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.





A Historic Day for Children – The USG Action Plan for Children in Adversity

19 12 2012

APCAClick here to read the U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity

Today at the White House, the U.S. Government will release its first-ever Action Plan on Children in Adversity. This historic Action Plan has been designed with input from scientific, faith-based and civil society communities. Preceding the White House launch, a briefing on the first whole-of-government action plan for international assistance to children in adversity will occur, hosted by the Children in Adversity Policy Partnership (CAPP), a coalition of US-based implementing and advocacy organizations, and the PL109-95 Secretariat for Children in Adversity. Panelists representing these communities will highlight the evidence behind the plan, review how the plan will guide the U.S. Government’s development and diplomatic efforts for vulnerable children, and provide concrete examples of programs that exemplify the Action Plan’s three core objectives:

  • Build Strong Beginnings: increase percentage of children reaching full developmental potential
  • Put Family Care First: reduce percentage of children living outside of family care
  • Protect Children: reduce percentage of girls and boys exposed to violence and exploitation.

The event will be moderated by Kent Hill, World Vision, speakers include Anne Goddard, ChildFund International, Kathleen Strottman, CCAI, Greg Ramm, Save the Children, Elizabeth Styffe, Saddleback Church and Neil Boothby, PL 109-95. The program is interactive and will demonstrate how new science is driving changes in international assistance for children.

WHEN

Wednesday, December 19,2012
9:30am – 11:00 am
Event: 9:30 – 10:15
Q & A: 10:15 – 11:00

WHO

Global Experts in Child Protection:
Anne Goddard, ChildFund International
Kathleen Strottman, CCAI
Greg Ramm, Save the Children
Elizabeth Styffe, Saddleback Church
Neil Boothby, PhD, U.S. Government Special Advisor for PL 109-95
Moderated by: Kent Hill, World Vision

Livestream

Event will be live streamed by the Huffington Post and is also available through the Press Club. Click here to watch the December 19th event

About the Partnership (CAPP)

The “Children in Adversity” Policy Partnership (CAPP) is a coalition of US-based implementing & advocacy organizations dedicated to accelerating bold and strategic U.S. policy action concerning children in adversity.

For more information, please contact Steering Committee members:

Arms Around The Child

Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute

Child Fund International

Kidsave

Joint Council on International Children’s Services

Save the Children

World Vision





Left or Right

28 06 2012

A few years ago Rebecca and I met Angelina, a young woman in a Haitian orphanage.  She was 23 years old.  As she shared stories of her life with us it became painfully obvious that this young woman had lived her entire life in that orphanage.  Sadder yet, in 23 years, she left the compound walls only a few times.  When I asked why she lived at the orphanage she said, “I don’t have any friends out there.  I don’t have any family.  When I walked out the door, I wouldn’t know if I should go left or right”.

Angelina

The damage done to children who grow without a permanent, safe family has been clearly documented over the past few decades.  Most recently, the research of Harvard’s Dr. Jack Shonkroff dramatically demonstrates the crushing effect on a child’s brain development and the 10-year study by University of Maryland’s Dr. Nathan Fox shows the permanent damage to virtually every aspect of a child’s physical and emotional well-being. Despite this and other evidence, much of which was presented at last December’s Summit on Children Without Family Care, untold numbers of children continue to suffer permanent damage.  And for those children who escape the trap of the sex trade or child labor, they, like Angelina, grow into adulthood unable to join society, unable to care for themselves…unable to go left or right.

Tom and Rene

On this trip to Haiti, I visited Rene, a young man Rebecca and I first met two years ago.  Rene has spent 13 years in an orphanage. In only a few years he will be out on his own – that is if he as a 15-year-old teenager is able to behave well enough to be allowed to stay at the orphanage.  As our van left the orphanage grounds, I wondered to whom he would go as he walked through the heavy steel door of the compound for the last time.  I wondered if Rene would go left or right on the dusty mountain road.  And I wondered how he would get the frequent medical care his hydrocephalus required to keep him alive.

When I visit children, when I hear their voices tell their own stories, when I see children whose ears have been chewed by rats, I can’t help but think we are all doing something wrong.  Thousands of non-profits and churches and governments run thousands of programs for children.  The US government spends billions of dollars in international aid for children each year.  Tens of thousands of volunteers and professionals work every day to help children.  Yet Angelia and Rene are just two of the estimated 100,000 children living in over 700 orphanages in Haiti.  Simply put – family life for children is not one of the priorities for the vast majority of NGOs or governments – even the United States government.

There is no US government policy which instructs our foreign aid to ensure children live, grow and thrive in a family.  We have offices for hunger, trafficking, HIV Aids, but none that protects children from life without their family.

Maybe we are not doing something wrong.  Maybe we are not doing enough of what is right.





Where were you 21 years ago?

9 02 2012

Register for the Child Welfare Symposium today!

Twenty one years ago…what were you doing?  Finishing up college?  Having your first child?  Not yet born?  Twenty one years ago, I attended my very first Joint Council Conference (now called the “Symposium“).  I walked in to a room at the 4-H Club in Chevy Chase, MD (what ever happened to Barb Holton?), with about 35 people in attendance.  I  heard people speak that were as passionate as I about children who needed families.  I was hooked (!) and I have only missed one conference since then. The following year, I heard Dana Johnson speak for the first time and the way I looked at children and how institutionalization affects them would never be the same.

In the beginning, I was a “lurker” and just tried to absorb the massive amounts of knowledge that was available at each conference, but soon I had to get involved! It didn’t take long  before the people I looked up to, became my friends.  I would call on them with problems or concerns.  They would reach out to me.  Together we were involved in committees, caucuses, and the medical day.  I remember bloopers from the podium, meeting new friends (Rebecca Harris, now Director of Programs & Services at Joint Council, I remember meeting you for the first time in San Antonio), and reconnecting with old ones.

Some things have changes a LOT in two decades.  Now, instead of lines at the pay phones in-between sessions, people are doing emails and talking on their smart phones!  But, the most important things have never changed.  Adoption still requires passionate, knowledgeable people who are willing to give their all, to each other and to the children, to create families. We need each other.  We need to learn.  We need honest advice.  We need new ideas.  We need accountability.  We need to find families for vulnerable children.  We need to support one another in the hardest times we, as agencies, have seen.

Twenty years from now, where will you be?  Some of us will be gone, some of us will be retired, some of us will still be carrying the torch.  We need the Joint Council Symposium now  more than ever.  Agencies, send your young employees, your experienced ones, your passionate, your willing to work long hours.

I, for one, could not continue to do my job without the relationships and knowledge that have come from Joint Council. I hope to see you in the Big Apple…..I will be the one with bells on!

Best regards,

Sue Orban

Avid Joint Council Symposium Go’er

Outreach & Education Coordinator at Children’s Home Society and Family Services





Two Years Later, and It Feels Like Yesterday

13 12 2011


As you may know, Joint Council has participated in Haiti’s child welfare system since 2003, but following the January 2010 earthquake, we significantly stepped up our efforts on behalf of Haitian children. Together with our partner organizations, we served over 45,000 children and families through programs at hospitals, medical clinics, child care centers, and adoption and food distribution programs. Specifically, we

  • Coordinated the emergency aid to orphanages and other institutions,
  • Created a database used to identify children, families, emergency relief needs and permanency options,
  • Directly educated and informed over 51,000 individuals, adoptive families and professionals,
  • Assisted with the development, coordination and implementation of the USCIS Humanitarian Parole Program for children.

Following the earthquake it has become increasingly clear that our partners (many of them small NGOs) need leadership from an organization that works on a spectrum of services to children — the kind of leadership Joint Council can provide. However, in the 23 months since the disaster, a lack of funds has forced us to decrease our efforts in Haiti.

Please help us change the lives of countless children in Haiti by making a tax-deductible donation to Joint Council today. Together, we can make sure that these forgotten children live healthier, happier lives and for countless orphans, help them find a permanent, loving home.





Russia: Making Progress, Thanks to You

12 12 2011

In 2010, you sprang into action when Joint Council asked you to show your support of Russian adoptions through our We Are The Truth campaign. Thank you for your support!

What a difference a year makes. This past July, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signed a bilateral adoptions agreement that will strengthen procedural safeguards in adoptions between our countries.

Can we say that your participation, your calls for change and your support of our efforts on behalf of Russian children in need of a family made that agreement happen? Maybe not directly, or individually, but together we made a BIG difference. Your voice gave strength to our work and thanks to people like you, Russian adoptions are back on track.

This year also brought a celebration of the achievements of one very talented Russian adoptee, Tatyana McFadden. Tatyana, who faced multiple health challenges as a child and is a wheelchair user as a result of late-diagnosed spina bifida, was nominated for an ESPY Award this spring! We are all so proud of Tatyana. She truly represents the resiliancey and strength of the human spirit, even when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds.

And that’s what it’s all about for these orphaned children — beating the odds.

You’ve helped us before and now we need your help again. Please make a tax-deductible donation to Joint Council today. Your donation will allow us to continue working with the Russian Federation, the United States government, and adoption advocates everywhere, to ensure that Russian – U.S. adoptions continue well into the future.





Guatemala – Broken Promises, Unfulfilled Dreams

12 12 2011

This year has been another difficult one for the more than 300 children who are still trapped in the broken system that has halted intercountry adoptions in Guatemala. Only 32 adoptions of Guatemalan children by families in the United States were completed in the past year. Only 32 more children are now spending their holidays in the arms of their new loving family. Clearly, our work in Guatemala is far from done.

But the year has had some bright spots. This year Sen. Landrieu made two trips to Guatemala to advocate for children and potential adoptive families, and she continues to champion orphans across the globe. In October, reason.tv released a documentary that focused on elimination of intercountry adoption in Guatemala in a way not often discussed in the media. The documentary can be viewed on our website.

Much like the scrutiny and attention by the international community exposed the corruption of the prior system, this same community must now refocus their attention to bring to light Guatemala’s ineffective implementation of the Hague Convention and its subsequent impact on institutionalized children and Guatemalan families.  Adoption reform in Guatemala has not resulted in the prosecution of criminals, nor has it served the best interest of children. What it has done is force thousands of children into orphanages, onto the streets, or even worse.

Joint Council needs your help to continue advocating for the ethical and legal finalization of all adoptions initiated prior to the closure of intercountry adoption in Guatemala, and for the formation of services that are desperately needed to ensure that children retain their right to a family.  Please help us in our efforts to call on all stakeholders who previously asked for reforms to move with speed in order to provide these much needed services.

 








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