Putting Family First – The USG’s Action Plan for Children in Adversity

19 12 2012

zemzemI first met Zemzem in a southern village in Ethiopia.  As we sat in her small store which proudly stood at the entrance path to her village she told me about her sister who had died four years prior and of her struggle to raise her four nieces and nephews.  With no income other than a monthly contribution from a U.S. based sponsorship program, she found caring for four children more than she could bear.   With no government help available and no aid other than the inadequate monthly stipend, Zemzem placed the youngest of the children in an orphanage and expressed her hope that another family would love and parent her niece.  After months of languishing in the orphanage, her niece ultimately found an appropriate, safe, permanent family in the U.S.

As we continued to sit in the cramped space that was both her store and the home for herself and her now three children, Zemzem spoke with sadness about her loss, her longing to know how her niece was doing with her new family, and her decision to place another of her children in the orphanage.  And yet despite the sadness in her story, Zemzem’s eyes lit up with a hope and pride I so often see in the families I meet in my journeys.

Why with so much loss and sadness did Zemzem’s eyes light up?  Because the NGO that facilitated the adoption of her niece began an innovative family strengthening program in her village.  After one-year of training and two small loans, Zemzem has a thriving business selling much needed grains, bread and nuts to her community (with plans to begin wholesaling!).   With great pride Zemzem spoke of how she no longer needs the monthly aid on which she had become dependent.  Her business produced more than 3 times the income of the stipend and she no longer felt the need to place any of her children in the orphanage.

Zemzem closed our time together with pride, hope, and also a bit of a sales pitch asking for investors in her business.  But what I really saw in her was not only a savvy business owner, but a proud mother who with some one-time support, moved from loss and sadness to hope and fulfillment.

Before there was a US Government Action Plan for Children in Adversity, Zemzem’s life and story embodied it.   Just like Zemzem and the programs that gave her the ability to put her family first, the Action Plan puts family first by enabling families to care for their children; prevent unnecessary family-child separation and promotes appropriate, protective and permanent family care.  As just as Zemzem spoke with pride and hope built on sadness, we too should be sad that it took us this long to state the importance of family care for all children and yet filled with hope that the Action Plan will support evidence based programs; from family preservation to intercountry adoption, that make safe permanent family care a reality for all children.





Ethiopia: US Dept of State Adoption Notice – Delays Expected

5 04 2011

The Department of State has published a Notice on Ethiopian Adoptions: Significant delays remain likely for cases presented to Ethiopia’s Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs after March 8, 2011. The content of the notice is supported by Joint Council’s understanding of the current status of intercountry adoption in Ethiopia.

The highlights of the notice are;

• Adoption cases presented to the Federal Court of First Instance prior to March 8, 2011 will be processed expeditiously.

• Cases presented to the Court after March 8 will be processed in a more deliberate manner. MOWYCA will process these cases at a rate of approximately 5 per day.

• Prospective adoptive parents who did not reach the court summons stage before March 8, 2011, should expect significant delays in the progression of their paperwork through the Government of Ethiopia.

Click here for the full text of the alert.

 





Ethiopia Meeting & Conference Call: Did You RSVP?

5 04 2011

Please note that if you are intending to participate in tomorrow’s (April 6th) USCIS meeting and conference call regarding Ethiopia, you must RSVP for each person calling in (see below info on registering). USCIS’s dial-in capacity is being limited to only those who have sent their RSVP.

Joint Council strongly urges everyone who is interested in Ethiopian adoptions, the protection of children and families and our collective roles in ensuring ethical adoption remains a viable option for children, to participate in the call tomorrow.

To RSVP, send an email to public.engagement@dhs.gov and include “Ethiopia – Phone/Webinar” in the subject line.

To read the full announcement and invitation, please click here.

We look forward to your participation during tomorrow’s call.

 





Amercian University to host “Stolen Children: Illegal Practices in Intercountry Adoption”

1 04 2011

The UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic at Washington College of Law, American University is presenting Stolen Children: Illegal Practices in Inter-country Adoption and the Need for Reform on April 4, 2011 from 6:30 – 9:00 pm.

Joint Council’s Tom DiFilipo will participate as a panelist and will address both the role of social services in the prevention of abuse and abuse related consequences of adoption closures.

The event is open to the public and includes the following speakers.  We encourage all who are interested in protecting the rights of children and families to attend and participate in this robust discussion.

Keynote Presentation
Norma Cruz
Guatemalan human rights activist
President of the Fundacion Sobrevivientes (Survivors Foundation)

Panel Discussion
Tom DiFilipo
President & CEO
Joint Council on International Children’s Services

Karen Rotabi
Professor of Social Work
Virginia Commonwealth University

David Smolin
Professor
Cumberland School of Law

Alison Dilworth
Office of Children’s Issues
U.S. Department of State





Ethiopia: USCIS to Conduct Briefing on Ethiopian Adoption

25 03 2011

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will facilitate a meeting on Ethiopian adoptions for all stakeholders including adoptive families.  The meeting will take place on April 6, 2011.  The USCIS announcement and invitation is available below or here.

It is our understanding that USCIS will have adequate access lines for all who RSVP (as requested in their invitation).  If you intend on participating, please be sure to RSVP so that USCIS can ensure they have sufficient capacity on the conference call.

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USCIS Stakeholder Meeting on Ethiopian Adoptions

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 @ 1:00 – 4:00pm (EDT)
White Oak Conference Room
20 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20529

The USCIS International Operations Division and the Office of Public Engagement invite you to participate in a stakeholder meeting in which we will brief on some of the findings of the recent interagency site visit to Addis Ababa to review Ethiopian adoptions. Members of the USCIS and the Department of State team that visited Ethiopia will provide the briefing and answer questions about its content.

This engagement will be available to any interested parties by teleconference and webinar with a small number of in-person participants.  Due to space constraints, in-person participation will be by invitation only. We request that in-person invitees send a single representative to attend in-person unless requesting clearance for a second in advance.

To Participate in the Session

All individuals and organizations planning to participate in this engagement must respond to this invitation. Please contact the Office of Public Engagement at public.engagement@dhs.gov by April 3, 2011, and reference the following in the subject line of your email:

  • If you plan to attend in person, please reference “Ethiopia – In Person”
  • If you plan to attend by phone, please reference “Ethiopia – Phone/Webinar”

Please also include your full name and the organization you represent in the body of the email.

Once an RSVP email has been received, USCIS will provide you call-in and webinar details.
We look forward to engaging with you!





US Dept of State Announcement: Ethiopia

17 03 2011

The following announcement was issued by the U.S. Dept of State, Office of Children’s Issues on March 16, 2011.  It can also be found on their website.

U.S. Department of State, Office of Children’s Issues, Adoption Division hosted a conference call for Adoption Service Providers on March 11, 2011 at 10:45 am to discuss recent announcements made by the Ethiopian Ministry of Women’s, Children’s and Youth Affairs (MOWCYA). Below is a summary of information presented on the call.

As was stated in the March 9, 2011 Adoption Alert, the Department of State received information on the announcement made by the MOWCYA regarding the planned reduction in workload processing.

  • MOWCYA planned to implement a reduction of case processing from approximately 50 cases reviewed per day to no more than 5 cases reviewed per day.
  • MOWCYA has stated that this reduction is to improve screening of adoption cases while also devoting existing resources to other priorities on vulnerable children.
  • MOWCYA reviews each adoption case at two points in the process: after the match with prospective adoptive parents and after the final court decree to approve issuance of new birth certificate and passport for child.
  • MOWCYA has not announced any implementation guidelines on how reduction in processing will affect each stage of the process
  • If only 5 cases are reviewed per day, delays could be significant. Calculations based on rough estimates of cases in process (around 1000) indicate delays of one year or more.
  • Department of State defines ‘cases in process’ as those whose dossier has been accepted up to those cases that have received the final letter approving issuance of passport and birth certificate.
  • We are working on getting more details on implementation guidelines.

Since announcement, the Department of State has heard many rumors, but none have been substantiated.  The U.S. Embassy can confirm that the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs has shuffled the portfolios of key adoption personnel.  The Embassy has not been able to confirm how this reorganization may affect the processing of cases through the ministry.

Additionally, the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa is discussing the possibility of developing a consolidated assistance proposal to MOWCYA to find out what the resource needs are and find what assistance can be given to allow MOWCYA to accomplish their goals.





Dr. Jane Aronson Open Letter to Pres Clinton

16 03 2011

Dr. Jane Aronson, Founder and CEO of Worldwide Orphans Foundation and Joint Council Board Member, has issued an “open letter” to former President Bill Clinton where she pressed for stronger diplomatic efforts to reverse the Ethiopian government’s recent decision to halt international adoption in the country.

Aronson urged President Clinton to step in as a U.S. statesman to help negotiate between the Ethiopian government and American adoption agencies and parents, as he helped to secure the release of young journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee from North Korea.

A strategic plan for the de-institutionalization of orphaned children and community building is required to ensure the care and well-being of millions of Ethiopian orphans, stressed Aronson. “The Ethiopian government’s concerns must be addressed, but so must the concerns of the waiting parents and most of all, of the children.”

She said WWO and other nongovernmental organizations were prepared to sit down with Ethiopian government officials and large international NGOs like Unicef to assist the government in providing concurrent planning to strengthen adoption and social welfare infrastructures and to fill in the gap to ensure transparency in the adoption process.

The full letter can be found by clicking here.





Ethiopia – Update 3/14/11

14 03 2011

Various blogs and listservs are reporting that the Ethiopian Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs has announced a revised plan which includes the processing of 20 adoption cases per day.  While Joint Council has also been provided with this information, it is our understanding that no decision has been made or announcement published by the Government of Ethiopia.

We believe that it is premature to speculate on the intentions of the Ministry but rather seek to continue to partner with the Government of Ethiopia and use this opportunity to increase child and family protections while continuing intercountry adoption.  Joint Council fully supports the government’s efforts to increase the capacity for regulatory oversight of service providers, strengthen the review of each adoption case and expand social services to Ethiopian children and families.

 

 





No to corruption. Yes to families.

14 03 2011

by Rebecca Harris, Director of Programs & Services

The following as an excerpt from our newsletter, Mbali’s Message.  Sign up to receive it by clicking here.

Already in 2011 we’ve seen Ethiopia move to reduce intercountry adoptions by 90% and Kazakhstan officially suspend adoptions in anticipation of their ratification of the Hague Convention.  Haiti and Ukraine are on what we’ve termed our “high alert” list – countries that show indications of closing in the next 12-months. This is a scene we’ve seen play out over and over again, in country after country.  And every time a country has chosen to suspend or close intercountry adoptions, children suffer.  It’s a scene that is quite frankly, confusing, unneccessary, and very disturbing.
In allowing this to occur, we’ve failed the biological families who need preservation services, we’ve failed the children who legitimately need intercountry adoption and we’ve failed our global community.  I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of failure.  I’m tired of seeing children, like Addison, become “collateral damage” in the battle against abuse.  Allowing children to die needlessly and alone is simply unacceptable.

Over the last ten years we’ve fought the good fight.  But we’ve lost too many times.  And every time we lose, children lose.  This month we’ll release a report about the systematic elimination of intercountry adoption and the decrease in services to children.  And we’ll ask you to join us in changing the tide.  We’ll ask you to rally your friends and family to stand up and say “No” to corruption and “Yes” to families.  It’s not enough to just stop bad things from happening – we have to make good things happen too!

So, be on the look out over the next month – in your inbox and our website – I hope you’ll join me in standing up and demanding the fulfillment of every child’s right to a safe, permanent and loving family.  Join me in speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves.





Ethiopia: Washington Times Article by Andrea Poe

13 03 2011

Author and journalist Andrea Poe published Ethiopia Adoptions May Be In Peril in the Washington Times on Friday, March 11, 2011.  See below or click here for the full text of the article.

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NEW YORK – Ethiopia is poised to overtake China as the number one country of origin for foreign adoptees in the United States.

Young residents from the Joshua Youth Academy in Debrezeit, Ethiopia, an orphanage for children whose parents died of A.I.D.S. (Photo: The Washington Times)

Matches between orphans and families have been on the increase in what’s widely been recognized a one of the most successful intercountry adoption programs in recent years.

However, many adoption experts are now pointing to signs that that may soon be changing.  There’s a danger that the window for adopting from Ethiopia may be closing as so many other intercountry adoption programs have done.  Although American agencies are still processing dossiers and the Ethiopian government remains open to these adoptions, there is a general unease about what may happen in the near future.

Winds of Change

Prospective parents should give great weight to a statement by Doug Webb, the chief of child protection at UNICEF in Addis Ababa, who in December said, “The next 12 months are going to be crucial.”

As with other countries whose programs have been shut down (i.e. Nepal, Vietnam, Guatemala) to Americans, there have been accusations of child trafficking and the presence of unscrupulous actors who trade on the misfortune of birth families for profit.  There have been allegations of coercion of birth mothers to relinquish babies.  On the orphanage side, there have been accusations of fraud, in particular, reports that some Americans have been misled about the age of the child they’re adopting.

Further, many American agencies that facilitate adoptions are under review by the Ethiopian government.  In December one agency, the Minnesota-based Better Future Adoption Services, had its license revoked by the Ethiopian government amid charges of “fraud.”  Families who were working through this agency have seen their adoptions halted and have been advised by the U.S. State Department to seek legal counsel.

Susan Jacobs, U.S. Ambassador and Special Advisor to the Office of Children’s Issues at the Department of State, has urged all agencies working on intercountry adoptions to be Hague-accredited, including those operating in Ethiopia.  And recently the Ethiopian government has reversed its course and announced that it plans only to work with Hague-accredited agencies going forward, although the government has given no timeline for this change.

Separately, the U.S. Department of State recently reported that it has concerns “about reports highlighting adoption related fraud, malfeasance and abuse in Ethiopia…”

The U.S. Embassy has issued notices to American adoption agencies telling them to expect delays up to several months or more as investigations are initiated into individual cases.  The  State Department warns parents not travel to Ethiopia unless their adoption agencies has confirmed that they have a visa appointment, which means their child has been cleared to be brought into the U.S.

A current State Department posting reads: “We understand that this may result in a longer period before parents are able to bring their adopted children to the U.S.  However, this additional scrutiny is required to ensure that the adoption is legal under both U.S. and Ethiopian law.”

To Hague or Not to Hague

Ethiopia has not signed the Hague Convention.  There is international pressure on the Ethiopian government to ratify the treaty.  Although it has not done so yet, it has begun to study the effects of the implementation of the safeguards that child protection advocates have lobbied for.

On the surface, additional safeguards for children and the crackdown on corruption sound like positive steps.  And they will be if indeed the current discussion results in actual implementation and a streamlined process.

However, experience in other countries has shown that all too often these steps do not result in improvements, but rather in the slowdown and ultimately shut down of intercountry adoptions.

If these signs on the horizon in Ethiopia do wind up indicated what many in the international adoption community fear — the beginning of the end of Americans ability to adopt from Ethiopia– this would be a tragedy.

The United Nations Children’s Fund estimates that there are 5.5 million orphans, children who are the casualty of poverty and illness, especially since AIDS deaths are on the ascent in the country.

Although for the 2010 fiscal year, the U.S. State Department reports that there were only about 2,500 adoptions from Ethiopia, that number reflects a significant uptick over the 284 orphans adopted by Americans six years ago. These rising numbers mean that fewer children are destined to spend their lives in orphanages or living on the streets.

Conditions in Ethiopian orphanages tend to be poor—many go without running water– and, in some cases, dangerous with reports of beatings and sexual abuse.  Every child who is adopted is one more spared a childhood spent in these overcrowded conditions.

As the international community has intensified its scrutiny, Mahadir Bitow, the head of the Ethiopia’s Child Rights Protection Agency, has responded by announcing that she intends to close 25% of Ethiopia’s orphanages.  She does not say where these orphaned children would go.

All prospective parents looking to adopt from Ethiopia should pay close attention to the rapidly changing conditions.  And the entire world should keep watch.

A shrinking intercountry adoption program in Ethiopia, a country where there is an extremely limited domestic adoption program available, will be a dangerous sign that once again adults –even those with the best of intentions — will once again stand in the way of helping children.

Read more Red Thread: An Adoptive Family Forum in The Washington Times Communities.








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