Statement on Children and Family Services in Ethiopia

9 03 2011

March 9, 2011

Statement on Children and Family Services in Ethiopia

The work of Joint Council on International Children’s Services includes the development and implementation of the highest standards and ethical practices, the support of children living outside of family care and advocacy for permanency.  As a leader in the international child welfare community, we are deeply concerned about the well-being of Ethiopian children and the integrity of the intercountry Read the rest of this entry »

Ethiopia: The Last Day

20 12 2010

Very early this morning, as the sun was rising above the streets of Addis Ababa, I watched the city welcome a new day.  As I watched the city awaken – the women walking to start their day’s work, the soon-to-be world class runners going for their morning jog and the donkeys slowly march the grains to the market – I reflected on the lesson this and every advocacy trip reinforces: the best way to serve children is to collaborate-to work together everyday.

Earlier this year while in Port-au-Prince, Joint Council hosted a meeting of our colleagues working to serve the children and families of Haiti.  As Tom and I conducted the meeting it became evident that some of the organizations working in the same city, in the same district, in the same camps were not communicating and in fact  didn’t even know the other organizations existed.  One organization talked about their struggles to create a new foster family program in Port-au-Prince while in the meeting room was another organization who had already developed a foster care program years ago. They had trained foster families, and placed children in foster homes.  All of this in the same city, the same district, the same camp. Yet this was the first time they met.  A few months later, the two organizations are now working together and instead of ‘recreating the wheel’, they are sharing resources and getting more kids off the streets and into families.  This is why the work of Joint Council is so important – we bring people together, we find common ground, common needs and shared resources.  And through what is often a simple introduction, more children get the help they need.

More than once this past week in Addis Ababa a similar scene was repeated.  Over the last year three different, well-respect organizations, governmental bodies and inter-governmental bodies created standards for orphanage care and for de-institutionalization in Ethiopia.  Imagine if their energies had been focused on a collaborative effort to produce one set of standards.  Imagine how less confusing it would be for the very caregivers who are supposed to follow the standards.  And imagine how many more children could receive better care in the orphanages if they had worked together.

The same is true for rooting out corruption in the child welfare system , or to put it as Ambassador Jacobs said, “to do it right.”  There is so much going right in Ethiopia.  From a ground breaking foster care program put in place by Buckner International to the  Family Empowerment Program established by Wide Horizons For Children.  From the HIV/AIDS programs of World Wide Orphans to the long-term care facility run by Adoption Advocates International.  Yes, much is being done right.

But there are concerns about unethical practices and abuse.  If we are going to eliminate overt corruption then it will take all of us working together.  We are all responsible for helping children and we all play a vital role in making sure it happens ethically.  And if we are not fighting to end the corruption, are we not complacent in it?  No one government, no one NGO and no one individual can do it alone.  It must be done together.

This week, I met with government officials from Ethiopia, the US, Italy and Spain.  I worked with UNICEF, Ethiopian NGOs and US Adoption Service Providers.  I even met with local child welfare leaders.  From these meetings I could see that collaborative efforts were in fact underway.  This being said, I also saw many barriers that keep people from working together.  Some in the child protection community refuse to share information with Adoption Service Providers.  Too many leaders of NGOs will not meet with the leaders of other NGOs.  And perhaps most sadly, while some shared with me their concerns about specific incidents of abuse, it was not reported to any government authority.  Failures to share information, declining invitations to work with one another and refusing to report abuse all contribute in some way to the violation of the rights of children and families.  If we are in fact going to make it right, I hope we can expand on the collaboration that does exist and truly work for the best interest of the children.


P.S. I’m heading to Johannesburg, South Africa today but my blog posts won’t stop.  You’ll be able to follow my very different journey in Johannesburg while I help care for children without families.

Ethiopia: Lessons Learned

13 12 2010

As I continue my time here in Ethiopia, I’d like to share with you the continuation of a story we shared with you last Holiday Season, as part of our Hope for the Holiday’s Program.

Last year on our trip to Ethiopia we had the joy of meeting one of the most inspiring women I’ve ever met – Zemzem.  A few years ago she was the enrolled in a family empowerment program with one of our member organizations.  The program gave her the skills she needed to start a small retail store in her area.  Although I will not have the opportunity to visit Zemzem on this trip, I did have the opportunity to meet with a friend who just visited Zemzem in her village a few days ago.  And I’m pleased to let you know that Zemzem and her family are doing fantastic!

Zemzem went from extreme poverty to a prospering business owner in less than 2 years.

A few years ago before the family empowerment program was available, Zemzem relinquished one of her children due to her extreme poverty.  But now her three children have been enrolled in school and she has expanded her business extensively.  She built an addition to the front of her store to give her more space to sell her goods.  She has started to wholesale corn and other grains from the back of the store.  She has even started to import/export goods from her village, which brings in 20 birr/day alone.  My friend informed me that she is now the richest person in the village!  We joked that she now owns and runs the local 7-11!  All of this with a small investment of funds and resources a few years ago by one of our member organizations!  Zemzem and her three children represents just one the 1.2 million families served by Joint Council and our member organizations in Ethiopia.

It is great to know that Zemzem and her children have been transformed from poverty and relinquishment to relative prosperity and a secure family.  She has taught us all a lesson on the importance of empowering women.  Another lesson on how to transform lives may sound a little odd, but it is one that this trip has reconfirmed – go with the flow and accept that things are going to change.

Despite my excitement to travel to Hosanna on Saturday to see the work of our member organizations and orphanages in Hosanna I was Read the rest of this entry »

We End Where We Began…

30 11 2010

To learn more about Joint Council’s National Adoption Month Advocacy Campaign-Click Here

Today, we are ending our 30-Day Challenge in the same place we began, in a childcare center in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Our story began with Mbali-Today it ends with Gabrielle, who passed away on June 26, 2004, the day after Mbali.  The story below was written by Thea Jarvis, who founded TLC, the day that Gabrielle passed away.  To read Thea’s story and the founding of TLC, click here.

Gabrielle passed away today.  Gabrielle’s story has been such a sad one from the beginning.   Her Mommy is a young girl who was found wandering around Baragwanath Hospital with the newborn baby in a duffel bag.   When a nurse from the psychiatry department noticed that the bag was moving she confronted the girl and called a security guard to check the bag, to confirm her suspicions.

They sent the baby and the Mom to TLC with the idea that Gabrielle should stay until the mother had received some counseling … Gabrielle was only a few hours old and the most beautiful baby.

Gabrielle’s Mommy’s story was one that is becoming more and more frequent.   The mother found out she was HIV+ and simply lost it!   She went crazy.   Gabrielle’s mother  tried to abort her baby, but when that didn’t work, she went  into labor, went to the hospital and delivered the baby.   She is still psychotic though, and has not shown any interest in the baby apart from the rare phone call.

Gabrielle has been a sickly baby from the beginning, even though she tested HIV-.  Gabrielle spent quite a few stints in hospital and always came home with the doctors scratching their heads and having no answers.   Her hospital file was full of question marks.

So, here we are today, our little girl has, like Mbali, taken her wings and gone home.  It was a shock for us .  It was so sudden, with Mbali we had due warning.   Even though Gabrielle was sickly we hoped that because she was HIV- we could put up a fight and win…because we usually do.   We did not expect this.   She drank her bottle.   Started screaming in agony and immediately died leaving us all in shock.  Good bye my little sweet girl!

Note: Rebecca, Joint Council’s Director of Programs and Services, will return to TLC  from December 15th – December 26th.  While there, Rebecca will be blogging and video-blogging at

Today the task is simple- give yourself a big pat on the back and check out everything that Joint Council and you have accomplished this month through our I Am The Answer Campaign. You have successfully made it through the 30 day challenge! Congrats!

Be The Answer for Jason

3 11 2010

To learn more about Joint Council’s National Adoption Month Advocacy Campaign-Click Here

Editor’s note: Today’s story comes from Steven Walker, former foster child, adoptee, and adoption advocate.  For more on Steven Walker, please visit his Official Page on Facebook.

November is National Adoption Month. It’s easy for me to celebrate National Adoption Month, because I made it. I survived the system and have become an advocate for children. However, there are many children that aren’t celebrating. It’s just another depressing month in their lives. This is a story of a friend of mine, whom I grew up with in the foster care system…

Already filled with anger and hurt, tears stream down his face as the social worker tells him they will try to find him a family for National Adoption Month.  As hope begins to fade, he sees his stuff get packed into black trash bags and his siblings move to a different home. Every night, he cries himself to sleep. What will happen to him? What will happen to his siblings? He lays there thinking.

The little boy struggled all his life, entering Foster Care at age three. He tried to be a good boy, but kept learning new details of his life. When he was five he found out he had a little sister born in Guatemala, who was adopted by a family. The agency told the family that she had no siblings. He also had seven brothers and sisters in several states across America. Most of them have been adopted or have landed in group homes. The little boy had little time to focus on his siblings as he and his sister that he was currently living with were being abused by their foster family. The dad beat them. The mother forced them to watch porn and put on their own show. At night, the boy started gaining weird feelings for his sister. He was removed from that home and his sister stayed.

The next day, he was shoved into the back of a county car and moved to a suburban family, who let him know they wanted a little girl and are only keeping him into another family can be found and to help pay for the father’s back surgery. The little boy kept crying again. He was only there five months, but it felt like an eternity of pain and anguish.

He then moved in with a couple who were in their 70’s. Things were going pretty good. They treated their grandchildren better than him, because the grandchildren were blood, but at least he wasn’t getting beaten. He lived with this couple for a year and a half, when the foster mother died and the father became ill. Their children tried taking them in but gave up after two weeks, in fear for their children.

He moved into a group home, where he was labeled as violent and likely to molest. He stayed there until just shy of his 16th birthday, when another family was willing to give him a shot. He stayed with this family for over a year. Two months short of his 18th birthday, he saw the parents get into a physical fight over whether they should keep him or not. They went on vacation in another state to decide. They came back with the answer, No. They felt he was a good kid, but said his past was too hard to overlook.

The boy felt out that all of his siblings were adopted. None of those families wanted him because of the labels put on him: ADHD, Violent, Anger Issues, Attachment Issues, Lies, Steals, Self-Injures, and risk of hurting others. They didn’t understand that he just wanted love.

The boy aged out. He became homeless. He ended up getting arrested for beating up a man who stole his coat. Sentenced to a year in jail. He walked in saying, this shouldn’t be too hard I’ve lived in prison my entire life. As he received free time in the prison yard, he began to talk to other people, and found out, a lot of them have aged out too. He wished something could be done….

This is a common thing in America. Children keep getting abused, entering foster care, getting abused there, receiving labels, aging out, repeating the trend. We need change…

Please help!!! BE THE ANSWER for children…

Be The Answer for Jason by  checking out the “I am One” Video here and visiting the campaign site

The 30 Day Challenge!

31 10 2010

I’d like to introduce you to someone…She’s very special to me.  In so many ways she is the catalyst for who I am today.  She single handedly changed the course of my life.  The first time I held her in my arms I was frozen with fear – afraid I might just break her. She was so fragile, so limp, so weak.  Today, however, she is at peace.  Her name is Mbali.  She is the inspiration, foundation, and motivation for every Joint Council monthly newsletter, entitled Mbali’s Messages ( click here to subscribe now ).  Every month, at the bottom of each newsletter you can find these simple words about Mbali and her Message “Mbali was a four-month-old abandoned HIV+ orphan in South Africa who passed away in the arms of a Joint Council staff member.” That staff member was me.  For many years, Mbali’s memory was held only in my heart.  Through Mbali’s Message, Joint Council honors Mbali’s short life and the millions of orphaned children who die everyday without a family or a loving embrace. Our goal at Joint Council is to provide a vision of hope that children will never again pass from this world parentless and alone.

Since we started Mbali’s Message two years ago, Mbali has given a quiet but constant voice to the children of the world that I, Joint Council, and the global community have failed –  those who pass alone without the love of a family.  But today, and every day in the month of November, Mbali ‘s voice AND the voices of the thousands of children like her will be heard loud and clear.  As part of National Adoption Month Joint Council will be leading an advocacy campaign,  entitled “I am the Answer…” .  Everyday this month we will honor the children who have passed alone, who suffer alone today, and who have not yet found an answer with the love of a family.  We ask you to Be The Answer for them.  It’s easy to Be The Answer for a child.  Give 5 to 15 minutes of your day – every day in the month of November.

Today, I ask you to make the 30 day commitment to honor 30 children who are alone, without families, and without an answer.   I ask you to spend every day this month spreading Mbali’s Message of hope – may children never again pass from this world parentless and alone.

So, where do we start?

Starting tomorrow, Monday, go to our blog at where you will hear more about Mbali through my eyes and from my heart.   We will also share with you a message of hope –the message of a child who has what Mbali never had – a family.   There you will find the first task of the “I am the Answer” 30 day challenge.  Complete the task.

Then, on Tuesday, do the same thing.  Check out our blog.  Hear the story of another child we all failed, the story of a lucky child who received a family, and what you can do to give more children an answer.

Then, for the rest of the days in November do the same thing. Read the stories, complete the tasks, and spread the message that You are and can be the answer.

Statement and Recommendations on the Suspension of Intercountry Adoption in Nepal

18 10 2010

Joint Council has issued the attached Statement and Recommendations on the Suspension of Intercountry Adoptions in Nepal.  The Statement and Recommendations can also be found by clicking here.

Request for stories: National Adoption Month Advocacy

13 09 2010

This November Joint Council will be participating in National Adoption Month in an unprecedented and unique way.  Everyday in November, we will be highlighting the stories of those children throughout the world who have yet to be served by adoption, celebrate those children who have thrived in their adoptive family, and ask individuals to take small actions everyday to help children in need.

From today September 13, 2010 through October 15, 2010 Joint Council will be accepting stories from professionals, families and other concerned individuals who have seen the plight of children who live outside of family care and those who have gained permanency, safety and love through adoption.  To submit a story, follow the directions below.  The advocacy campaign will be one part of of Joint Council’s larger National Adoption Month Campaign, which hopes to encourage individuals to Be The Answer to the world orphan crisis.  The idea from the campaign was generated by Joint Council staff following this post in last month’s Mbali’s Message and the Be The Answer blog.

Directions for submitting a story:

  • Email the story of a child who has yet to be served through adoption and/or a story of a child who has thrived in his/her adoptive family to Jason Cohn at by October 15, 2010
    • Stories may be:
      • Three minute video
      • 750 words, please include photos of yourself and the child
    • If applicable, please include a release of information for each story submitted.
    • If the child highlighted is living outside of family care, individuals are encouraged to use a pseudonym for the child and send photos with discretion and with the child’s safety in mind.
  • Questions regarding the campaign and submitting stories should be directed to

Joint Council looks forward to the community participating in this advocacy effort.

Why must we fight for a child’s right to a family? by Rebecca Harris

31 08 2010

The following is an excerpt from Joint Council’s monthly newsletter, Mbali’s Message.  To sign up to receive it and other updates from Joint Council via email, click here.

The children who spend the last moments of their lives parentless, unloved and alone have always haunted me.  I can’t shake them, no matter how much I want to walk away out frustration with the system that blocks children from living, and dying, in families.  These children are sometimes the only reason I keep fighting.  From their graves they call to me, “please, just help one more, please just keep fighting.”  Perhaps it’s because of a little girl named Mbali who who passed in my arms – a new volunteer at an orphanage who barely knew her.  Perhaps it’s because I see her in every child.

Since that day over five years ago other children have been added to the stream of voices – some still fighting to live but are alone, and others who have passed alone.  From Gaby, a little girl who died soon after Mbali.  To a little girl with hydrocephalus in Kyrgyzstan.  To Rene in Haiti who I worry about every day – hoping his shunt hasn’t failed, hoping he hasn’t gotten kicked out of his orphanage, hoping that someone will give him the care he needs, hoping that the next time I travel to Haiti he will still be there.  And fearing that one day I will travel to see him and he won’t be.

Recently another child has been added.   A little boy name Evan.  Evan was a special needs child from Georgia.  Evan was adopted by a loving American family on June 28th, 2010.  On July 19th, 2010 he left this world.  Evan was lucky enough to feel the joy of a family for 22 days.  Evan was cheated by the system, wasn’t given the right to a family soon enough to save his life.  He grew up in an orphanage and then foster-care.  Evan spent two years waiting for the family to which he was referred to work through the bureaucracy and complete his adoption. Without the protection that only a family can provide he didn’t get the medical care and nurturing that he needed.  His condition worsened and despite attempts to save him, Evan passed away.

Why must we all fight for every child’s right to a family?  Because everyone deserves the chance to live and die in the loving embrace of a family.  And because millions of children suffer and pass every year alone.

Adoptions from Nepal Suspended

6 08 2010

Effective today, August 6, 2010, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) announced the suspension of new adoption cases for children identified as abandoned in Nepal. The primary cause of the suspension appears to be that documentation on the children is not reliable, the origin of child cannot be adequately determined and the child’s adoptability cannot be assured.

DOS will continue processing approximately 80 adoptions for those children referred to an American citizen prior to August 6, 2010. However, the review of these approximately 80 adoptions will be vigorous and it is expected that some might not be ultimately approved.

It was also announced by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that potential adoptive families may transfer their case to another country at no cost (one-time).

The full announcement on the suspension and Q&A can be found at:

USCIS Announcement – Suspension of Nepal Adoptions

USCIS Q&A – Suspension of Nepal Adoptions

Joint Council is preparing a statement on the suspension which will be published in the coming days. We will also work aggressively with the governments of Nepal and the U.S. along with adoption service providers to ensure that the children of Nepal will once again have the right ot a family through legal and ethical intercountry adoption.

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