Friday, June 6, 2014

Follow up part 1--thoughts about working with orphanages

Do you work with an orphanage in DRC?  I came across this checklist created by ACC International Missions, and posted by the Alternative Care Uganda facebook forum the other day.  I think it is an excellent way to evaluate whether or not you should be supporting the orphanage and also give guidelines for reform.  Here is a quote from the introduction:

When vulnerable children in need of support are identified, orphanages should not be the first and only support offered to families and/or children in crisis. All attempts should be made to ensure children can stay with their families or in a substitute family before they are placed in an orphanage.
Orphanages should be a last resort and temporary measure until a family placement can be secured or a child is able to return to their biological family. Using orphanages as a long-term solution can detrimentally affect children therefore should be avoided.
Families should be offered support services to ensure they can fulfill their function as the primary carers of children. Children should never be removed from their families due to poverty, but resources should be directed towards assisting the family and preserving the family unit.
The checklist covers five different areas including:   Legal Registration, Preserving Families, Standards of Care, Participating in Community Life, and Child Rights.  Here are a few of the questions from the "Preserving Families" section:  "Is the orphanage actively trying to trace family members and reunify families that have been separated?"  "Does the orphanage have a clear registration policy to ensure children are actively being reintegrated into families and only kept in residential for as short a time as possible?" "Is the orphanage director ensuring that children are not placed in orphanages due to poverty, but that families are able to access the support they need to raise their own children?"  There are other excellent questions on the checklist. I will be writing one more post about this checklist and the sixth area that I believe is missing on it: financial accountability. 

Right now there are 46 children living at Kaziba, most are babies and toddlers.  Since March 27 there have been 4 deaths at the orphanage.  If they hadn't died that would make 50 children living at the orphanage.  There are 5 mamas one per shift during the day right now; there are less overnight (maybe 2).  That means the ratio is 1 mama per 10 children on good days, and at night there is minimal coverage.  And remember there is a big number of babies.   Children with known family members.

Let's put this in perspective.  Do all the children that live at Kaziba need to be living at Kaziba if most have known and living family members that given a little support could be caring for their children?  (As an example, there is a baby home here where I live in TZ that has newborns living in their homes and fathers or other family members coming to get formula weekly for the newborn while at the same time getting trainings on safe formula preparation, parenting, and well baby checks.)  Could the ratio be less?  What is the barrier?  Time, staffing, and resources.  Family preservation/reunification projects take time and resources.  And dedicated staff that are trained. And collaboration of all partners with a passion for a shared vision of seeing children that will never be adopted back with their families.  It can be done.  Look at other programs I have highlighted through Africa that run programs like this (found on this page).

Am I angry?  Yes, but I think being angry is a good thing if it is directed at exposing injustices that are done and when it galvanizes us towards putting better policies in place that put the best interest of children (their right to live with their families) forward.

After my last post, I've had some interesting discussions with friends about international adoption and it's role in orphanages.  I often have to defend whether or not I believe in international adoption.  As I have said many times, I do believe in adoption and I also believe it needs reforming.  There are children at the Kaziba orphanage that may need adoption at some point because family reunification may be an impossibility.  My argument continues to be that the priority needs to be family preservation (following the alternative care framework) while providing short term high quality care for newborns that are left at the orphanage.  The priority is placed on family preservation, reunification and support.  Remember that most of the children at Kaziba have families that are taking care of the older siblings of the babies and most leave their babies temporarily in a time of crisis when the mother dies.  And that if the mother had lived, the child would not have been left in the orphanage!  Often the extreme poverty of the family makes it almost impossible to care for the newborn. 

If international adoption is the answer for some children to find families at the Kaziba orphanage then it should only be after all efforts at family reunification and preservation have been made.  When all those efforts have been exhausted then domestic adoption should be considered (and it is done in eastern DRC).  If a domestic situation cannot be found, then international adoption could be considered, but only done by an independent panel (ultimately a central authority) that is staffed by community leaders, church leaders, and social services.  International adoption should not be the role of the director of the orphanage.

And as always, I currently do not believe that international adoption in DRC should be pursued. As any reader of my blog knows, I believe there are not enough safeguards in place to protect children from exploitation due to corruption and unethical behavior by on-ground agency staff and others that are involved in the adoption process.  Please see DRC Adoption Posts for all the post that I have written on this topic as well as posts written by others.  There needs to be extensive reform in the process/infrastructure/support/laws and systems before international adoption should be pursed in DRC. 


One of the babies that currently lives at the orphanage. 




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