Wednesday, June 22, 2011

More orphanages? More adoptions? More support for families in crisis?

Tara shared a thought provoking post, one that anyone involved in orphan care or adoption really ought to read.  I think it is designed to leave you with more questions than answers and that's okay.   Adoptions and ethics are a hard topic and there are no pat answers.  There are lots of simple truths like "kids need to have food" but not lots of simple answers.  Reading Tara's post, there were many things I wanted to say.  And like Tara, I kind of felt like if I wrote it down, it would head down some weird, windy twisty turny road of random thoughts.  That said, I walked away with these thoughts.

Do places like Haiti really need more orphanages?  That's actually one I feel feel pretty confident about.  Haiti does not necessarily need more orphanages.  (I am not saying that no one should ever start a new orphanage there, just that to say it is flawed to think that if Haiti could build enough orphanages, the orphan problem would be solved.  It is equally as flawed to think that if we could just find all of those children families, it would solve the orphan crisis.)  There are hundreds maybe even over a thousand orphanages in Haiti.  What Haiti needs is a system that encourage families to stay together and embraces orphanage care only as a last resort, a system that does not promote dependency on orphanages for food, education, or child care.  (Right now, many orphanages operate feeding and schooling programs.  While those things are good, there is an aspect of that which promotes dependency on orphanages and encourages parents to place their children simply so the parent can ensure their children have food and an education.)  Obviously, just stopping those types of programs would be wrong.  It would leave a hole in the services that many families desperately need.  But there is a need for orphanages, feeding programs, and schools to set visions that decrease dependence and promote independence.

Haiti also needs a government system in place that can adequately serve families.  Right now, one of the major issues Haiti faces in terms of orphan care is that there is an inefficient child welfare system that has a hard time monitoring cases of child abuse and is not able to adequately monitor orphanage care.  Many orphanages in Haiti, while well meaning, are literally hellholes where kids are lucky to get one meal a day, where kids sleep on the floor without mattresses, and where kids have literally only the raggedy clothes on their backs.  And of course, there are plenty of places where they are in it for the money, hoping to make a buck or two from any place they can while claiming to be caring for children.

And that doesn't even begin to cover the abuse that occurs within orphanages.  I am not defending any orphanage but even within the best orphanages, I would say the chances of abuse are high.  You are taking kids from a variety of backgrounds and placing them into a chaotic situation.  (Even the best orphanages are chaotic in a sense.  There is not the one on one connections made like within a family and anytime you have more than a handful of kids in one place, you are creating chaos.)  Chaotic situations lend themselves to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.  Add in the dimension that the kids are all coming from somewhere and even if every staff member is amazing and does not abuse, there is a chance that a child who was abused before he/she entered orphanage care will become an abuser.  To be honest, as a public school teacher, I am amazed that our fairly structured American school systems do not have more instances of inappropriate sexual abuse perpetrated from child to child.  The bathrooms alone provide multiple opportunities each day for a previously abused child to have inappropriate contact with someone.  And I can personally share how I have had a child display inappropriate sexual behavior to an entrie class of children right in front of my eyes.  That's in a public school system with well trained adult and with kids who go home at night.  When you figure that most of the staff in an orphanage have no formal training and have to monitor kids 24/7 including night time hours, it can be very difficult to keep abuse from happening.  (I am not saying that this excuses orphanages; orphanages who know abuse is going on have an obligation to stop it.  I'm just saying that even the most vigilant of place will probably deal with some type of abuse.)  Right now, I'm guessing the government agency that oversees all of this would be hardpressed to explain how they are educating orphanages as to how to prevent abuse and I'm fairly certain that very little is done to deal with orphanage staff who are abusive.  (It would also be interesting to know what standards this agency has in place to evaluate orphanage care and to help train and educate orphanages on the best ways of providing childcare while promoting the insolvency of families.)

Within Haiti, an effective child welfare system would also need to deal head on with the cultural institution of resteveks, in which a family allows their child to "stay with" another family.  However, most of these situations are nothing more than child slavery.  (One can see how trying to encourage in country foster care/adoption could be a huge problem when this is such a widely accepted practice.)

And the Haitian government would also need to find an effective system for eliminating corruption among its officials who govern adoption as well as within the processors/lawyers/orphanage staff who work on adoption.  Unfortunately, adoption means lots of money and when you infuse mass amounts of money into a country like Haiti, corruption and greed will be very hard to root out.  I don't know that I have a lot of good answers on how to ensure ethical and fair adoptions.  I also wonder how those same standards apply to domestic adoptions which are literally big business in a lot of ways.  (Think $20 to $30 thousand dollars for one adoption.  I've never done a domestic adoption and do not believe they should be free, but I have real concerns about where all of the money goes.)  And that doesn't even take into account our foster care system which we all know is barely functioning.    The real question is how do you put such systems into effect in Haiti when our first world country has difficulty.  I know some would like to see a central agency begin processing the applications for families who want to adopt and then assigning those files to specific, approved orphanages.  In theory, it sounds great.  In practice, there are several countries who already follow this practice and this seems to have significantly slowed down the process to adopt.  I don't know what the solution is.

And to be honest, I don't have a lot of good ideas for eliminating the basest of corruption that is just money centered.  There is also corruption that exists that is kind of of a purer type, the kind that really believes it is doing the right thing, even if it means breaking a few rules.  That's the part that is the hardest for me to sort out, especially in a country like Haiti where rules often seem very fluid.  What do you do with a parent who agrees to place their child for adoption, then gets mad at someone and refuses to attend the final interview that will release their child to a new life?  What do you do with the child who desperately needs medical care and might qualify for a medical visa?  Should you place them in potential adoptive placement knowing that they are technically required to come back to their home country to finish an adoption but hope they will be allowed to stay with their host family?  I am not saying I have the answers to those questions; I really don't.  I've never been in that situation and have never had to decide what to do.  I just know it's not always black and white.  Real Hope for Haiti just posted a variety of situations that they have been faced with in the last few days.  One can easily see how it could be tempting to just say "well place those kids for adoption" and how easily it could be to doubt that choice or vice versa to just say "give those families some money" and then doubt that choice.  Really what is probably most necessary is for people who are in those positions where they have to make ethical decisions to constantly be evaluating their positions, for those individuals to continue to think critically about how they are involved in the ethics of adoption/orphan care.

**The other day, after writing this, I sat down with another adoptive mom, one who adopted domestically, and our conversation included some of this.  One of the things I think we both felt was that what makes adoption so messy is that it is situational.  What is best for one family/birth mom/child is not always what is best for the other.  Because of that, it means this isn't always a "right" way to do things.  (I know Tara is saying that we need to be evaluating what are basic "right" ways of operating.  I'm not saying that isn't an important conversation.  Just that it could be entirely possible to embrace groups that work in ways that seem to operate in opposite ways.  We personally support Real Hope for Haiti which leans much more towards a family preservation philosophy.  Yet we also support an orphanage that does not allow families to leave their children in their care unless the family agrees to place for adoption.  (Generally speaking...they do make exceptions but as a general practice, they have decided that they cannot be a place that allows parents to drop off and pick up children at their convenience.)  So perhaps that's the biggest take away.  To evaluate but to also to consider how there isn't always one right answer.

1 comment:

shellandjim said...

Very, very well written and thought provoking! I saw the link to this on the yahoo group site and really like the way you put this! As an adoptive Mom Domestically, Internationally and through the foster care system and in the process of our second Haitian adoption I really think there is so much to be considered on this whole subject and we do best when we try hard to take as much emotion out of the mix as possible. That is easier said then done I understand :-) Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Shelly