It is all so.very.complicated.
For those that are engaged in the battle for justice for children, it can be frustrating to navigate what options are legitimate and what is deception, or simply show-business.
Be warned, this post will be semi-rant-like and weave many directions before it arrives at its main point. We write this from a pro-adoption stance. We are not anti-doption. At the same time though we're for children staying in their families of origin whenever it is possible.
(Yes, there are many situations that don't allow for that.)
While adoption can be incredibly challenging, it can also be beautifully redemptive. We suggest that all in the process or considering adoption research attachment disorders and try to go into adoption prepared with realistic expectations. Talk to others that have adopted and are raising kids from hard places. If you are considering adopting, Heather wrote this post about the complexities of orphan care and things you might wish to look for in an international program.
The main reason we're writing this is because adoption is not ever going to even begin to touch the giant and growing "orphan" crisis. The growing crisis might even be partly our fault. (Orphans as industry, that seems to be a thing!)
We're writing to challenge our own ideas and approaches and systems.
In 2003 we and many others helped confront an American that was running an orphanage without integrity. Man, did we take a beating from people who couldn't and wouldn't face it. She was breaking U.S. and Haiti law, she wasn't able to guarantee that the kids within her care were being fed and cared for well, she was in over her head and the way she dealt with it wasn't okay in any way. It was really hard but in hindsight we know we did the right thing even if it made us the temporary nemesis of many adoptive parents. Doing the right thing doesn't equal popularity.
Instead of being upset at her lack of integrity the parents were mainly upset with us for exposing it. They couldn't see past their own interests to the larger picture. They loved their (soon-to-be)adopted kid(s) and were afraid. That part makes sense. It is certainly difficult to do the right thing when you fear losing a child you wish to adopt. Unfortunately adoptive parents get so emotionally involved that it becomes common for them to ignore when things are done illegally or without integrity. All of a sudden "if you can't beat em join em" becomes okay.
It is never okay to look the other way when a child is not legally abandoned by their own parents. It is never okay to listen to someone that tells you it doesn't matter that the child's real mother didn't sign papers and agree. If you willingly do something like that - you are a kidnapper. We know that a few people have been advised by Haitian social workers (that stand to profit) that it is okay that someone else claimed to be the mother. It is not okay. That's why DNA is ordered frequently, to protect children from people that lack integrity and from things that occur when people allow emotions to drive their actions and decisions.
Some children that are placed could have stayed with their family of origin had anyone thought or wanted to try to help them stay together. Sadly, many of the orphanages are run without the best interest of children at heart, but instead as a profit center for the "Pastor" in charge of it. (In Haiti the title of Pastor is used loosely and doesn't mean what people think it does.)
Birth-families often place their children under the assumption and hope that their children will be fed and cared for better than they themselves could. Unfortunately that's not typically true. Show up unannounced at most orphanages and the conditions will shock you. Truly the children could have lived with greater dignity and protection from harm had they remained at home.
Thankfully our interaction with their birth-mothers has been redemptive. We've built good relationships with the two families of our kids and they seem to have no regrets about their decision(s) but we'd be lying if we said it was totally without complication.
It is easier to question things after you witness the lasting damage that institutionalized children experience. Things grow clearer as adoptive parents begin to understand poverty and the attitudes we all have toward it and as the emotional upheaval of the adoption process itself dies down.
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The entry below was written in 2010 - post Earthquake - in a moment of frustration. It addresses whether growing up in an institution is best for a child. It shocks me that this is even up for debate. The comments and full original post can be found here.
Basically, you can take them from their parents to raise them in your crowded institution - but you cannot take them and place them in nuclear families abroad ... that is abusive. They sat there saying that the kids were placed mainly due to financial reasons, then tried to say that they must be raised in Haiti to be able to help Haiti some day. One teenage girl spoke on camera, saying something like "If you adopt all the kids out they won't be here to help their people, and that is what we want." It was an odd soundbyte by someone who is likely on a short-term visit to Haiti and has very little big picture perspective.
I hardly think anyone is suggesting that we take every.single. child in every.single. orphanage and move them out of Haiti. OF COURSE NOT. As usual, they change the argument into something it is not. ALL children leaving Haiti is a bad idea. An idiot knows that. You cannot remove the entire next generation. But, ALL children staying in Haiti (closing down adoption on the whole) is a really bad idea too.
The same thing applies as in every other argument ... it is not a black and white, one size-fits-all argument. Different situations warrant different responses ... there is no hard and fast rule, no one response to the orphan crisis. Keeping hundreds of thousands of orphans (with or without living birth-parents) in institutions and thinking that these institutions will prepare them to "give back to their country" -- is nothing short of totally ignorant. The vast majority of orphanages in Haiti are horribly understaffed and overcrowded. Those conditions don't turn out world leaders.
Most orphanages look different on the days that visitors come. They are not wonderful, loving, centers of cultural goodness. 100 kids living in one building was presented as a brilliant idea by Coop last night. I am not exactly sure what he was thinking. Live in an orphanage for three months when there are no cameras around. THEN come tell me how totally awesome it is to stay in your home culture.
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The problem is that many (and I mean many) have come to build their own orphanages. That seems to be the hip thing to do right now. A lot of them probably have no grasp of what is already taking place on the ground. They come without the benefit of years and experience and the understanding of culture. They come thinking that taking in and housing/feeding children can only be good. They want to offer children things their poor families cannot. They come thinking that when someone brings them a child they are hearing the true and accurate story about the reasons the child must be abandoned there. Some come forgetting that starting an orphanage is at least a 20 year project unless you plan to bail-out a bunch of kids mid-stream.
We should all be asking if this is the best use of funds and energy? We should be asking if this is good for Haiti? Is building new very expensive structures to take in children with families good stewardship? We should be asking if giving people more places to put their children might possibly create more orphans? Seriously. We should. We should be asking if it might be money better spent by investing in existing structures that either do things with integrity and take excellent care of kids or in programs that work to keep families together and help support women to raise their own children.
It should be wrestled with constantly. Couldn't we think outside of the box about ways to support families to keep their children at home? Wouldn't that cost less than building giant buildings? With upwards of 400,000 institutionalized children and just a few hundred adoptions, doesn't it make sense to search for better alternatives?
I am only saying that we should try not to be defensive and instead be asking really hard questions about this and about our motivation and we should be wrestling with the very uncomfortable stuff. Why build orphanages? Should we take children from their parents simply because their parents are poor? Do we really want to open up these places and do we know it is best? Can they be run with integrity and a high quality of care? How do you guarantee that? Can you guarantee it for the long haul? What if a family next to you in middle-America can better provide for your child? Does money give anyone the right to take children? It seems so!
Also, is the model to have multiple visitors in and out month after month in order to oversee it a healthy thing for the kids? Do you want strangers coming to your house to hold your kids every week?
In her struggle with it Heather said this: (click link for full post and comments that followed)
"When it comes to orphans, I'll get a little more strong in my language. Please forgive me ahead of time. I'm not always sure it's healthiest for team after team to come in, hold babies, semi-connect with children who are living in an orphanage, and then leave. Yes, the American holding the baby may be changed by the experience. The baby or child left in the orphanage? Another rip. Another tear. Another moment when connection was jump-started, only to have the kill switch pulled. Healthy? I'm having a hard time seeing how that could be good for a child. This is a tough situation, because we want hearts to hurt for the orphan, and seeing a child in an orphanage is a sobering moment. But I find myself asking, "Would it be better for churches to fund higher ratios of native nannies in orphanages who will love the kids, every single day, and connect deeply to each child?" Connection. A sense of belonging. Consistency. These are things an orphan is longing to have."
It is good and healthy and necessary to be challenging our own desires and asking ourselves tough things. I realize some reading are currently involved in doing exactly what I am questioning. This probably stings. I'm sorry if this put anyone in a defensive place but I believe strongly that if we care about Haitians as much as we claim we do we need to examine these things. I also believe the last thing Haiti needs is more cement structures that house large numbers of children with living parents.
If we (and/or our churches) have the money it takes to build fancy buildings, there has to be something more we could offer Haiti other than to institutionalize their children.
Maybe you're thinking, "This is all a fund-raising pitch for Heartline Maternity Center because Heartline is working to help women give birth safely and keep their children." If you're thinking that you're partially correct.
Of course we believe in the work of Heartline. However, we assume God moves people to act on their passion in multiple creative ways and we trust Him to provide for us.
Maybe your passion isn't even for Haiti. Maybe you want to help advocate for children somewhere else. If you've done your research and tried to become informed of all sides of the complicated orphan equation, it matters not where you ask your church to give or who you personally support. Kristen Howerton wrote a post recently full of all sorts of ideas - it can be found here. Don't take our/her word for it. Ask around, read, pray, research.
We're praying that collectively we can begin to ask critical and uncomfortable questions about why we and our churches support the things we do. Perhaps some of our responses have unintentionally played into the problem. As we struggle with these questions we can find ways to advocate for children to remain with their families whenever it is a viable option. How can that ever be wrong? A poor family doesn't necessarily equal an unfit family after all.
wrestling and questioning,
T & T