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.

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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.





Hydrocephalus: why care needs to change

17 08 2011

Over the last two years Joint Council staff has met many children throughout the world affected by Hydrocephalus, a debilitating and sometimes fatal special need.  In our travels and work we’ve met Addison from Kyrgyzstan who has succumbed to the disease; Rene in Haiti; Josh in South Africa; and most recently Sun Cheng in China.  All of these children were orphaned because their biological family was unable to care for their disease. All of these children will most likely meet an early death due to their disease.  Many of them will pass slowly and alone.

On Tuesday, August 2nd Joint Council staff attended a Congressional Hearing at Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights focused on Hydrocephalus.  Hydrocephalus is the excessive accumulation of fluid on the brain and because of the pressure of the excess fluid, if it is left untreated it can cause brain damage and in many cases death.  The need for improved solutions to Hydrocephalus is imperative in our world today; with 1 out of every 2,000 children in the developing world being affected and more than 400,000 new cases of Hydrocephalus in Africa last year alone.

The most common strategy for treating the disease is placing a shunt, a tube implanted from the brain to abdomen, to drain fluid from the brain to the abdominal cavity. However, typically a shunt will need to be replaced up to five times in a child’s lifetime.  Oftentimes, due lack of resources, transportation difficulties, lack of accessible healthcare and various other factors, children often pass within the time it takes to get to a hospital to have the shunt fixed.  Clearly, another solution is needed.

The three Congressional Hearing panelists; Dr. Benjamin Warf, Dr. Steven Schiff, and Jim Cohick, have developed a groundbreaking surgery that has saved countless lives in Uganda. The new surgery uses an endoscopic treatment paired with an ETV/CPC procedure that reduces the tissue which creates the excess fluid. Although the research is limited thus far, the new treatment has a 75% success rate and the need for a shunt has been eliminated.

The panelists provided several recommendations to the international health community to reduce the number of cases of Hydrocephalus and promote sustainable strategies to treat the disease. They include strengthening health systems training, empowering local surgeons to treat children with Hydrocephalus, facilitating research to find the best practices to prevent post infection, and passionate care and concern. The panelists also spoke of the need for more neurosurgeons in developing countries, most specially Africa; in the United States there are 3500 neurosurgeons, in Uganda there are four, and in Congo there is only one. These staggering facts, and the children lost each day due to the disease, should motivate the international public health community to not only educate themselves about Hydrocephalus but also begin to provide resources so that more children can be saved and given a chance to live and thrive in a family.

For more information regarding the Congressional Hearing and the needs for better treatment options please to go:

http://cure.org/blog/2011/08/cure-testifies-on-hydrocephalus-treatment/





Raising Awareness, Affecting Change

16 08 2011

Last week we distributed an Executive Report to Joint Council Members which forecasts the continued suffering of children in need of a safe and permanent family. If current policies are not changed, in the next ten years over 250,000 children will be denied their basic human right to a family.

On August 26th, the folks over at Both Ends Burning will bring much needed attention to this tragedy through their Step Forward for Orphans March. The march will highlight the needs and suffering of children living without parental care and the impact the crash of intercountry is having on them.

The march from the National Mall to the Capital is intended to raise awareness, motivate public action and most importantly, to enable more children to live in permanent, safe and loving families.

For more information on the March or to learn how to participate, see the Both Ends Burning Invitation Video or Events Page.





300 Lives

14 07 2011

Seven of us walked into an orphanage in rural China, a brightly lit, clean and active place which serves as home for 300 kids. It was, like so many buildings in China, only a few years old. We walked into a building with new cribs (17 to a room), a well-equipped tactile stimulation room and a clean cafeteria with seating for over 200. But what we really walked into was not simply a building. We walked into 300 lives. 300 little lives filled with activities and therapies but void of a mother’s love. Void of their father’s kiss good night. And void of the hope that someday someone would give them a new life, a new reality…a new family.

The orphanage director was rightly proud of the facility, but also clear about the needs that remain – and grow every day. With the birth defect rate jumping over 40% in the past three years, it’s a challenge just to keep up, let alone expand.

And that is why we are here. To help. To partner. To preserve families and create new ones. To connect and to learn. To give a child with a cleft pallet a specially designed bottle that provides life giving nourishment. To share our collective passion. And privately shed our tears To share what we know, give what we can and marshal the resources to fill in the gaps. To give a moment’s love to a child who won’t make it to age 5. To build a sustainable garden and advocate for more. To walk into 300 little lives…and never leave.

By the ninth day of our journey in China, Christina and I will have assessed dozens of children, evaluated eight orphanages housing over 1,200 children and strategized with 22 government officials at central, provincial and city levels. But much like entering the orphanage, what we really did was enter many lives and allowed them to enter ours.





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.

 








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