Celebrities Adopting

Yesterday, Jessica Alba appeared on ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.  The family featured, the Beach family, had adopted 8 children in addition to 4 biological children!  Father Larry Beach said, “No matter if you’re in a travel trailer or a big house like this, we all have one calling; we’re all special to God.  That’s why we search out children who otherwise wouldn’t have a home. That’s what we hope comes out of all this.  There are a lot of children out there. Maybe they’re not perfect in the world’s eyes, but they deserve a home as much as any child.”  So inspired by the Beaches, Alba went on to say that she plans to adopt herself.  Alba is currently a mom to her 2-yr-old daughter Honor Marie with husband Cash Warren.

Alba on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

I wanted to highlight a couple other celebrities who have chosen adoption.  When these individuals speak out and share their adoption experience, families and individuals across the country are made aware the need for adoption and are shown that all it takes is for someone to step forward and want to make a difference in the life of a child.

Recently, Katherine Heigl and husband singer Josh Kelley adopted a daughter with special needs, Naleigh, from Korea.  Heigl has always known she wanted to adopt, and even approached the subject with her husband before they were engaged.  Heigl’s sister, Meg, is Korean, so the choice of where to adopt from seemed obvious.

Heigl with her husband and daughter

Just over a month ago, actor Willie Garson’s adoption of a 8-yr-old boy from foster care was finalized.  “From the first time I met him, I said, ‘That’s my kid.”  Garson met his son, Nathen, at an adoption fair in Los Angeles.

Garson with son, Nathen

While Nathen’s story has a happy ending, Garson commented on the older teens in foster care who were at that same adoption fair.  Their stories more often have a sad ending of aging out of foster care without ever being adopted.  Across the country, this is true for almost 30,000 youth each year.  Together, we can raise awareness about these youth, and dispel the negative myths about youth in foster care.  These celebrities are helping to show Americans that we can step up and make a difference.

Rebuilding Haiti

Now that many of the cameras have left Haiti and we’ve viewed the last footage as the heroic volunteers pull from the rubble, we must now refocus our attention on the good people who remained to set about the daunting and important work of “rebuilding” a nation.  Our work initially after the earthquake was to work with Members of Congress, the State Department, and USCIS to finalize adoptions and process visas of children who were just weeks and a final signature away from coming home permanently to their forever families.

Haitian boy in orphanage after earthquake

In an earlier post, our Executive Director, Kathleen Strottman, shared her views on the need to not merely rebuild the child welfare system that existed in Haiti prior to the earthquake, but to take this opportunity to build a better child welfare system, taking lessons learned from other disasters, such as the 2004 tsunami.  Just last week we released our CCAI Position Statement on the Orphan Needs in Haiti.  In this statement, we call on U.S. and international officials to observe the principle that the optimal setting for a child to be raised is in a family, among other principles.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper reported last month a story entitled, “Haitians Want Orphans to Stay”.  What is so disappointing about this video

is that it shows how people continue to fail to see that it is not only food and walls that are required for children to survive and thrive, it is the love and support from a family.  While orphanages are meant to meet the basic needs of children, there are some needs that only families can provide–that sense of security and constant love that every child will continue to need well beyond childhood and into adulthood.  This is why we are continuing to fight for the children of Haiti, as well as children in the U.S. and around the world, to have their basic right to a family finally met.

Op-Ed on Haiti’s Orphans from CCAI’S Executive Director

Orphan Children of Haiti Deserve a Future

Since last week’s devastating earthquake, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) has been engaged in helping Members of Congress in developing an appropriate response to the immediate and long term needs of Haiti’s orphaned children.   Within hours of this tragedy, Congressional offices were flooded with offers of help for orphans and requests for media interviews on this subject have been unending. As I watch all of this unfold, I find myself with mixed emotions.  On one hand, I am happy to see the world so keenly focused on the needs of orphan children.   On the other, I am perplexed as to why it has to take a natural disaster for the world to focus on a problem that has existed for some time.  As has been reported, there were 380,000 orphans in Haiti when the earthquake occurred (UNICEF, 2007).   To put that into perspective, that is a population higher than that of Pittsburgh.  A small portion of these children found refuge in the country’s 184 licensed orphanages, while the vast majority was condemned to a life on the streets.  How they were orphaned is also no mystery.  Like in so many other places, it was poverty, war, disease and cultural norms, which forced their families to abandon them.   And these conditions are only going to be made worse by recent events.

When Katrina hit the Gulf Coast nearly five years ago, our country learned many lessons.  One thing we learned was that after a disaster of this magnitude you can do one of two things.  You can spend your time and resources to rebuild a place to be the same as it was before or you can use the opportunity to begin anew.  Take for example the public education system in New Orleans.   In the five years since the storm, Louisiana leaders have used the combination of an unprecedented level of national investment, innovative best practices, and reform minded leadership to put New Orleans public schools on track to become the best in our Nation.

As a global community, we have the same choice here.  We can go about making plans to provide protection to orphan children in temporary shelters until they can be returned to their orphanages, or worse the streets, or we can take the recent outpouring of international support and use it to begin anew.  Working together, we can help the people of Haiti to develop a child welfare system in which Haitian children are being raised in safe, loving and permanent families, not by institutions.  Such a system could be built upon international best practices in preserving families, providing foster care, as well as promoting domestic and international adoption.

Surely, plans to rebuild the physical infrastructure of Haiti will not call for rebuilding the concrete on concrete buildings that all but folded from the quake.  No doubt, they will call for the buildings to be rebuilt using the latest earthquake-proof technology.  The orphans of Haiti need and deserve this same forward thinking approach. Let us not make the mistake of thinking that the only structures that need our help in rebuilding are physical.

Kathleen Strottman is the Executive Director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute(CCAI), nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to raising awareness about the millions of children around the world in need of permanent, safe, and loving homes and to eliminating the barriers that hinder these children from realizing their basic right of a family. Kathleen comes to this role after serving nearly 8 years on staff for Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA)