An Intern’s Perspective: Inside CCAI

This week marks the beginning of my third month as an intern at the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

When I first began working here in mid-January, I knew exactly what I hoped to gain from my internship—work experience, exposure to federal policy, and a better understanding of the international adoption process that brought my cousin to the United States last year. However, I wasn’t really sure what would be expected from me. Coming into my internship, I had some knowledge of CCAI and its activities, but only a vague image of the role that I would play in the organization. Part of me was afraid that I would spend the entire spring doing menial tasks.

It didn’t take long for that to change. Within my first week on the job, I was taking notes at a State Department briefing on the state of intercountry adoptions in Haiti. Since then, I have done everything from updating the CCAI website, to researching pending foster care legislation for our bimonthly newsletter. A couple of weeks ago, I was on the phone all day alerting members of congress about an opportunity to sign on to a letter concerning adoptions from Nepal.

Of course, that isn’t to say that I don’t do my fair share of clerical work. As one of only two interns in the office, I spend a lot of time doing things like entering people into our database, editing spreadsheets, and answering the phone.

But while I used to think that stuffing envelopes and making copies was nothing but busy work, that has changed in the time that I have spent at CCAI. No matter how many envelopes I stuff, or how many copies I make—I have never once felt like any of the work I do here is meaningless. We have such a small office that the impact of my work is readily apparent, and such a close-knit staff that it is always appreciated.

The view from behind my desk.

A lot of things have changed since I started working here, but my personal favorite change has been to the wall in front of my desk. Initially it was pretty boring to look at, but I have started to decorate it over the past few weeks. Each sticky note has some words of wisdom or inspiration passed on to me from a member of our staff. At the end of my internship, I hope that I can look up and see an entire wall filled with notes.

And, much like I can say now that CCAI is helping me to change my wall into something that I can enjoy looking at, I hope that I can someday look back and say that I helped them change the world into a place where more children and families can enjoy living.

CCAI Congratulates Sandra Bullock and The Tuohy Family on Movie, The Blind Side’s Success

Since November of 2009, millions of Americans have been flocking to the theater to see the Blind Side, a movie based on the inspiring real life story of NFL Player, Michael Oher, and his adoptive parents, Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy.  We were all thrilled to see the movies’ incredible success culminate last week in leading lady, Sandra Bullock’s, receipt of an Oscar for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy.    Last September,  CCAI had the great privilege of honoring Sean and Leigh Anne as one of three 2009 Angels in Adoption.  Having had the honor of spending two days with these real life heroes, I can say that the movie is but a glimpse of the incredible people that they both are.

The morning after the Oscars, Leigh Anne sat down with the Today show to discuss her reaction to “Sandy’s” big win.  Leigh Anne puts into terms what we all know to be true.  First, that we as a country cannot afford to continue and sit by while tens of thousands of children age out of a foster care system without ever having the promise of a permanent, loving family fulfilled.  As she so beautifully puts it, in doing so, we are taking the risk that the man or woman with the ability to cure cancer will instead get lost in a life on the streets. And her second point is equally powerful.   Making a difference in the lives of children in foster care is something we can all do something about.   Some of us may feel called to be a foster or adoptive parent to these youth.  Others may feel called to mentor them.  And others still may choose to use their voice to speak out on their behalf.  Whatever our calling might be, the important thing is that we step up and answer it.

It is my sincere hope that we have yet to see the real impact this movie has had on the minds and hearts of Americans.  It is my fervent prayer that the message of this movie inspires Americans to learn how they might make a difference in the life of a young person like Michael.  And in the meantime, CCAI will continue to use its voice to speak out for these amazing young people and the impact that having a loving family can have on their lives.

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.

2 upcoming adoption conferences

I wanted to highlight 2 upcoming adoption-related conferences that you might be interested in attending.

Joint Council on International Children’s Services is hosting their annual conference on March 17th-20th in Baltimore, MD.  This would be a good place for anyone interested in international adoption to get information about the process!  The also offer workshops and Continuing Education credits.  Here is a link to their website.  As part of the agenda this year, they will be having an Adult Adoptee and Adoptive Family Day on Saturday, March 20th.  There will be a track for international adoptees over 15+ years of age, as well as post-adoptive and pre-adoptive parent tracks.

Also coming up is the Center for Adoption Policy’s Annual Adoption Law and Policy Conference.  This will take place at the New York Law School on Friday, March 5th.  Their keynote speaker, Dr. Charles Nelson, will speak about Deficits, Intervention and Recovery after Severe Social Neglect in Romanian Orphans.  View the agenda and register, or you can visit their website.

Please feel free to comment to add information about other adoption conferences, or to share feedback if you’ve attended previous conferences from JCICS or CAP. 

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)

Welcome to CCAI’s blog

We are glad you have taken the time to visit our blog and learn more about our efforts on behalf of the millions of children around the world in need of permanent, safe and loving homes.   Whatever your need or interest, we invite you to join us in our work to remove the barriers that hinder children from realizing their basic right to a family.     

At CCAI we believe that there is no such thing as an unwanted child, merely unfound families.  Working together we can make the dream of a family a reality for every child.

We hope to use this blog to update the public on what the organization has been doing and solicit feedback from those interested in our work.