated that having the love and protection of a permanent family is a basic human right for every child.  “It is time for the United States to take a stronger leadership role on behalf of all those children without parents who, whether through natural crisis, parental death, abuse, or neglect, are forced to face life alone and with little hope for a secure future,” the letter read.  “We cannot, and must not, turn our backs on these orphans.”

There is a preponderance of research consistently proving that a nurturing, permanent family environment is the best predictor of a child’s future prospects.  Families are essential to the healthy development of children, and children who grow up without a family of their own are far more likely to experience homelessness, incomplete education, violence, teen pregnancy,   unemployment, emotional disorders, depression, and suicide.   #     #     #

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2 responses

7 02 2010
Debbe Hoth

I am a treatment foster home provider, an adoptive and birth mother, It is in every childs best interest to have a forever family to love, nurture, and provide safety to them. I would love the chance and/or opportunity to open up my home again to a child or sibling group or children in need of a forever home, or even a temp. home until their home and/or family is found and/or restored. There are alot of good people out here that want to help, like us, If only someone would let us. Please help these and other children to find a good home and/or family. Also, if anyone cares, we are allready licensed, working closely with an adoptive agency, and have the room in our house. Thanks for your time, and please consider my plea to help

12 02 2010
Lesa Hazen

Thank you for putting this together. We are an adoptive family that has been looking to help since the earthquake happened. We have the room in our home and hearts for either permenant or temporary placement of children in desperate need. Our concern is that the longer these little ones remain in such conditions the faster their physical and emotional health deteriorates. These children cannot help their situation. We can. Please allow us to give the help which is so very much needed.
Thank you!

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