Monday, November 07, 2011

Preventing Orphans

I stumbled onto this blog A couple of weeks ago and meant to post it yesterday, since it was "Orphan Sunday." Better late than never. I was happy to read it, because I've encountered a number of people over the years in Uganda who come here with good intentions, great love for children, and a lot of compassion and US dollars. They want to start orphanages, just like these folks did in Haiti. Unfortunately, many of them don't ask the very sensible questions that the couple in Haiti did before they start constructing buildings and filling beds. This couple thought hard, and ultimately their questions led them to try to prevent orphans instead:

Do the moms who show up at an orphanage's gate really want to place their babies for adoption?Why do Haitian women keep getting pregnant over and over?Are they making educated decisions when they place their babies in orphanages? Do orphanages have a process in place for counseling mothers through this difficult choice?Do mothers and family members understand that placing a baby in an orphanage in Haiti in no way means that their child will actually end up adopted?Do they understand how difficult the government here makes it for adoptive parents? Do they know how long the process is?Do they understand that many times children in orphanages are sexually abused by their care takers or other children in the orphanage? In some orphanages kids don't even get enough to eat or have their basic needs met.Do the parents know that the child they are hoping will have a better life if they drop them off at the orphanage's gate may grow up in that orphanage, age out, never knowing their biological family and never being placed in an adoptive one?Do these mothers want to raise their babies...and if they do...why aren't they keeping them?Is it fair to have an orphanage in every neighborhood (many of them funded by churches) and yet have nothing (or very little) in place in countries like Haiti for helping mothers and fathers obtain the skills they need to keep their children and care for them? Is having an orphanage in every neighborhood helping to fight the orphan crises or are all these orphanages creating the crisis?"Often charity to help the poor attracts more people into poverty. One example I have noticed takes place when North Americans try to care for the needs of orphans in cultures different from our own. If you build really nice orphanages and provide good food and a great education, lots more children in those places become orphans. I see this happen all over. When we attempt to eradicate poverty through charity, we often attract more people into “needing” charity. It is possible to create need where it did not exist by projecting our standards, values and perception of need onto others. "-- Steve Saint

The context in Uganda is quite different from Haiti and different questions should be asked, but perhaps if there was more soul-searching as well following best practices in protecting orphans and vulnerable children "starting an orphanage" wouldn't be quite so faddish--or at least not assumed the exclusive answer to the "orphan problem". A month or so ago I got an email from a woman at UNICEF looking for resources or organizations in northern Uganda that were doing foster care, another alternative to institutionalizing kids. Unfortunately, I had very little information to share with her (I only know of one children's' home that does this and they only have 2 very over-stretched social workers), because resources that go into orphan care are going into homes (many of which don't allow adoptions or foster care) and not into social work and other support services needed to have a good foster care system, or for that matter, to prevent orphans. Fortunately, it's a need that UNICEF recognizes, so maybe more kids will grow up in families and less in institutions in the coming years. One can hope.

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