Three months after I became CCAI’s Executive Director I received a call from a frantic mother whose son’s orphanage, Casa Quivera, had been raided by the Guatemalan authorities the night before. The raid, she was told, was a part of the Guatemalan government’s effort to investigate the orphanage director whom they believed engaged in corrupt practices. Over the next year, I met hundreds of other parents whose adoptions had become immersed in a sea of similar investigations while their children languished in orphanages.
It was under this lens that our focus on the child welfare system in Guatemala began. We would soon learn that the passage of the 2007 Adoption law, although a necessary step, has presented two very real challenges for the Guatemalan government. First, it left hundreds of children whose international adoptions were not complete in legal limbo. Without a clear path forward, these cases underwent investigation after investigation. Six years later, approximately one hundred of these adoptions remain incomplete today. Secondly, it required that the Guatemalan government invest time, money and resources in developing domestic alternatives for children in need of family care.
Our first step was to raise awareness among Members of Congress about these challenges and to enlist their support in advocating for change. We are proud to have partnered with the Joint Council for International Children’s Services (JCICS), the National Council for Adoption (NCFA) and Guatemala 900 to host several briefings on the status of pending cases. Once we had the support we needed from the US Department of State, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and nearly 100 Members of Congress, we began to bring this support to bear in Guatemala.
Over the past two years, CCAI has been part of five high-level delegations to Guatemala. Through these visits we have not only had the chance to advocate for the rights of the children unnecessarily trapped in orphanages, but we have also had the chance to learn more about the Guatemalan government’s efforts to build a Hague-compliant system of child welfare. There is undoubtedly a lot that still needs to be done in this regard. Yet at the same time, the Guatemalans have been aggressive in their efforts to put in place a new system, one that is less reliant on institutional care.
Late last night, CCAI welcomed 14 delegates from Guatemala’s courts, governmental agencies and universities to Washington, DC. We have invited these individuals to participate in our Pathways to Permanency project because of their direct involvement in the welfare of children in Guatemala. Our hope is that this exchange will inspire these individuals to become agents of change in their own communities. The week ahead will be filled with presentations by US experts in child welfare; conversations among judicial colleagues; meetings with Members of Congress and the Administration and lessons in best practice from other regional models.
I have many hopes for the week ahead, but chief among them is this: that everyone who participates in this week comes away with a deep desire to see every child in Guatemala have a safe, loving and permanent family to call their own. I hope that they will see that achieving this goal requires the use of all options for permanency. And most importantly, I hope that like those of us at CCAI, they will be willing to work to remove every barrier that stands in the way of this hope becoming reality.