We had an impromptu conversation with a colleague from a large child protection agency today. A question was posed that appears to be causing some debate amongst the myriad of NGOs serving children here in Haiti.
Before we get to the question, here is some background. Marjorie and Jean have five children with a sixth on the way. When baby Sampson is born, Marjorie and Jean decide that they cannot properly care for their newborn, relinquish their parental rights and place the child in an orphanage.
After a few months, a social worker brings the Samspon back to the parents in an attempt to reunite the family. But Marjorie and Jean are firm in their decision and tell the social worker they cannot care for Sampson. They want him to be adopted.
More months go by and the social worker tries to get Sampson’s aunt to care for him. But she too says she cannot care for Sampson.
Sampson has now been living in an orphanage with 48 other children for 14 months.
The question being debated is – what does the social worker do with Sampson? Does he remain in the orphanage
while more attempts are made to reunite him with his parents? Is he declared ‘unadoptable’ because he has living parents? Should he be placed for adoption? Should his parents have any say in what happens to Sampson?
Too often these questions – and their answers – form immovable policies which overlook a very important issue: What would be the best for Sampson? As we said in yesterday’s blog, Sampson is not a statistic, a category or a case – he is a person with rights, with needs and with immense potential.
Reports such as Harvard University’s Bucharest Early Intervention Study which demonstrates the horrific and lifelong effects of institutionalization should not be ignored when decisions for Sampson are made. Every child has a right to live with their birth family and within their local culture. And every child has the right to be free of an institution where their IQ, weight, height, general health and brain mass all deteriorate on a daily basis. The Bucharest Study shows that Sampson will loose one IQ point for every month he lives in an institution. After three years of waiting, Sampson’s IQ could easily be below 85. This too must be considered in deciding what is best for Sampson.
The ideal society would be one in which no child is abandoned or relinquished – for any reason including poverty. A society where governments and civil society have programs to support families and to immediately reunite families separated for any reason –economics, social mores or earthquakes. We are and must continue to work towards making that ideal a reality. But while we are moving towards that day, we cannot ignore the reality of Sampson. We cannot sacrifice him on the alter of an ideal tomorrow. Sampson does not live in an ideal tomorrow – he lives in the reality of today.
We’d like to know your thoughts. And we’ll post some more of ours tomorrow.