CCAI’s Commitment to Rebuilding Haiti

On May 9th, 2010, almost five months after the earthquake, the AP published an article entitled “Desperate Parents Abandon Children in Haiti.”  In it, they described how poor parents, who had been struggling to provide for their children before the disaster, have been all but pushed over the edge by its effects.  It also describes how many of these parents have come to look to orphanages and IDP camps as places where they might receive the help they are most desperately in need of.  I was struck by one part in particular which read,

The United Nation’s Children’s Fund set up a toll-free hotline in February for abandoned or lost children who had been separated from their families during the quake. The call center has registered 960 children so far. ”We don’t call them orphans because they could have family,” explained Edward Carwardine, UNICEF’s spokesman in Haiti.

UNICEF gave the hot line number only to agencies and aid workers — not the public — for fear of an avalanche of calls from desperate families trying to unload their children.

To me, these four sentences say a lot about what is wrong with our current approach to serving  not only Haiti’s, but also the world’s orphans.  First, as always, we seem to spend more time talking about whether the children of desperately poor parents are orphans than we do in trying to prevent these parents from being in circumstances that at some point down the road will make them orphans.  Secondly, we incorrectly view the work that is going on in Haiti today as “disaster relief and response” when in truth the problems facing children in Haiti existed long before the earthquake and unless something is changed, will exist long after disaster relief has moved elsewhere.  Finally, we have yet to realize that instead of establishing a hotline number for the relatively small number of families who have been unwittingly separated from their children because of the quake, the U.S. government, the Haitian government, and its Donor and Non-Governmental partners, should be working to set up safety nets to support “the avalanche of calls from desperate families trying to unload their children.”

At CCAI, we believe that the international paradigm around serving orphan and vulnerable children must change.  Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on caring for children because have been orphaned we need to invest millions of dollars in practice proven strategies to prevent them from being orphans.  How to do this is simple.  We must invest more in a keeping families intact and when that proves impossible, we must invest in systems to place children into other permanent family settings through kinship care, guardianship, domestic and international adoption.

To that end, CCAI recently hosted over 50 U.S. and international experts in providing permanency to children.  We asked them to collectively consider what could be done to change the system of child welfare in Haiti from one that relied heavily on institutions and international adoption to one in which depends of the fuller continuum of child welfare services described above.  I personally took away three things from this meeting.  First, the majority of the children who are abandoned to institutions in Haiti are abandoned because of poverty.  Parents (which in many cases are single mothers) place children in orphanages or worse allow them to be used as restaveks in the hope that these new homes will give them what they cannot: food, shelter, health care and an education.   It is not enough to put in place employment, housing, health care and education programs and hope that the presence of these things will assist these families.  As we do here in the United States (  i.e. TANF, SCHIP, public education, section 8   ) we must take special effort to ensure that dedicated programs exist to provide these four things specifically to children and families.

I also learned that in our desire to help, we can be part of the problem.  Haiti already had the highest rate of NGOs per capita before the storm and some reports say that the number has doubled since the disaster.  Oftentimes, well meaning organizations are providing services without the knowledge or consent of the Haitian government or which are duplicative, counterproductive or non-coordinated with other similar N.G.Os.    This situation not only makes the Haitian government appear powerless, but most likely results in a great deal of time and money being wasted.  At least in the area of child welfare, we need to shift this paradigm away from the status quo toward one in which the Haitian government is the lead and NGOs are called upon to fill needs the government wants, but cannot provide.

Finally,  this meeting emboldened me in the belief that one of the most precious forms of assistance we can provide the Haitian people moving forward is the value of our experience.  I know that several of our Nation’s top experts in education reform have already been called upon to help in establishing Haiti’s first ever publicly funded education system.  Lessons from the transformation of urban school systems, such a New Orleans, are being used as prototypes to base this type of reform in Haiti.  For the past 50 years, some of the best minds have been dedicated to ensuring the children in America have access to safe and stable families who can provide them with all they require to grow into healthy, productive future citizens.  We should use this to help the Haitian officials learn from our success and avoid our failures.

The convening was just a first step.  And CCAI remains committed to helping the Government of Haiti in establishing a child welfare system that serves children in and through families.  Looking forward realizing that day with all of you.

CCAI hosts Haiti Convening to assist in rebuilding Haiti’s child welfare system

CCAI’s “Building a Foundation for Haiti’s Children and Families” convening on May 21, 2010 successfully brought together Haitian officials, United States’ and international experts from various child welfare and protection organizations to discuss the short- and long-term needs of Haiti’s vulnerable children and to determine how they might individually and collectively support the Haitian government in the development of a child welfare system that preserves and protects a child’s right to a permanent and loving family.  This convening provided a critically important  opportunity to share, listen and learn about the most effective ways to serve Haiti’s children and families in the wake of the disaster as well as how to build a strong, sustainable child welfare system long term.

Minister Yves Cristalin during his speech

CCAI was especially honored by the participation of His Excellency Raymond Joseph, Minister Yves Cristalin, Madame Bernard Pierre, and Senator Mary Landrieu.

Visit CCAI’s Haiti Convening page for more information and footage from the convening.

How can the adoption tax credit help me?

Just recently CCAI released our inaugural ‘CCAI In Focus’ report on the Adoption Tax Credit.  While everyone was hastily working to click “submit” on the IRS website before 11:59pm on April 15th, we thought it would be a great idea to share some positive tax news.  The federal adoption tax credit has been around for some time, but considering there have been some changes, most recently by President Obama’s health care legislation, we wanted to clarify a misconceptions and raise considerations that still remain.

This report was written primarily to serve federal policymakers, but has also proven useful to the adoption community in informing adoptive parents and advocates about this adoption incentive.  The report includes the following information:

  1. a brief overview of the adoption tax credit
  2. a detailed legislative history
  3. policy considerations
  4. a list of adoption tax credit legislation that is currently pending on Congress

Despite that this credit has been around for 14 years, affordability of adoption continues to be an issue for some families.  Adoption Fees can range from $0-$2,500 for foster care adoptions, up to $25,000 for private domestic adoptions, and upwards of $40,000 for intercountry adoptions.  The below chart details data from a small sample of adoptive parents CCAI surveyed:

Responses from parents who attempted and/or completed an adoption
Responses from parents who attempted and/or completed an adoption

What is most shocking is that while the Adoption Tax Credit was initially created to encourage foster care adoptions, only 25% of all public adoptions took advantage of this incentive, whereas nearly all foreign adoptions were support by this credit.  Another interesting point is that families whose intercountry adoptions fail are not able to receive this tax credit, whereas all domestic adoptions–even if the adoption never finalizes–are able to receive this credit.

There are two main policy considerations that are a result of the new provisions in President Obama’s health care legislation that was signed into law last month.  This law 1) extends the Adoption Tax Credit through December 31, 2011, 2) increases the credit by $1,000 to $13,170, and 3) for the first time makes the tax credit refundable so that families who do not have tax liabilities will be able to take advantage of this incentive.  Please refer to the report for more detailed information, and stay tuned for additional CCAI In Focus reports on hot topics related to adoption and foster care.

All the single ladies…

A recent Youtube video, ‘Single Ladies Devastation‘, features singer/songwriter/pastor Carlos Whittaker and his family singing along to Beyonce’s hit single.  The video has gone viral because of their son’s unique reaction to the song.  This Atlanta-based family adopted Losiah three years ago from South Korea.  Carlos and his wife, Heather, admit to being avid bloggers who always have a camera in hand.  The family was even featured on CBS’s The Early Show:

This video can be seen as a helpful lesson in parenting, or as clean and simple entertainment. Either way, it has been an undeniable hit with the YouTube-viewing public, scoring almost 3 million views in three weeks.

The Whittakers are hoping that the publicity their video has gained will also bring the issue of adoption to the forefront. As Carlos says in the interview, “…if we can have Beyonce’s Single Ladies help that, then by all means.” At a time when international adoption is surrounded by controversy, Losiah and his family definitely help to cast a positive light on the issue, and represent just one of the many success stories in the world today. To learn more about Losiah’s adoption, you can visit Carlos’s blog—or you can just take his word on it:

“As an adoptive parent you think you are going to change a child’s life, but he definitely has changed our life for the better.”

Returnable child?

13,231.  That is the number of Russian children who have found permanent, loving homes in America over the last five years.  One.  That is the number of adoptive parents who made the irresponsible, dare I say reprehensible, decision to return her adopted child to Russia.  800,000.  That is the estimated number of Russian children who currently call an orphanage their home.  As we talk about the circumstances leading up to the possible suspension of Russian-American adoptions, it is important to keep these numbers in their proper perspective.  No one can condone the actions taken by Torry Hansen.  Even if her allegations about her son’s mental condition are true, they do not justify her decision to forgo the plethora of options of assistance available for she and her son in the United States.  She could have reached out to her adoption agency, who could have directly provided her and her son the necessary support.  She could have reached out to the State of Tennessee Departments of Social Services or Mental Health.  And in a State that is well known for extensive faith based and community based networks there were undoubtedly people who if asked, would have stepped forward to help this family in need.  Sadly, she chose to take a different route and it is now in the hands of the Tennessee legal authorities to determine if her actions constitute a crime.

All that being said, two things we know for sure.  First, suspensions of adoption are not in the overall best interests of children.  Experience has shown that suspending adoptions do not lead to the legal and programmatic reforms which are used to justify them.  What they do result in is children spending additional, and unnecessary years, in institutional care.  Take Romania and Cambodia for examples.  It has been almost ten years since both countries suspended international adoption.  No significant legal reforms have been made and few, if any, efforts have been made to provide children living there with alternatives to institutionalization.  The legal and social status of children in both countries remain the same.  Both countries still experience high rates of child abandonment, child slavery and sexual exploitation.

The other thing we know for sure is that despite the appropriate use of best practices and protections, there will be cases such as these.  Not even the perfect system can protect against all wrongdoing.  What needs to exist is an international adoption system which provides for a high level of protection against corruption and abuse, and a federal and state statutes that allow for the prosecution of individuals who, despite these protections, abuse the adoption process or worse, an adopted child.  In ratifying the Hague Treaty on Intercountry Adoption, the US took an important first step in providing the U.S framework for such a system.  CCAI, along with Members of Congress, continue to push for improvements to the intercountry adoption system and for stronger and more explicit laws against corruption in international adoption.  We have and will continue to fully support the Russian Government in their efforts to continually protect the best interests of their children.  And finally, we remain committed to work with the U.S. State Department toward developing ways to quickly implement necessary protections.

In the meanwhile, as those who have experienced the many joys adoption brings, we have an obligation to speak out against the myths these types of cases can perpetuate.  Older children, even those who have spent years in foster care or institutions, are not by definition, damaged goods.  The bond between an adoptive parent and child is, in most every case, indistinguishable from the bond between a parent and their biological child.  And regardless of how the relationship between parent and child is formed, being a parent is one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, experiences a human being can have.

Be sure to check our website for resources as new information becomes available.

International adoption: a bad rep in recent news?

With the recent buzz surrounding Artyom Savelyev, the 7-year-old boy who was sent back to Russia alone on a plane by his adoptive family in the USA, and the Russian government’s subsequent threats to freeze adoptions from the country, international adoption continues to be a prominent issue in the world.

CCAI takes these issues very seriously, and we expect to release a statement regarding the current state of international adoption in Russia in the near future, so keep your eyes here and on our website for updates. For some background information and a general overview of international adoptions from Russia, you can also check out our country update page for Russia.

In the meantime, we would like to address some general concerns about international adoption, and how it is perceived in the world today.  Below are some questions that we have recently received, followed by our responses:

1) Isn’t international adoption often used as a guise in child trafficking?

While the safety and protection of children is always utmost concern, a number of measures have been put in place both by the U.S. government and increasingly foreign governments to ensure the ethical adoption process.  USCIS uses the Form I-604 Request for and Report on Overseas Orphan Investigation to ensure the child is an orphan.  When a country is suspected of unethical adoption procedures, both the U.S. and the foreign government has the power to cease adoption processing until measures have been put in place to ensure children are not trafficked nor are birth families being coerced to give up their children.

2) Why are monies not given to the child’s birth family or a family in the child’s country of origin so that the child is not removed from their homeland?  Isn’t this in the best interest of the child?

The reality is that many foreign countries lack sophisticated child welfare systems like what we have here in the U.S when we moved away from orphange-type settings in favor of foster homes in the 1970s.  As a result, children in foreign countries spend years of their life in institutions.  Research and common sense tells us that children do not develop emotionally or physically without the attention and human interaction that a family provides.  A recent study found that Children adopted from institutional care performed worse than those raised in families on tests measuring visual memory and attention, learning visual information, and impulse control.  Children living in orphanages are at risk for disease, malnutrition, or even death.  This pictures speaks for themself:

Inside an orphanage

Rows of infants in Palna, India orphanage

3) Why are adult adoptees’ voices not heard?  They are the true experts?

Read an article by an adult Colombian adoptee to get insight into her experience.  The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute conducted a survey in 2000 to examine the adult adoptee’s perspective on international adoption.  They found that, “despite the many questions about how adoptive parents were chosen and many statements of mistrust of adoption agencies, few adoptees expressed dissatisfaction with the institution of adoption.”

While we must admit that international adoption is not a perfect system, we cannot ignore the millions of orphans around the world who are forced to rock themselves on the floor because they have no mother to hold them.  We do not believe that international adoption should be the first resort, rather, we believe in strengthening child welfare systems around the world to promote safe care and domestic adoption, but when domestic options are not possible, international adoption.  Because, every child deserve the safety, support, and love that only a family can provide.