Leaders come together for the sake of orphans

Last week, CCAI hosted a reception to highlight the need for the world’s orphans to find forever families and to encourage leaders and advocates to continue their work on these issues.  This reception took place the evening before the National Prayer Breakfast and was attended by federal policymakers, business executives, and world leaders.  Sen. Mary Landrieu and Sen. James Inhofe, the Co-chairs of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, spoke on behalf of Congress’ adoption caucus highlighting the need for legislation to be created that will promote the well-being of children in need of families.

Sen. Landrieu reminded us all that these orphans do not have people to speak on their behalf, rather, it is our duty to speak out for these children in need:

Sen. Inhofe shared how his adoptive granddaughter from Ethiopia has enlightened his work on adoption policy:

Pictures from the event:

Sens. Landrieu and Inhofe
CCAI Board Member Elmer Doty, Sen. Landrieu, Actor and Foster Care Advocate Victoria Rowell
CCAI Executive Director Kathleen Strottman


Sen. James Inhofe with attendees

CCAI hosts intercountry adoption training

On Friday, December 10th, CCAI hosted a training for Congressional staff and caseworkers who handle intercountry adoption issues.  During the training, the Department of State and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services provided in-depth information about the international adoption process.  Our goal was to better equip Congressional staffers as they serve constituent families who are in the process of adopting.

Legislation that relates to immigration, intercountry adoption, and child citizenship was discussed, as well as the forms constituents need to file, and the visa processing.  Congressional staff had questions ranging from how legal permanent residents are treated versus U.S. citizens when adopting internationally, to where USCIS forms must be filed, to how a disrupted adoption affects prospective adoptive parents who are seeking to adopt again.

Over 50 Congressional offices participated in this training.  CCAI received positive feedback from attendees that the training was an effective tool to educate them on these processes and the unique cases of their constituent families.  CCAI is pleased to work with the Department of State and USCIS to make these trainings possible in an effort to serve adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents.

Visit the Department of State’s Adoption website or USCIS’s Adoption pages for more information on their involvement in the intercountry adoption process.

Forgotten Children: International Adoption and the Global Orphan Crisis

The Daily Beast and Urban Zen co-hosted an event called Forgotten Children: International Adoption and the Global Orphan Crisis in an effort to draw attention to the topic.  Experts from the field of orphan care and adoption spoke about the growing need to address the orphan crisis.  This article summarizes the event and includes video clips of the expert panel.

Dr. Jane Aronson who has been nicknamed ‘the orphan doctor’, spoke about the realities of adoption from a health perspective.  She raised the concern that prospective adoptive parents are often not honest with themselves about their abilities related to the needs of the child they are seeking to adopt.  Aronson, along with others, called for better post-adoption services.

Deborra-Lee Furness, co-host of the event, wife of actor Hugh Jackman, and adoptive mother, discussed her view that adoption should be the third best option, after placing a child with their biological family, then placing a child with another family in their home community.

Filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem who was adopted from South Korea when she was 8 years old spoke about the impact of international adoption in her own life.  Her unique adoption story s the focus of two POV documentaries that aired earlier this year on PBS.  Liem raised the point that adopted children grow up, and as an adult adoptee she shared, “I gained tremendously by coming to this country.  But on the other hand, I lost everything I loved by coming to this country”—her family, identity, language, and even memories. “One does not replace the other.”  While sharing this perspective, Liem urged that the best interest of a child it is critical for children to have families and secure homes.

Dr. Sophie Mengitsu, who operates in Ethiopia, offered her suggestion that agencies that help international adoption must also help the communities from which these orphans come.  She went on to highlight the negative impact on development that is caused by living in an institution.

Ultimately, several possible solutions to improve international adoption and the global orphan crisis were raised that range from supporting the struggling communities to examining the root causes to providing better training for orphanage workers.

It is imperative to invest in children around the world, and to not delay in making this investment.

Orphan Sunday

On Sunday, November 7th people across the globe united for one cause, to stand for the orphan.  The movement, officially named Orphan Sunday, began in Zambia, was brought to the United States in 2003, and is now led by the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO). Orphan Sunday exists to encourage the faith-based community to look beyond themselves and listen to God’s call to care for the orphan.

Hundreds of Orphan Sunday related events took place, whether it was a sermon, prayer meeting, concert, or fundraiser, with one goal in mind, to stir people’s hearts to care for, love and protect the orphan. One Orphan Sunday participant, Capital Life Church in Washington, DC, dedicated the entire Sunday service to orphan awareness and spearheaded a donation drive to collect goods for Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Friday before Orphan Sunday, Heartwork, an orphan ministry located in Colorado Springs, along with CAFO held an event devoted to prayer, worship and rousing attendees to care for orphans in their distress.

Trends in international adoptions from Ethiopia

Last week, I was reading an AP article on international adoption by David Crary that examined how Ethiopia’s adoption trend is in stark contrast to many other countries.  Crary highlighted that in 2004 when international adoptions peaked in the U.S., Ethiopia only accounted for 284 adoptions.  In 2010, the U.S. Department of State projects adoptions from Ethiopia will total 2,500.  At the same time, international adoptions in general have fell about 50% since 2004.

Ethiopia emerged in 2006 as one of the top five sending countries, which was the first time an African nation was in the top five.  Since then, the number of Ethiopian children adopted by U.S. families has steadily increased.  As Ethiopian adoptions have increased, China has implemented strict international adoption regulations and promoted domestic adoption within China, resulting in Ethiopia being near surpassing China and becoming the top sending country.

Last month, CCAI led a Congressional delegation to Ethiopia to meet with government leaders in an effort to build relationships between the U.S. and Ethiopia and ultimately promote positive adoption and orphan care policy.  As a result of the trip, Crary’s article states that Ambassador Susan Jacobs, Special Advisor for Children’s Issues for the U.S. Department of State, said that she was encouraged by meeting officials in Ethiopia because they are willing to work with the U.S.  This is important as Ethiopia is not yet party to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.

This increase in international adoptions from Ethiopia is not specific to the U.S.  While the U.S. is the most popular receiving country from Ethiopia, across the board adoptions from Ethiopia have increased.  Trailing the U.S., France adopted 445 Ethiopian orphans in 2009, followed by Italy (346 adoptions), the Netherlands (39 adoptions), Sweden (37 adoptions), and Finland (17 adoptions).

Per capita, Sweden is ranked number 1 for the number of international adoptions from any country according to their population.  Italy, France, and Finland all have higher per capita international adoption rates.  The U.S. is ranked 12th, even though by the numbers, significantly more children are adopted by U.S. families than any other country.

Reflections from Ethiopia

When I tell people that our visit to the United Kingdom and Ethiopia was only 10 days in total, many ask why I would go all the way around the world for such a short period of time.  Why not stay longer? I always laugh and tell them that for Members of Congress and government officials, 10 days is a very long time to be away!

Obviously, part of the nature of such official delegations is to pack as much into an itinerary as possible because you’ve flown so far and have such a short amount of time.  From the perspective of CCAI’s 20/20 Vision Program, we’re thrilled that in such a short time Members of Congress and other individuals influencing U.S. policy toward orphans and vulnerable children are able to see for themselves the needs and challenges these precious children face.  Once they encounter the need face to face, they immediately begin to consider what best practices they can match with these needs to best serve children and help them realize their right to a family.  But from my personal perspective, I wished we could stay longer at each of the wonderful places we visited.  My mind was spinning as to what resources we might bring to bear to assist the many organizations and individuals working so diligently to serve the children of Ethiopia amidst many challenges.

One example was our delegation’s last site visit on our last morning in Ethiopia, when we visited the Missionaries of Charity Orphanage in Addis Ababa.  The Missionaries of Charity are the order of nuns that Mother Theresa began years ago.  The nuns of this order in Addis Ababa – thirteen women in total – support not only 250 orphaned and abandoned children, but also dozens of young mothers with their infants who have no homes, in addition to many terminally sick individuals of all ages.  They shared with us that every morning the street outside their property is filled to overflowing with people waiting and hoping to come inside.  I asked how they select the women and children they take in, and was told that they look for the weakest, sickest individuals and bring them in as they have openings.  These thirteen ladies serve so humbly and ably – but face such challenging circumstances by the sheer numbers of people they are trying to help.  Our visit to their property reminded me that there are so many individuals who are doing their best – but they need our support.

Becky Weichhand, CCAI's Director of Policy with an Ethiopian nun

And then there are some biases that we still need to work to change, which is nearly impossible to do in such a short trip.  As I mentioned earlier, almost every single meeting our delegation participated in with Ethiopian officials and NGOs was met with an incredible spirit of cooperation and open dialogue.  It was most certain that there was a shared goal of serving and supporting Ethiopian children in and through families – first in Ethiopia, and – if no other alternatives remained – then through intercountry adoption.  Yet we did encounter one very hostile individual who was not even willing to speak to the needs of a group of children facing gravel physical and emotional needs because of her opposition to the idea of intercountry adoption.

One of the things CCAI feels very strongly about is that it is incredibly important to bring individuals and organizations that come from differing perspectives on how to best serve orphans and vulnerable children together into the same room and foster dialogue.  We believe that there is much common ground to discover in these environments when hearts are open to listening, sharing, and finding solutions to the great challenges children without families face.  I’m willing to bet that if we could have sat down together, that individual whose hostility we encountered at the orphanage would have come to a place of understanding – if not agreement – with us as to ways Ethiopians and Americans, governments and NGOs, can work together to serve the children of Ethiopia.

Toward that end, CCAI is honored to have participated in this important delegation to the United Kingdom and Ethiopia, and will continue to work through our 20/20 Vision Program to facilitate future delegations and bring great partners to the table to work together on these crucial issues.

Becky with an Ethiopian Orphan

We are incredibly pleased that the delegation’s visit to Ethiopia strengthened old relationships and opened new doors among the Ethiopian and U.S. Governments and the non-governmental organizations working in the country.  We are also pleased to learn that our discussions of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption encouraged the Ethiopian government to take steps toward requiring all adoption service providers from foreign countries to be Hague-accredited in order to process adoptions of Ethiopian children and to also move toward ratifying the Hague Convention and implementing it in Ethiopia.  In addition, due to the elevated awareness created by our delegation’s visit to Ethiopia to focus solely on children’s issues, USAID will soon be coordinating a United States Government Task-Force on Children’s Issues in Ethiopia.

All incredible outcomes from a wonderful delegation to a beautiful country.