Unanswered Questions….Tell Us What You Think!

23 02 2010

As events continue to develop in Haiti, Kyrgyzstan, Guatemala and Nepal Joint Council would like to get your thoughts and opinions on five key subjects.

Please give some consideration to the following and enter your thoughts and answers as a comment to this post (just click on the word ‘comments’ below – you can enter just your first name if you would like to remain semi-anonymous).

Orphans

Do They Need A Family?

What is an orphan to you?   Our guess is that you would say an orphan is a child who is without permanent parents, for one reason or another.   Or maybe is a child who has had both parents pass away?

If so, it might come as a shock to you that your definition of an orphan isn’t the same one that UNICEF, Save The Children UK, and at times the U.S. government use.  UNICEF has long used the definition that an orphan is a child who has had both or just one parent die.  By this type of a definition, a child  whose father has died but is living with their mother is considered an orphan.  But a child in an orphanage for 10 years, whose living parents have never visited, is not an orphan and does not need to be adopted.  If we used this definition, then none of the children in U.S. foster care would be eligible for adoption.   And the 600,000 children in Chinese orphanages would not be adoptable.    Why do UNICEF and others use this definition?  Find out why UNICEF uses it by clicking here.

Do you find the UNICEF definition appropriate?  Do you think that a child whose parents have permanently abandoned them is an orphan?   Does that child have a right to be adopted?

A Child’s Well-Being

If you were to determine a child’s well-being, what factors would you look at?  Health, nutrition, education?  Should whether or not a child lives within permanent parental care be included as a key indicator of a child’s well-being?   Family life is not included in the indicators of a child’s well-being by UNICEF,  Save The Children UK and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.  Here are a few examples:

Is Family Life Important To A Child's Well-Being?

  • UNICEF – out of over 100 indicators of a child’s well-being, not one is specific to a child living withpermanent and legally recognized parent or parents.
  • Save The Children UK – Only health nutrition and education are included in their indicators for well-being.
  • United Nations Millennium Development Goals – Of the 8 goals and 20 targets, none are focusedon ensuring that a child lives with permanent parental care.
  • Millennium Challenge Corporation – Created by the U.S. Congress and spending 7.2 billion dollars since 2004, does not include any programs which directly ensure family life for children.

The United States has long held the family as the cornerstone of society.  Given the importance of family to the American people, should the U.S. use tax dollars and donations totaling over 1 billion dollars since 2004, to support organizations that do not share in this core American value and in this basic human right?

The Hague Convention

Who Should Help Develop Intercountry Adoption Policy?

The Hague Permanent Bureau recently conducted a meeting on intercountry adoption, in which UNICEF and governments from around the world participated.  Similarly, UNICEF and the Hague Permanent Bureau often convene teams to advise governments on implementing the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.  Yet neither UNICEF nor the Hague Permanent Bureau has ever conducted an intercountry adoption.  In fact, the US Fund for UNICEF has repeatedly told Joint Council that “Intercountry adoption is not what UNICEF does.”

Should adoption professionals be included in the meetings held by      The Hague Permanent Bureau?  Should trained adoption professionals be included in advising governments on intercountry adoption?

Let Us Hear From You!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and answers with us.  We look forward to posting a summary of your comments. (all identities will be omitted from our summary report).  Thanks again!


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15 responses

23 02 2010
Shonda

I completely disagree with UNICEFs interpretation of when a child should be considered an orphan. There are many children who are not given an opportunity for adoption because of this absurd definition. Adoption professionals certainly need to step up and have their voices heard for the sake of the children!

23 02 2010
Krs

The UNICEF definition is nonsense. Given that definition there is a likelihood that my adopted daughter would not be classified as an orphan. She was abandoned by her biological parents, who are probably still alive, because of China’s 1-child policy or economics or who knows why. Should she be denied the sense of belonging and security that only comes from a family? Having some kind of adult family must be considered part of a child’s well being, even if it is only a single living parent or grandparents or someone who is willing to provide care for the child. Children with out adults willing to provide care for them should be allowed to be adopted. Romania’s stats that 80% of children who age out of their orphanages end up in prison or mental health institutions should be proof enough of the importance of family. All the research on RAD shows the importance of attaching to a caregiver to a person’s well-being. Children die without that attachment (failure to thrive) even when physical needs are met. It is the first requirement for a person’s well being. And absolutely adoption professionals should be included in any conversation about International Adoption regulations. UNICEF is a relief organization and by its own admission doesn’t do adoption. Why ask them? That’s likely asking a heart surgeon to do brain surgery. Yeah, they are kind of familiar with the whole process but they don’t know the subtleties of that particular area and it is those “little things” that make all the difference in the outcome.

23 02 2010
Paula

I am so grateful to JCICS for continuing their efforts to advocate for the children of Haiti. It is a tragedy that children in Haiti, Guatemala (birth country of my children) and around the world are left in orphanages. It saddens me that organizations like UNICEF have so much power and leverage in our world today. As an educator I am often faced with students who are given the bare necessities of life such as food, water, shelter, clothing, and education. However, the lack of a supportive family and nurturing environment, even within a biological family, demonstrates the pitfalls of the belief system within UNICEF. Children need more than just clothing, shelter, and food. They need a consistent caregiver, the opportunity to belong to a family, support and encouragement to succeed in life, and a parent that provides unconditional love. Children belong in families.
Our US foster care system allows children to be adopted after a certain amount of time in the system once parental rights are terminated. This is done with the long-term best interest of the child in mind. Studies are undeniable that children placed with a family earlier rather than later have a much higher success rate of bonding with the family and making a successful transition. Based on that evidence it is in the best interest of the Haitian government and other countries to allow children to be placed with a permanent family as soon as possible. Children should not remain in foster care permanently if at all possible. The same goes for children in orphanages. If their parents relinquish them into the care of an orphanage they should have a certain amount of time to reunite and establish a child/parent relationship. If that is not able to completed within a certain time frame then the parent should understand that the next step is to place the child for adoption in the best interest of the child’s long-term future. Remaining in an orphanage for a lifetime is not in the best interest. As a board member of an orphanage in Guatemala, I am familiar with the all too often lack of ability to bond with people, the decreased amount of education, the health issues, and then the decreased opportunities a child has once they age out of the orphanage. Often a child enters a life of crime and/or other harmful lifestyles due to their inability to survive based on the lack of skills that are usually taught within the family unit.
I believe that international adoption is at a pivotal point. It would be possible to provide an international system that works similarly to that of our domestic adoption system. I wonder why the criteria are different when a birthmother in the US relinquishes their child for adoption versus the birthmother in another country who relinquishes their child for adoption. Both are making a choice; a choice of life. Yet UNICEF is taking the rights away from birthmothers to decide what is in the best interest of their child. If a birthmother chooses to relinquish her child for adoption albeit domestic or international then that is her choice. There should be a system that allows a smooth transition from birthmother to adoptive family; regardless of domestic or international.
Furthermore, if a child is abandoned by one or both parents, then that child should not have to wait years before being given a family. This only decreases the possibility of success within the family unit. The earlier the better. I would like to see advocates and adoption professionals in attendance at such government conferences as mentioned above. The children and orphans in Haiti, Guatemala, and around the world are not being represented fairly. I would like to see UNICEF decrease its’ role in big government and in place see pro-adoption groups given the opportunity to support the children around the world in a way that is more than meeting bare necessities. It is time that UNICEF had some power stripped away and for those with the true best interest of children in mind given the opportunity to act on that. We are being kept arms length away because of the bureaucracy of the many government organizations. Please continue advocating for these children. There are many of us willing to stand beside you.

23 02 2010
Colleen

I absolutely agree that a child’s first and most important need is a loving family. Children do not belong in any institution. Even in a “perfect” orphanage kids miss out on family ties, bonding, learning to love unconditionally and they go through life with no permanent ties. In a perfect world kids would be able to stay in their own country and be adopted there, but that is not possible in so many countries. Parents line up to give their kids away in Haiti so they can have a better life. They can’t feed them or meet any basic needs. They want their kids adopted internationally. My dearest friend just got her 2 girls out of Haiti, they started the adoption process before the quake. Their birth parents are both alive and gave their kids up so they could be adopted, they even begged them to adopt their older child too. The definition of an orphan should be any child without permanent parental care, whether their birth families are alive or not. I feel that adoption advocates should absolutely be included in any meeting about orphans. UNICEF is wrong about what children need. Kids need families, bottom line.

23 02 2010
gh

if UNICEF is all about putting children’s interests first, I wonder if they have ever carried out a survey of children in orphanages?

if an orphan is given the choice, would they typically prefer the idea of spending their entire childhood in an institution familiar to them or growing up the environment of a foreign yet safe, secure, supportive and loving family home?

23 02 2010
Crystal Chevalier

I believe every child’s most important need is to have a loving family. Without that, their chances of success in life are much smaller. By success, I am not only talking about education, job, etc., but in being able to maintain a lasting and loving relationship with anyone. It is the foundation for the remainder of their life. The definition of orphan needs to include those children who have been placed for adoption by their parents, regardless of which country they reside in.

I think it is extremely important that adoption professionals are involved in the Hague meetings, etc. By not allowing their presence they are ignoring so much good that can come out of children who have become orphaned… by any definition of the word.

24 02 2010
Tamie

I would like to respond with the words of blessed mother Teresa. Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.

24 02 2010
CandiD

I think the UNICEF definition of orphan is WAY inadequate and is meant to serve the interests of poor Third World countries that just want to keep slopping off American foreign aid and not step to and solve their own problems. The more orphans they have, the more of OUR tax dollars they can say they need.

Honestly, if the definition of orphan were up to me I’d say that ANY child living in poverty where more than a certain percentage of the country’s people live in poverty is an orphan (i.e., adoptable), EVEN if they live with parents or other family members. I just don’t get how ANY parent ANYWHERE could consider themselves to be doing right by a child by continuing to raise him or her in abject poverty. I know I wouldn’t.

The people who live in these situations in those countries have the DUTY to do better by their children by allowing those who have more than adequate means to feed, clothe and school them adequately to take them into their homes instead of selfishly deluding themselves that they’re doing a good job just because “their” kids are “living” with them.

24 02 2010
Gina Pollock

UNICEF’s definition of an orphan was used for a specific reason – raising awareness of the devastating issues AIDs has set upon the lives of children who lose a parent or both parents to this disease. The orphan definition they use was created to get appropriate services to these children whether they lose one or both parents instead of limiting it to children who have lost both parents. The purpose and use of this definition is clearly stated by UNICEF and USAIDS in the material they published them in. Just because various organizations have ignorantly used this definition and its resulting statistics (of which you yourselves, JCICS, are guilty of) for alternative reasons does not make UNICEF’s definition wrong – it only makes the use of UNICEF’s orphan statistics wrong to support other causes.

Instead of labeling children orphans when discussing the need for adoptions, why don’t you call them “legally adoptable” children? Is it because “orphan” has a higher emotional response? These are real children we are discussing, with a lot to gain and a lot to lose depending on how we decide to label them and what that results in.

As for your own definitions of “permanent parental care” and and “legally recognized relationships”, it is also faulty. These definitions (contained in the FFOA you are touting as a solution to complex child welfare issues) can and will result in hundreds to thousands of children being labeled “orphans” (and made adoptable) who are currently residing with loving family or members of their community in countries where poor and voiceless individuals have little or no access to legal services or judicial processes that would enable them to attain “a legally recognized relationship” and in communities and cultures in which children are taken into their extended families or cared for lovingly by community members in a manner that would not qualify as “permanent parental care” under the FFOA. Please people, read these definitions before you fall for the lines.

As for the intercountry adoption meetings held by the Hague – heck why shouldn’t ASPs be invited? But then you also must invite adoptees, APs, original families, and vulnerable children to the table. After all they are the people who must live with the choices made by governments and the policies and practices of ASPs.

Children deserve loving homes, absolutely, who doesn’t agree with that? But they also deserve respect and individual attention to their overall needs. They deserve access to social services and humanitarian aid when needed and without consideration of their adoptable status in the framework of intercountry adoption. When a piece of legislation, like FFOA, comes along and ties the granting of aid and/or the elimination of debt to whether a country agrees to participate in international adoption, it harms vulnerable children and ends up commodifying them. Shame on you.

24 02 2010
Kayla

I am not necessarily an advocate of the FFOA legistlation nor am I opposed. It is like any piece of legislation: there are parts I agree with and parts I do not. But what strikes me as most frustrating is that other child advocacy groups/adoption groups do not seem to be willing to offer up other workable solutions. If someone has and I am not aware, please let me know. But as of right now the only adoption related legislation that I have been aware of is the Families for Orphans Act, the HOPE act which would allow children in orphanage care prior to the earthquake to be adopted, and an older piece of legislation that would eliminate the need for adopted children to travel on a passport from their country of origin but would instead allow them to come home on a US passport. (And of course the Hague but that’s international not country specific.) Are other groups putting forth ideas/working with US government on legislation? If so, let us know.

I don’t understand how a child who would be technically considered an orphan under the FFOA but is being cared for by a community member/family member would be affected by this legislation other than being declared adoptable. This does not mean that they would be adopted or even put into a situation where they could be adopted. Why would being declared adoptable change a child’s living status? Whomever was caring for them would continue to care for them.

As to the issues related to money/aide/debt, I’m not sure that this type stipulation is any worse than the money trail that probably exists between aid released by UNICEF to countries who “comply” with UNICEF suggestions. Politics are a part of adoption (unfortunately) and money talks. Money is used to leverage countries to do all sorts of things. (Blockades and sanctions are used militarily; not necessarily something I support but a part of reality.) And whenever aide money is given or debts are forgiven, there are stipulations often that no one really knows about. I’m not saying I agree or support it; I’m saying it’s reality. And that money will be used and is being used to influence politics including the politics of child welfare. If a country is dealing with a massive orphan crisis (both true orphans and those who are essentially orphaned by circumstances) then a country should be expected to act responsibly towards those children which includes having a functioning system of child welfare in country as well as a way to allow birth parents to make an adoption plan or for children without birth parents to be allowed a chance at a family. In country adoption is simply not realistic in many of these countries and I can hardly imagine that we would support a US government that said US citizens could not make adoption plans that allowed their children to be placed in Canada or France or England. Why would we take a position that encourages governments of countries with even less in country resources than ours to limit the choices their birth parents can make?

Again, my biggest frustration is how much time is spent (and wasted) debating international adoption. In every sending country, the biggest child welfare issues are NOT international adoption. Should international adoption be done in ethical and thoughtful ways that consider all possible perspectives? Yes. But should hundreds of thousands of children suffer because the bulk of interest seems to be focused on adoption rather than general child welfare? No.

25 02 2010
Gina Pollock

This is my response to Kayla and others who may be asking the same questions. Yes, there are other organizations working on solutions and working on legislation. If you let me know what specific areas (international child aid, international child welfare, international adoption) I can help point you to those organizations. PM me at rmprhp@yahoo.com

As for this comment: “I don’t understand how a child who would be technically considered an orphan under the FFOA but is being cared for by a community member/family member would be affected by this legislation other than being declared adoptable. This does not mean that they would be adopted or even put into a situation where they could be adopted. Why would being declared adoptable change a child’s living status? Whomever was caring for them would continue to care for them.” Unfortunately this is NOT true under FFOA. If a child is in a living situation that does not meet the standards of a legally recognizable relationship or permanent parental care, their government is legally obligated to remove them and place them in a manner that meets those definitions (adoption or permanent legal guardianship).

As an example, our family has named my oldest daughter as guardian if my husband and I should pass away. If that happened and I lived in a country accepting aid under FFOA, she could not become our children’s guardian because she is not yet 21. Therefore, my government would be obligated under FFOA standards to place all three of my children for adoption or legal guardianship with an adult over 21. No guarantees that they would be placed together or even in the same country.

As another example, I know of a small very well run “orphanage” in India where the children are loved and very cared for. It is called Shishur Sevey (see: travelingcloud.typepad.com/) If India would accept aid under FFOA, the Indian government would have to make it a priority to close this “orphanage” and place these children elsewhere. Is that really in their best interest? This is a home and a family, not on paper, but in spirit. Is it appropriate to remove these children from care because they are in an institution? I don’t think so.

And you are very correct, the biggest child welfare issue in most countries is NOT international adoption. The biggest issues are poverty, war, famine and disease. On top of that, abuse and neglect, lack of quality medical care, lack of rights for women, lack of education. Solutions to child welfare need to be local and specific to the causes of child welfare needs. IA should only be a band-aid, short term method of helping child welfare systems to place vulnerable children in need of homes. It shouldn’t be the only solution and it shouldn’t be a long term solution.

I think if FFOA were tweaked it could be workable, but I don’t think the current financial supporters would like the tweaks because they wouldn’t be reaping the same benefits. If FFOA were really about family preservation, family reunification, and protecting children, it wouldn’t come with such harsh definitions of permanent parental care, institutions, and legally recognized relationships. It would have at least mentioned consideration of each individual child’s best interests (best interest of children are not mentioned at all). It would offer much more local flexibility and control and allow for creative options in providing alternative care for vulnerable children.

26 02 2010
Kayla

Gina,

Regarding whether or not FFOA would deem children orphans and injustly remove them from quality care, FFOA specifically says that it wants to promote legal guardianship/kinship care/domestic adoption as ways to care for children in country. In both situations which you mentioned, I still fail to see how FFOA mandates removal of the children in these situations. The age 21 is mentioned as to how to define an institutionalized child but at no point does it say that children who are of age of majority in their home country cannot care for siblings. Specifically this is listed in the Senate version as legal kinship, where a parent has transferred rights to a relative. As to the small orphanage that operates more like a family than an orphanage, in country foster/adopt care is one way countries can meet the requirements of FFOA. Why couldn’t a small orphanage exist like group homes do in the US, as licensed foster homes and then position themselves to do fos/adoptions of all of the children? (Money needed to process the adoption, I’m assuming.) Or why can’t the smaller orphanages become legal guardians of the children? (Again a money issue?) As to flexibility and creative options, international adoption is but one option listed as a way to receive FFOA monies. Informal kinship care, legal guardianships, fos/adopt situations, domestic adoption, reunification, and prevention of dissolution are all in country, local parts of the solution with prevention encompassing a variety of programs like domestic violence, lack of education, etc.. As to concerns about a child’s presence in a boarding school (which has been mentioned in some of the opposition to FFOA) being grounds for adoption, the legislation says “boarding school for orphans” as the specific type of insitution. It does not just say “boarding school”. At no point in time does FFOA tout international adoption as the primary solution to orphan care nor does it say that countries must maintain minimum numbers of international adoptions to receive funding. Funding is based on the number of children moved to permanency not those adopted internationally. Per the house/senate bill, permanency includes a variety of in country measures as already stated. And yes the words “best interest” are not mentioned. Instead it uses the language “safety and well being”, “atmosphere of happiness, love, and understanding” and “best opportunity for the full and harmonious development of his or her potential.”

What I have seen is too few situations of advocacy/awareness groups in agreement with legislation with the tendancy being for such groups to oppose legislation that has been proposed without offering constructive responses (ie new or improved legislation that would solve problems associated with child welfare/adoption). I am aware that often groups put forth suggestions on how to improve the legislation but am not seeing the connection between suggestions and having improved legislation to vote on. Instead what I see are groups with fundamentally different philosophies regarding child welfare/international adoption who end up trying to “out manuever” each other, where too often practicality takes a back seat to ideology while children are left on the side of the road. Don’t get me wrong. We need differing opinions and perspectives; such things keep democracy alive and are a built in system of checks and balances. I just would love to see less posturing and more pushing for dynamic legislation that will directly improve the lives of children living in third world countries.

Again, I am not necessarily a supporter of the FFOA; in fact I have not advocated for its passage yet as I had not researched it enough to do so. m I had merely skimmed it but was intending to go back and read it more carefully. Having done so, I’m not in a better position to make an informed decision on if I will support it. I’m just someone who appreciates that some people somewhere are trying their best to address orphan care. If you know of specific legislation other than the FACE act or FFOA that would influence international adoption policy/the standard of care for children worldwide, than please post it. Also, if you know of specific ways other groups are advocating for change (other than simply saying we agree with this legislation or we don’t), please post.

26 02 2010
Kayla

Sorry should say I’m now in a better position to make a decision not “not in a better position”

26 02 2010
Ann Bates

UNICEF- now there is an interesting organization. Everyone seems to know who UNICEF IS, and that UNICEF helps children. But do they really? Or are they a charade of an organization that has extreme power and an extreme backing of financial resources that SAYS they help children. In my own opinion UNICEF is an extremist organization with members similar to the PETA group of extremists. I do not agree with their views on what child is an orphan and that orphans are better off in their own society and culture. My belief is that a definition of an orphan is a child who has been left (regardless of why) without the care of a parent or guardian who is capable to provide for the child’s needs. Every child should have the right to a family. Whether that family be true blood relative, friends down the street who have chosen to raise a child as their own, or an adoptive family from 7000 miles across the globe. If a child has been deprived of the gift of a family, he or she should be allowed the opportunity for a family to be found. A child’s well being should include love and family. Research has shown the affects of children growing up in institutions. Internationally and as human beings are we not wise enough to understand when solid research says that a large majority of orphans who age out of institutions will either become criminals, be victimized by trafficking, or prostitution or will commit suicide by the time they are adults. Only a very small percentage of children will actually be lucky enough to find an adoptive family. Domestic or International. So why then are there so many organizations that are so willing to make it even harder for a child without a home, without a mother or father figure, without proper food, a sense of self, education, without love determined to make it even harder for a child? Maybe one day UNICEF can answer that to the children.

Hmm. Not a little bit resentful about UNICEF am I?

9 06 2010
Liz

Great campaign to reform international adoption! Every child deserves happiness! Join the campaign @ http://www.facebook.com/pages/Both-Ends-Burning/323398090196?ref=ts

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