As a boy, renowned author Robert Louis Stevenson lived on a hillside in Scotland, his family’s home overlooking a small town below. Robert was intrigued by the work of the old lamplighters who went about with a ladder and a torch lighting the street lights for the night. One evening, as Robert stood watching with fascination, his parents asked him “Robert, what in the world are you looking at out there?” With great excitement he exclaimed, “Look at that man! He’s punching holes in the darkness!”
Three years ago, CCAI set out to punch holes in the darkness. Frustrated by the fact that the United States Government, a leader in so many other areas of global concern, lacked a clear and effective strategy for reducing the number of children living without the support of a family; we started by asking why? Why was it that a value so clearly a part of the U.S. Government’s efforts to protect children had not made it into our foreign policy? Why was such a fundamental American value, the value of family, not better represented in our programming abroad?
The more we learned, the more our concern grew. We learned that while an estimated $2 billion dollars a year was reportedly being invested in international programs focused on the care and support of orphans, little to none of this funding was being spent on preventing orphanhood. We learned that despite overwhelming scientific evidence that institutions seriously damage children, our lack of advocacy for family based care was resulting in an increasing number of children being confined to a life in them. And perhaps one of the hardest lessons we learned: despite national experience with international adoption as a worthy and effective way of securing a safe and stable family, we watched as global leaders suggested otherwise.
And so we had a choice to make. We could stand idly by and allow the futures of millions of children be cut short by this darkness or we could punch holes in the darkness in the hopes that bringing light to these issues would inspire change. We chose the latter. We began by educating federal policymakers on what emerging brain science tells us about how urgent the need is for global policies to better reflect the right to a family as a basic human right. We also outlined how U.S. policies, programs and priorities might be improved to better protect this fundamental right. Finally, we hosted two national and one regional convening to engage foreign leaders in a concrete conversation on moving their child welfare systems away from orphanages and toward families.
Our Haiti Convening illustrated that it is not only possible but preferable for the Government of Haiti to focus on rebuilding its families instead of rebuilding its orphanages. Our Way Forward Project sought to stimulate dialogue among the world’s experts on both the need for family-based care but also the ways in which laws, policies and programs might be developed or expanded to support the use of family-based care for children in need of it. And most recently, our Pathways to Permanency Project provided permanency training for 15 key leaders from Guatemala.
Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs held a hearing on the newly launched USG Action Plan for Children in Adversity (APCA). In providing testimony to the committee, Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg acknowledged that APCA is the first ever high-level USG policy that acknowledges that children need families to thrive. He also acknowledged that the Action Plan is a critical realigning of U.S. investments in children abroad around three key objectives, the second of which is to reduce the number of children without families.
Today, Mr. Stevenson, I felt like that lamplighter.