Thursday, June 16, 2011

a boat that needs rocking


Within the long list of Haiti topics that are difficult to write about and cause controversy, you'll find orphans, adoption, and orphanages. These issues are never black and white and one answer doesn't fit all. 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 for adoption. We love adoption. We built our family with adoption. At the same time though we're for children staying in their families of origin whenever it is possible. (Yes, there are plenty of 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.

We're writing to challenge our own ideas and approaches and systems.

We learned the hard way that people usually don't want to face ugly things. For a number of people denial and looking the other way is easier and it is impossible to convince them to engage in facing hard truth. This means that when you say or write things that are  challenging they will often turn on you personally rather than consider and pray about what you've said/learned/shared or begged them to see.

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.

All that aside, the truth is, most kids placed in orphanages in Haiti will never be adopted and will never leave Haiti. (A few hundred kids leave each year but there are an estimated 380,000+ kids living in institutions. (Nobody knows a real number.) Most institutions are not licensed to have and care for kids let alone process an adoption.)

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.

Most children that leave Haiti to be adopted have living birth-families. Our Haitian kids do. Because of poverty and situations in their lives they made a choice to place them. We hope that they weren't promised anything in return, but we cannot confidently guarantee that our orphanage director acted in integrity. We don't regret that we adopted them. Not at all. They are precious gifts. We only regret that we weren't more informed and willing to ask the hard questions back in the beginning.

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 much harder for those emotionally involved in adopting to question the status quo. For this reason those that are not adopting but are interested in fighting injustice could help by engaging in the larger conversation.

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.

The entry below was written 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. 

Last night on AC360 Anderson visited an orphanage outside of Port au Prince.

As he interviewed the people overseeing the orphanage they said things and he repeated them in agreement. It was the "let's all agree and not think critically" segment.

During the interview one women admitted that most kids were placed in the orphanage as a result of financial hardship in the birth family. She did not claim the children had deceased parents. (Although some of them probably do.) She went on to explain that they would not want to offer adoption as a choice because these children need to stay in their own culture. Anderson did not ask a single hard question and just nodded in agreement. In reality orphanages are a subculture and cannot effectively preserve the culture that they so adamantly claim needs preserving.

AC went with the unicef line about how much better it is to be raised in an orphanage in your own country ... preserving your cultural norms and avoiding adoption at all costs. (Meanwhile unicef spokesperson Angelina Jolie adopts children from other cultures and ruins their chances of growing up in an orphanage - yet somehow that is different. You must need to be a uber famous celebrity to break unicef rules.)

The weird thing is, they stood in an orphanage meant to house 100+ kids at once and literally said "We never want to take these kids from their parents, their parents love them." Yet the kids are LIVING in the orphanage ... do they not count that as taking them from their parents?

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.

I don't know why Anderson is generalizing and suggesting one solution for the problem of orphans in Haiti. These one-sided platitudes must be encouraged by unicef or by those ten people that tried to take kids illegally ... but either way they are misguided. I'd love to see Anderson actually report on this issue looking at BOTH sides.

Adoption is not warranted in every situation. Of course not. But keeping all orphaned kids from the opportunity to be adopted in order preserve their fabulous (orphan) culture and keep unicef in business, is not a one-size-fits-all solution either.


Since the earthquake Haiti has been inundated with new churches and missions groups and small and large organizations that are seeking to help. Most of them probably have really great hearts and decent intentions. 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 tested this thought on Facebook last week. The feedback on Facebook was mainly in agreement but truthfully that means nothing, it just means that people who agreed spoke up. This is what was posted along with a small sampling of the responses:
"In the mood to say something unpopular. Here goes. Haiti does not need more people/churches to come build more orphanages. There are plenty of orphanages. Hundreds and hundreds actually. The money would be better spent on programs trying to keep children with their families.

    • AMEN! I endorse this statement 100% and will now repost.
      June 9 at 9:57am ·
    •  http://rileysinuganda.blogspot.com/2011/06/we-are-all-made-in-image-of-god.html (Uganda doesn't either as it turns out.)
      June 9 at 9:59am ·
    •  let's spend the money on empowering women to keep their children, have a skill, a job, a house and hope! I'm saying this as a pro-adoption person, those needs will always exist. But, orphanages here are often overcrowded, understaffed and kids are not cared for well. Kids need their moms and we can work together to keep them together! That is why our women's program exists.
      June 9 at 10:03am · ·
    •  totally agree--and I'm mom to three Haitian-born babes by adoption. I know their manmi would have kept on loving them in her care if she had access to help, to be able to hope.
      June 9 at 10:07am · · 
      Tara, that topic exactly has been on my "need to write" blog post list. Do we know how many families would keep their children if we simply provided free school with a hot lunch? Or how about a community center with a hot lunch and classes to teach parenting skills? 
      June 9 at 10:10am ·  
    • Amen. Way to rock the boat, friend because this particular boat needs dumping over.
      Can I just say I am so freaking proud of Elica Betor for fighting to keep kiddos in their families. So dang proud.
      June 9 at 12:15pm ·
    •  Radical thinking!
      June 9 at 8:39pm · 
      I met with the gal who heads up the Saddleback orphan care initiative and she kind of blew my mind with their model: no more orphanages, and all mission teams are there to find permanency options. Find the families - try to get them the re...sources to take back their kids. If it's not an option, get the paperwork moving for adoption. One or the other, no more filling up orphanages. I love this model.  
    • So many don't want to help an existing program, they desperately need to have it have their name on it. That bums me out beyond description.
      [ our NGO] started an orphans at home program. We help them have all the things they would get in an orphanage but they sleep at home with their family. But they are fed, educated, clothes and doctored. We can do tremendous more kids for the same amount of money we could do an orphanage for. We totally agree. 

I am not claiming that the organizations and churches that have come here post earthquake to start new programs for orphans are bad people.  Not at all.  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? 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?

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 because Heartline is working to help women 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

"Dear Lord, I will remain restless, tense, and dissatisfied until I can be totally at peace in your house. There is no certainty that my life will be any easier in the years ahead, or that my heart will be any calmer. But there is certainty that you are waiting for me and will welcome me home when I have persevered in my long journey to your house."
-Henri J.M. Nouwen
Related Posts: Looking at STM and Respecting the Poor

52 comments:

K said...

Amen. (Here is what is just starting in the states in this direction: http://www.safe-families.org/)

We are foster parents and when I speak with potential foster parents I have to let them know that reunification is always the first option.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. Building orphanages in poor countries is not what we should be doing to "help"them.

An adoptive parent of 3 from OH

kae1crafts said...

A very well written and thought provoking article. I firmly believe that it benefits the child and country if they have a loving family and can be raised in that family. Programs that encourage that should be a priority and then orphanages/adoptions for those children without families and homes should be a second option.

No country or person should be made to feel like they are unable to help themselves, raise their children, learn, have a business and thrive.

Hugs and prayers for all you are doing,

Kae

Liz said...

Extremely thoughtful post and necessarily critical approach to how we as privileged individuals decide to "help" others. If, while helping, we neglect to maintain a view of the whole picture we can and often do err. It is a difficult balance and to bring light to this in such a knowledgeable and passionate way is admirable.

Ruth said...

Great post, Tara. Thanks for your courage and for asking hard questions.

Allison in Kentucky said...

And just another little thought - by employing a staff of Haitian nannies to effectively care for the kids in an orphanage, you are simulaneously proving an income for them that helps keep their families stable. It's a win/win.

One thing stands out about the effective ministries in Haiti: they work together for the glory of God. It is a beautiful thing that I wish our churches would comprehend.

Pride. It's the root of so much of the problem. We all need to get over it and just follow Jesus' lead.

Tom Vanderwell said...

Tara - thank you for asking hard questions. You just gave me about 3 months worth of material to blog about. Keep it up!

Tom

Kelly said...

This was a great post. Thanks for being willing to post those things that NEED to be said. I agree with your line of thinking but am also pro-adoption (have three kiddos from foster care in the US). Will continue to pray for Heartline and others to keep fighting to keep families together. Love reading your blog-thanks for posting!

Kristen said...

This is so great and so many well-meaning Christians don't look at the big picture. Assigned reading before an STM should be this and 'When Helping Hurts'! Would like to link this on my twitter or blog. Let me know if you have any objections to that..

fialka012 said...

❤❤❤

Heather said...

Thank you so much for writing this!! Just shared on FB(:

Carla said...

Amen! Preach it sister.

Erin said...

I will come back to this again and again as a great resource and will pass it along. Thanks so much.

avtsellers said...

I recently read a book about Conor Grennan who went to help an orphanage in Nepal. The book is called "Little Princes". While there he discovered many of the "orphans" were not orphans at all, but were sent with a man (the parents gave him money) in hopes their children would be offered a "better" life than the parents could provide in the poor villages. They could go to the city where they would be schooled and be well fed. To make a long story short, Conor he spent the next year or two or three, reuniting these kids with their families in the mountains of Nepal. You guys will really love this book. Thanks for continuing to share your hearts about adoption.

The Mahnke Family said...

Thanks for such a well-written post that helps to educate those who are wrestling with the same questions. I have a question that I am wondering if you will be willing to answer--My husband and I are in the beginning stages of adopting from Haiti. We know that God has called us to this. However, we are seriously considering changing the original agency/orphanage that we signed with to another one that seems to have a better philosophy. Would you be willing to post agencies for adoption or orphanages that you know are careful in how they proceed? We need more guidance!

Brittan said...

Never thought of it that way, thanks for writing this and bringing awareness! I couldn't agree more!

Anonymous said...

I was so happy to read today's post and your thoughts on orphanages. This topic ties directly to the STM topics (also controversial) that you have posted in the past, as often people come to Haiti for a few days, are duped by a pastor and then fund "orphanages" that really money making schemes for said pastors.

The business of orphanages creates orphans.

Wife to the Rockstar said...

Preach it.

As a family who was scammed during that mess you speak of and nearly adopting children that were not LEGALLY ADOPTABLE, I can say without a doubt that you are SPOT ON.

Adoption is about giving a child a family who does not have ONE. Not taking the place of a family that exists and loves the child. Adoption is a LOSS for the child. While I love adoption, I also know that an adopted child STRUGGLES FOREVER with their idenity and indeed whenever possible a child should be with their parents.

Wife to the Rockstar said...

Oh and one more thing.

Both the woman you speak of and another "Christian" organization in Liberia both were going into the country to "find" children. More than once I heard this said. It made my SKIN CRAWL. They were literally going to poor villages and asking parents to give up their kids for a "better life". Poor does not equal less. Children have basic needs. LOVE, shelter, food. NOT tv, ipods, and cell phones. They do not NEED American riches and what we think it necessary for a good life. I have been to several countries now and witnessed that the poorest of poor were often HAPPIER than we are here in the US.

I was also part of the take down of said woman. I took a lot of heat. I WAS an adoptive Mom. I lost my girls in that mess as did many of us, but we CHOSE to stand up for what was right. I thank you for doing the same.

hopefuloffive said...

Right on, Tara. This took so much courage to write, it isn't popular, it isn't "well received" but it is true....very true and I say that having adopted two children from Haiti, but at the same time knowing far too much of the "behind the scenes" and hearing the truths of orphanage life from my daughter. You guys really get it, thanks for sharing the hard stuff, even when it isn't popular!

r. said...

I used to follow a listserv for people who were trying to adopt kids from a certain country. Whenever something happened that threatened to slow down adoptions, people would post about how it was "against God's will" or how it was "spiritual warfare" or "Satan's work" or "because Satan hates adoption."

This was the case even after there had been scandals and after severe problems had been unearthed. It was never, ever the case that reasonable, well-meaning people could disagree about how to best protect children. If you did anything to threaten their adoption, you were furthering the devil's agenda.

At one point, people began having problems. Some children had been sexually abused at the orphanage and had been acting out sexually with other children in the family. Children were diagnosed with RAD and other issues. Children began appearing in the U.S. foster care system's adoptable children lists.

Once again, many of the pleas for help and references to these problems--at least at first--were shot down. People were terrified that if the country's officials got wind of these outcomes, it would jeopardize the adoptions currently pending. (And I get their concerns. For many of them, there was a real child out there, whose name they knew, who was languishing in an orphanage. But on the other hand, shouldn't new adoptive families be warned, so they could take precautions to keep their families safe?) (Later, as more and more people began having problems, the listserv did become more open to talking about these issues, but some people still referred to it as issues of "spiritual darkness" or "spiritual warfare" or as the effects of Satan's work.)

I'm not a Christian and don't know too much about Christianity, so I don't know whether their arguments were even theologically sound within their own faith communities. What I will say is that even I, a nonbeliever, was sometimes intimidated by the strident statements about what supported God and what supported the devil. I rarely spoke up.

I commend you for creating a space within your faith community can have the hard discussions and debate these issues within the framework of their Christian beliefs and worldview, rather than when people get the impression that there is only one outcome that God could possibly support.

(sorry this ended up being so long)

T & T Livesay said...

Dear Wife to Rock Star :) - I am thinking the director I am referring to was prior to the one you are referring to ... how sad (and to the point) that they had no idea how to process adoptions in this country with integrity.

Dear R -
Nothing pisses me off more than what you describe. I know it happens. I am embarrassed by it. That is ridiculous behavior and it is no wonder so many people thing Christians are self-righteous jerks. Looking the other way and closing your eyes to reality is gross and I'd like to think (but I know it isn't true) that most who follow Jesus would have a faith that wouldn't allow for such creepy denial --- especially when it is to protect their interests at the expense of other families and other children. It is disappointed.

T & T Livesay said...

Corrections:
No wonder so many people think* Christians are ...

It is disappointing*.

Denise said...

Absolutely agree. We are in process of adopting from Haiti, but my biggest concern was that the birth mom had every chance possible to parent her child. Our orphanage offers to find sponsors for mothers who come to place their children if it is only due to financial reasons. Our child's birth mom has other reasons, so after meeting her we feel at peace that she is making a decision she is at peace with (as much as a mother can be with a decision like that). Anyway, something that our orphanage director has stated over and over is how difficult it is to train Haitian nannies how to adequately care for the children in their care. Our director is Haitian, all the nannies are Haitian, but the director has such a difficult time finding good help. Partly because of the culture (they would listen better to a man telling them what to do), and partly because of generations of not knowing how to properly care for and nurture children. I agree that for churches to send money to support nannies in orphanages instead of sending short term missions people would be a good idea... but the difficulty is in finding good help. What Heartline does is amazing because you are teaching moms how to bond and nurture their children - those moms would make good nannies :) There also needs to be good programs that orphanage directors can use to train nannies. Preferably by other Haitians, not Americans IMO.

r. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
r. said...

Tara,

I totally get what you're saying. I don't think it represents the faith, but I do think it shows how certain, highly emotional situations can bring out the worst in everybody. It just seems that when Christians do it to other Christians, it seems to have a bigger impact than your typical secular bullying, know what I mean?

Rebecca

Me. Us. She. said...

Hi Tara,
I'm embarrassed to say that I've been reading since the earthquake but never commented.
I just wanted to say that for the last four years I've been contracted by a group of organizations (some Christian like Orphan Outreach and Bethany Christian Services and some secular like FHI and UNICEF) to advocate within the Christian community for FAMILY-BASED CARE. I give workshops at conferences on the limitations of orphanage care and the benefits of family preservation. I help Christian groups/churches/organizations understand what that looks like. Recently I've been speaking more on the topic of church-church partnership. Just published a 64 page "book" called Journeys of Faith that includes best practice in partnership, orphan care, short-term missions (I think you'd really like that section!) and more. I'd be happy to send a copy to you if you'd like to read it.It was partly funded by UNICEF which, despite how it seems or how it played out in Haiti, is actually very anti-orphanage and provides a lot of funding for our work. (Shocker! UNICEF providing funding for a Christian Initiative conducting outreach around family-based care. Blows all of the assumptions out of the water I think. ;))

You can find us, Faith to Action Initiative, at www.faithbasedcarefororphans.org
As far as I know I am the only paid person doing this type of advocacy outreach. It's hard work -but so so important. But there are a lot of organizations and individuals who stand behind us and pay for this work. I am thankful for your blog and how outspoken you are on the topic. It is needed.
Amanda

Kim said...

It's good to see these ideas being wrestled with. Our daughter is from Ukraine and while their orphanages are FAR from healthy as a whole, hers was an exception and she had consistent workers who cared for her for the 3 years she lived there. She's been home 8 months and has a ton of issues to work through (normal adoptive stuff on top of major medical problems), but we're not dealing with so many of the RAD symptoms we were expecting because of their care.
I'm also a strong supporter of helping the families stay together. Our daughter was taken from the home, in part, because of poverty and the inability of her mom to handle all of our daughter's health issues. It makes me sad to think about what could have been for that family if they had only had the support and encouragement needed to make it through a really tough situation.

T & T Livesay said...

Amanda -
That is amazing and encouraging ... checking out the site now. THANK YOU!!

Shauna said...

This is so good. My head feels like it may burst. Part of me wants to yell YES and the other part want to plop on the floor and cry. I wrestle with this too - in a BIG way. I am the adoption coordinator and sit on the board of a small orphanage in Uganda. I see these things, I wrestle with these things.
it is so complex.
May God lead the way because, boy do we need HIM!
Wish I could sit with you for a long chat.

Sara said...

While we are adopting from Ethiopia not Haiti, I get what you're saying. We did our research and went with a reputable agency. Things have recently slowed down in the Ethiopian process and sent people into an uproar, but ultimately, it was the court taking more time double-checking to make sure that children weren't being trafficked. While it does lengthen our process, I'm ok with it because I want to make sure that the child we adopt is a true orphan and not being taken from a family that loves them already.

Chrissy said...

Very thought provoking post! Much to consider... it is obviously on the minds of others as I found this on CNN http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/06/16/my-take-on-adoption-christians-should-put-up-or-shut-up/?hpt=hp_t2

Always happy to hear your perspective Tara!

Anonymous said...

I don't even know where to begin this comment. Maybe by just saying it's about time this movement to...startle...the Christian community got going. FINALLY we are beginning to wrestle with the questions we should have wrestled with all along. How best to "help" the poor, what does adoption do and what does it mean, and what is the roll of Christians in missions.

Speaking from a personal perspective, I see the effects of orphanage care blatantly glaring at me every single day in my son's eyes. You are going on a mission trip? Great. Don't pick up the children. Don't give them treats. Don't be the nice white person. You cause all kinds of attachment issues. You cause my son to play the "cute black orphan" whenever he's in a crowd. Because of youmy son doesn't have ANY personal boundaries and it's becoming more and more obvious the older he gets. He doesn't understand because youcame in and loved on him then left him. He learned to survive and to get the "white people's" attention because of you.

Please, read and re-read and re-read Tara's post. Read Heather's post. And then ask yourself who you're really doing this work for? You? Or the people you claim to want to help? You come back from that mission trip feeling all warm and fuzzy about your role there. Great. But what about those you left behind? What exactly have you done for them? Or should I say, TO them?

What does God want? What does he require of us?

That is where we need to start.

Kristen {RAGE against the MINIVAN} said...

Love you, love this post. Agree with ALL THAT.

lynsay said...

Agree. My husband and I, by the grace of God, live in China and run a medical foster home. Though we can't identify with everything you are saying personally, we have had many of the same thoughts/feelings/prayers and have taken steps to make the best for the children that we are privileged to have in our care.

kate.m.v. said...

Thank you for writing this thought-provoking post with sensitivity and humbleness. I completely agree with your perspective. I am a young adult trans-racially adopted person who was raised in my birth country by foreigners...so as you can imagine my cultural identity and sense of where I fit in is somewhat mixed up!

My opinion about the trans-racial adoption discourse is subjective and I am proud of that fact, I don't believe it is important or right for others who are not intimately involved in trans-racial adoption to lord their views over ours (adoptees and adoptive and birth parents) claiming theirs matters more because they are able to be "objective". I think the ideology of "wishing no one would trans-racially adopt" or "wishing there wasn't a need for trans-racial adoption" is a denial of the state of the world, a denial of reality and a dangerous and hurtful line of thinking.

I absolutely believe that one-size does not fit all, and every situation warrants a different response and passing judgement without knowing the ins and outs of each situation is unfair, unkind and thoughtless. I dislike the way trans-racial adoption, bi-racial marriages, children and families are vilified and “othered” both by the media and scholars and laypeople. The polarisation of the issue is unnecessary and very damaging. I don’t think the question should be about supporting or opposing trans-racial adoption and whether it is right or wrong – it should be about supporting waiting children, exploring different options of care and acknowledging that trans-racial adopted children will struggle with their cultural identity and trying to assist in the ongoing negotiation an adoptee experiences between their two family histories. Trans-racial adoption has two sides and both sides (loss and gain) need to be fully acknowledged and discussed - celebrated and grieved for.

I commend your work with Heartline -especially your work at Harbor House...it's a wonderful thing to see and I believe it is the right response. Keep up fighting the good fight!
- Kate

FourMartins said...

thank you, tara, and thank you anon.

i have quite a few friends and family members who do stm's and/or fundraise for their church mission work, including orphanages. many, if not most, share the flaws that you have pointed out in your posts. i find myself in an uncomfortable position when they come home, or complete a fundraiser, with that veni vidi vici attitude, and knowing that they may have contributed toward breaking apart families. please keep rocking the boat and challenging us to look critically at the things we're doing to "help."

Carsen said...

I think the biggest problem is that we can't get over the fact that poverty is not the worst thing ever. I even feel uncomfortable writing it because I hate poverty and the symptoms of it. We (myself included) want to rescue these precious children from the "worst thing ever.' But what if being poor isn't the worst thing a child could experience? EVERY situation is unique and there is no clear cut answer (some where adoption is totally appropriate, other not so much), but I would be confident in saying that poverty alone is not necessarily a reason for adoption. Do we believe that? Do Haitians believe that? Are we bold enough to try to show and encourage Haitian families of that and give them the confidence that even in poverty they can raise their children, and raise them well?

BJ said...

Very, very, VERY well said! I couldn't agree more! We adopted as naive missionaries...not from Haiti but from Ukraine. After living there for 4 years, our outlook definetly changed. Having programs in place to help children stay with their birth families, in their home countries should be the # 1 goal! I admire your work! I think what you are starting/doing in Haiti is truly life/world chaging! Giving families a chance, what could be better than that????

Melissa said...

I work for an NGO that trains orphanage staff in child development and how to care for children with special needs, so I have been in a lot of Haitian orphanages (those that allow us to come and work along side them of course) and I whole-heartedly agree with the guilt associated with coming in and out of these kids lives. It's truly heart wrenching to leave each and every time. A few weeks ago I was completing a round of assessments on new kids at one of our regular orphanages when an 8 year old girl with CP was placed in my arms with a piece of note paper stating her name/age. Her mom had just arrived to leave her in the orphanage care and it still haunts me. This little girl was well cared for for 8 years, I can't even begin to imagine how you make that choice to decide you can't do it any longer. If there are programs that can help families like this continue to care for their special needs children I support them 100%. Pazapa in Jacmel is an example of such a place if you ever run into people in that area with special needs children who are looking for support and training.

Anonymous said...

I feel defensive but I am going to think about this. My church is one planning to fund a new program in 2011-2012.

Walking to China said...

I struggle with this tremendously as we foster a little boy from a different country who has Down Syndrome. Our country doesn't want to release him for adoption and yet they don't really want him either. His life if he stays here will be grim and will at some point include institutionalization. I would love to see systemic change- better orphanages, better care for special needs orphans, less power given to individual orphan directors, more foster care and a general culture shift towards special needs children.
But all I can do is fight for our one little guy and hope that one day he will be in a forever family.

Joann said...

How did I get to this blog? Anyway, great blog! I went on a Short Term Missions trip in 2007 and I really loved it and yet I felt the kids were on display, in a way,for all the teams that showed up. While I was there I was wondering how it feels to be attached to someone for a week... and then they leave... and then have that done over and over. I think it's crazy for the kids. I know people mean well but I we need to put more thought into it.

Thanks again for the Blog.

Heavenly Father, we soooo need Your help! Show us what to do! Give us eyes to see, ears to hear, courage and strength to do things Your way. Amen.

Anonymous said...

I think it is a slippery slope and I struggle when Christians criticize each other and people think that their way of helping is the only 'right' way. God said "“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." I think what you are doing in Haiti is fabulous and I love your heart and your ministry. But calling into question how God has called others to help the least of these does not seem to serve any purpose other than to make people question whether they should help AT ALL (Satan uses interesting people to make others question their faith and to walk away from doing God's will for their lives). God's calling to others is not for our discernment. God told all Christians to share the Gospel in other lands and to be His hands and feet. If that means adoption or short-term missions, the Bible does not dictate the exact formula, and he certainly doesn't say long-term missions are only valid ministries. Christians will always embrace the adoption of orphans and being the hands and feet of Christ in a very personal way because that is what God calls us to do. I understand that you want to keep women and families together and I agree whole-heartedly with this. I foster in the U.S. and work with birth Moms to reunite with their kids as well. But trying to say that the ministries and approaches that God has called others to is somehow taking away from your approach to ministry maybe needs to be prayed over. We need to be Kingdom-minded, not criticize what God has called others to do.

T & T Livesay said...

Anon -
I don't think you read the post very carefully. You've inferred a lot that was not written. We can agree to disagree on whether it is okay to examine our work. We ask ourselves every single day if what we are doing is truly helpful and right - and somedays the answer is not an easy "yes".

Questioning MYSELF and all the work that the masses of Christians have come to do is something I will continue to do because I have seen how much harm has been caused here by people who refuse to question and think things through.

I think if you had walked into an orphanage run by Christians (I have four specific examples - all professing Christians abusing children under the banner of Christ) and seen how totally unprepared some of these Christians were to run an orphanage in a corrupt third world country - you would probably have a different take on it. Children lying in their own feces without nannies all because of unprepared Christians doing what "God asked" is not something I'll look the other way on ... ever.

I never said "approaches that God has called others to is somehow taking away from" our approach.

What I did say is --- Haiti has a hundreds of orphanages and a growing number of children being placed in them. The kids living in them mainly have mothers. Maybe it is time to consider another option.

Megan@SortaCrunchy said...

So, so many great points here.

I believe everyone in church leadership who is pursuing work with people who need development in ANY country MUST MUST MUST read When Helping Hurts. It's not glitzy, it's not sexy, but it's powerful truth that we, as the Church, MUST understand. From low socio-economic neighborhoods here in the States to developing countries around the world, we have GOT to understand the importance of development.

What would happen if we put our copious resources to work doing the long, hard work of development so that for many families, placing a child in an orphanage ceases to be a concern?

Excellent, thought-provoking message.

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Anonymous said...

On my first visit to Haiti I witnessed an American couple bring a child they had taken home on a medical visa convince the birth parents that they could not give their daughter the life that she deserved. The American family even said things like they would pay them to put their child up for adoption. I watched the father of the little girl, with with tears streaming down his face, as he wrestled with making a decision to give up the little girl that was his and that he loved deeply.The O director looked the other way and completed an adoption for this family. I should have instantly known to find someone else to facilitate our adoption (at the least) yet I didn't.

Anonymous said...

If you truly feel this way, then shouldn't you make an effort to return your children to their birth families? As you mentioned, you could help their mothers be able to support their children, too. I think it's important to address orphan care issues, but your stance needs to be stated more clearly. Some of the comments left on your blog are purely fictional. Example: one woman said she saw an American couple "adopt a child right in front of her eyes." This untruth saddens me with it's damaging deception, b/c it could NEVER happen that way. Having adopted 2 Haitian children, I can ASSURE you...no one can process an adoption in a few moments before getting on a plane.

T & T Livesay said...

Anon 8/7/11 @ 6:55am

Quoting the post:
"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."

One - We truly feel that building more orphanages is not the answer and in fact plays into the growing number of orphans worldwide. "Orphan" does not mean a child without living family anymore. "Orphans" are an industry in poor and corrupt countries and in some ways we play a role in making that so.

Two - We have information about our birth families that you are not privy to, we have been in relationship with them for many years ... have offered to support them financially to parent/raise subsequent children ... etc. Therefore it is probably best if you not assume anything about what we have done to try to keep their families in tact.

Three - I really truly wish you were right on your last statement. But you cannot assure us of anything. Money talks.

I am certain that the comment you refer to lacked both important details and context -- but I regret to inform you that if you have a connection to a powerful person in government and if you have a lot of money --- you can indeed fast track a kid out of here. It is illegal but it happens and to think that one of the most corrupt countries in the world would have a system that always successfully safeguards against injustice is totally naive.

People buy children here every month - for various purposes. (Not specifically for adoption necessarily). Check with the well-connected and informed folks at IJM and ask them how easy it is for them to work in Haiti to protect children.

Anonymous said...

I found this post from another blog. I agree, it makes much more sense to find great programs that are long-standing in any given country and fund them to do better and more work. New people building new buildings is a waste of money, especially if you look at how many new programs fail within the first three years. Those donor dollars were hard earned and are totally wasted!!!

KmomKin said...

This is a thoughtful and interesting post. I loved it. My family is moving to Haiti this summer to help rebuild an orphanage that was destroyed in the earthquake. This is not a new orphanage, but has been terribly neglected and unorganized in the last two years. I hope that we will be able to help do some good, perhaps reunite some families, hopefully help make the kid's lives better. Thank you for helping me to think about some of the harder issues involved with orphanages in Haiti.