The report is quite relevant to several blog posts that I’ve written recently (The choice to adopt is a luxury choice, Response to comments, A reader asks me, ‘Should we adopt?,' Orphanages & Diamonds: Socioeconomic Status & Adoption, etc.), which is in part why I wanted to bring attention to the report. It provides practical evidence and research supporting much of what I have set forth in the blog posts mentioned above.
The well-researched report supports the overall premise that a reliance on orphanages and institutions is outdated and should be prevented in the first place, while family-based care should not only be the first priority but that it is actually a more cost-effective, feasible, and possible long-term alternative to the inefficient and costly drain of institutions.
If you have not already read Families, Not Orphanages, I highly recommend taking the time to read it. Those of you who fear feeling attacked or undermined might be surprised to find that the report is not only informative and insightful but balanced. The authors state that they neither seek to "demonize residential care" nor "idealize family care."
The actual content of the report is twenty-two pages, but it's easy enough to print out and read in less than an hour while you might be waiting at a doctor's office or other appointment. I printed it out and read it while waiting on my friends’ kids. And I’ve re-read it several times since then.
I think it’s particularly vital that adoptive parents take the time and the responsibility to read the report, to inform and educate yourselves regarding the realities that lead to orphanages and separated families. It is well-written while it addresses very adeptly and fairly the complexities of the circumstances that lead to family separation and institutionalized care of children. The authors discuss not only the flaws and shortcomings of the current system but also areas in which successful outcomes have been attained along with potential solutions--and they do it with a balanced and realistic perspective.
Furthermore, for those who claim a Christian faith, I think Families, Not Orphanages addresses how Christians can actively think and act regarding the conflict they often feel over the existence of orphanages versus the follies that characterize current adoption practices. The authors present a very practical and feasible list of solutions and options to the problem of institutions and family separation.
I appreciate that the authors address the very real complications of the issues at hand, and yet they don't make excuses. For example, they acknowledge that although "institutional care remains the default option for children without adequate family care...inadequate imagination and resources have thus far been directed to developing [better family-based alternatives] (emphasis mine)." They also acknowledge that even though conflict and disease also contribute to family separation, "Neither AIDS, poverty nor conflict makes institutional care inevitable nor appropriate."
I appreciate that they view the current issues with a proactive responsibility, acknowledging that the problems at hand are complex and massive yet still reformable and manageable, if people and governments are simply willing to do the hard work. They can take this stance in part because through their experience and research they have encountered situations in which reform and hopeful outcomes have been made possible--because others were willing to do the hard work, politically, socially, and financially.
They site countries such as Italy, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and America as examples of successful transitions from relying predominantly on institutionalized care to developing and supporting family-based alternatives. These countries were able to do so by "addressing the underlying causes of family separation, including poverty and lack of access to basic services (emphasis mine)," and hence were "able to better provide targeted, community-based alternatives to children in need." Orphanages were then transformed and repurposed into family centers and/or treatment facilities for children with severe emotional and behavioral issues.
In general, the authors, based on their extensive research and experience, acknowledge that motivating "governments, international organizations, NGOs, and other policy actors to invest in family support services and alternative care is not easy," but they believe that it is not only possible but necessary and vital: "Well-implemented family-based care is preferable to well-implemented residential care." They suggest that "through a carefully planned and managed process, children can be reunited with their family or placed in kinship care or another form of family-based care in their community," while "most existing residential institutions should be phased out or transitioned to some other function (e.g., day care, education or community services)."
If two guys who have to deal with all the bureaucratic, political, and social realities and complexities as part of their daily work can believe change is possible, then I don't see why the rest of us can't do the same.
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An overall outline of the report, Families, Not Orphanages, includes:
- Problems with Residential Care: Children need more than good physical care; Institutional care is more expensive per child than other forms of alternative care; It is poverty that pushes most children into institutions; Long-term residential care for children is an outdated export; AIDS and conflict are fueling a surge of institutional care in some developing countries; Despite challenges, change is possible
- Why Do Orphanages Persist?: Misperceptions about orphaning due to AIDS have been a major factor; Without support family care can be inadequate
- What are Better Care Alternatives?: Family support and strengthening; Family reunification; Kinship care; Foster care; Kafalah; Adoption (I enumerated them in this order simply because that is how they are listed by the authors in the report)
- Preventing Unnecessary Separation
- The Way Forward