Friday, October 8, 2010

Families, Not Orphanages


A report, Families, Not Orphanages, written by John Williamson and Aaron Greenberg was released this year and sponsored by Better Care Network (BCN), an affiliate of UNICEF. (Thank you to the fellow Korean adoptee that directed me to it.)

The authors are people who know what they're talking about--both have been working in the field for years. John Williamson has worked as a senior technical advisor for USAID's Displaced Children and Orphans Fund since 1997. He has also been a consultant for UNICEF, USAID, and UNHCR. Aaron Greenberg is the current Chief of Child Protection for UNICEF in Georgia. He has also served as a teacher and teacher trainer in Eritrea and as a conflict mediator in refugee camps in Sierra Leone. Both have Master's Degrees in related areas--Williamson, Social Welfare and Greenberg, International Affairs. Clearly, the experience of these individuals has allowed them to be exposed to the realities of the issues at hand.

The authors state that the purpose of the report is to examine "available evidence on typical reasons why children end up in institutions, and the consequences of providing this type of care compared to other options."

Furthermore, they state that the report is "a call for governments to prevent unnecessary separation of children from their families by strengthening social services and social protection mechanisms in their countries." The authors recognize that "some residential care will be needed for some children," but that "the emphasis and priority" should be "on developing and supporting family-based care alternatives." They conclude that "Strengthening families should be the first priority, always and everywhere." But we all know that all too often it is the last priority as exemplified by the appalling dearth of available governmental, financial, and social support.

The report forms its conclusions based on evidence and statistics gathered from research and studies spanning over 100 years.

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.

* * *

An overall outline of the report, Families, Not Orphanages, includes:

  • Introduction
  • 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

5 comments:

Von said...

Progress we hope!

Sandy said...

Thanks Melissa - I will read and learn. Change can happen.

People within the adoption world have to be the ones to champion change. It does not matter what position you hold and if you are a parent who has adopted it does not mean you cannot also champion change - one has nothing to do with the other...

Melissa said...

Er, I don't know what happened to the comment that I received from "Anonymous" regarding this blog entry...?

I received it in my email inbox, but for some reason it isn't showing up in the comments section...?

But I will respond for the sake of "Anonymous," so that you don't think I'm ignoring your comment...(you hopefully remember what your comment addressed...)

But the main disagreement with me you made was as follows:

"I would offer that placing the larger burden and responsibility for public change regarding the care of orphans around the world primarily on adoptive parents seems more aimed at creating discord than of facilitating mutually respective & effective dialogue."

In short, I appreciate your feedback.

I will say that you do seem to have misunderstood the message of this post. I was not "placing the larger burden & responsibility" wholly on AP's to change the current cycle of poverty and the repercussions on families. Honestly, that is a gross misinterpretation of this post and of my blog as a whole. (I work very hard to try to promote unity among adoptees & AP's and to provide an environment on my blog that fosters healthy discussion...)

My blog and this particular post are for any who are willing to read it--obviously, though, the focus of my blog is adoption-related issues, and hence, it will attract mainly adoptees and AP's...

I would encourage you to read the post and the report again. If you read my post for its plain meaning, I am placing the responsibility on AP's to EDUCATE themselves, or as I wrote "the responsibility to read the report, to inform and educate yourselves regarding the realities that lead to orphanages and separated families."

This is very parallel to what you stated in your own comment of "While certainly I believe it IS the responsibility of PAP's and AP's to carefully research, address the hard or rarely heard truths, delve into the ethical & moral issues of adoption..."

If you are taking issue with the fact that I addressed AP's specifically, well, I did so simply because it is AP's, not adoptees, who often express resistance to educating themselves. Of course although there are plenty of AP's who are very proactive in educating themselves, I also encounter a fair share who are not...

That's it. I'm simply asking AP's to make themselves aware of the many facets of the issues that lead to orphanages and family separation--just as you stated...

What they choose to do with that knowledge is up to them. In no way did I state that AP's must single-handedly champion change. Again, if you read through the post, I never make such a statement.

If some choose to do so, great. But again, I did not place any such burden on AP's. However, again, I do think it is the responsibility of AP's to EDUCATE themselves so that they are well-rounded in their knowledge and understanding of the complex issues that surround adoption.

(cont' below)

Melissa said...

Even the report itself, as I noted in the blog post is "a call for GOVERNMENTS (emphasis mine) to prevent unnecessary separation of children from their families by strengthening social services and social protection mechanisms in their countries." (Of course, for governments to make such changes they need support also...)

I'm simply asking that AP's and the LIKE (myself included) as I stated at the end of the post to "believe change is possible"--the full quote stating, "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 (emphasis added) change is possible, then I don't see why the rest of US (emphasis added) can't do the same."

You'd be surprised at how many AP's are apathetic or indifferent to educating themselves or even thinking it vital to believe that change is possible...you may not be one of those AP's, but believe me, there are plenty who choose to ignore and neglect the deeper issues. That's their choice, but I think it's unfortunate...

Again, my plea is simply for the rest of us (myself included) to believe that change is possible.

Also, if you haven't read the other pertaining posts, in particular, "Orphanages & Diamonds: Socioeconomic Status & Adoption," I address that each person will choose to play a different role, some more passive and others more active...but that simply that we each must be willing to acknowledge the role we choose to play...

So, ultimately, it would seem, Anonymous, that I wasn't saying anything different from what you already claim to believe.

You somehow read into my words meaning that was not there.

Again, I encourage you to read the report, if you have not already for greater and more whole context.

And I, too, have built homes in Guatemala and Mexico, while I have also stood in orphanages & homes filled with babies and children and met unwed pregnant mothers in Korea facing decisions that no mother should ever have to make...which compels me all the more not simply to ask myself how to get kids out of orphanages, but how to overcome the social, political, and economic factors that lead to such inequality so that we can prevent them from ending up there in the first place...

And sometimes, the action we take may be as simple as blogging about it or telling others about it with the hope that others will take an interest and be compelled to educate themselves and others...

(Also, understand what the purpose of my blog is...it is to address issues as they relate to adoption, and specifically from the perspective of an adoptee. So, obviously, I'm going to be addressing adoptees and AP's primarily...not because I think they're the only folks in the world who need to be aware of poverty, but because adoption is the focus of this blog.)

Margie said...

You are absolutely right: If anything is going to change in adoption, the people living it have to make that change happen.

If I may respond to the quote from Anon's comment:

The larger burden of responsibility DOES rest on adoptive parents. Our desperation for children, our unwillingness to wait, and our dollars have driven increasingly nefarious adoption activities. We simply have to get over our discomfort at being a part of the problem, and start doing something about it.

Additionally, we have to stop branding those who already are taking action as "anti-adoption" or "angry." With those behaviors, we create a good bit of the discord in the adoption community.

Thanks again, Melissa, for your thoughts and for the heads up about the report.