Let’s Keep Families Together

Julio is 10 years old. He has a million dollar smile and a puff of brown curls on his head. I’m taken to him particularly because he instantly attached to me when I arrive, holding my hand and showing me around. He clearly yearns for a connection, but unfortunately, his mother lives in extreme poverty and cannot provide for him- she wants to, but needs help.

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Paul is still at the Good Samaritan Home, 4 years later. I held him in my arms the first time I went to Kenya – he was oly months old.  He was abandoned in the slums of Soweto, with no record of his family. 4 years have gone by and no one knows who left him on the side of the road, and he has not been able to be adopted.

 

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Kevin is 13 years old. He ran away from home where there was no food and rife with instability, and ended up at the WTF center. But he has a family that he misses. And that he wants to go back to.

These are just a handful of children that I have met over the years – children with real stories of need, of hope, of trying to find a place they belong in the world.

And that place, truthfully, is not in an orphanage, no matter how well intentioned the directors who run it are, no matter how much the care givers who work there care, no matter how “inspiring” the naive foreign volunteers who come bearing gifts find them.

The place where children belong is with their own family, immediate family if possible, extended family when not, and at least within their own community.

Kitechild has evolved significantly in our past 7 years of operation. We started off with a goal to empower children living in orphanages, so that they could break the cycles of poverty that often led them there. We didn’t know how to do this, and we didn’t know much abut orphanages in general. We just thought what most westerners did: that orphanages were necessary because the parents of these children had neglectfully abandoned them, or they all had died of AIDS or other diseases.

But as we started to visit these homes, in places all over the world including India, Kenya, Mexico, and Central America, we realized that 90% of the children living there had families, families which they missed and who missed them. The main underlying factor that led these children to living in an orphanage, away from their families, was extreme poverty. When a mother faces the cruel reality that she has no food for her child, or no money to send him to school, leaving him vulnerable to recruitment into a hard life on the streets, an orphanage providing food, shelter and education is seen akin as a boarding school, albeit one that will separate her and her child.

As a mother myself, this is not a choice that any mother should have to make. It pains me to think of mothers, and fathers, who reach a desperate point in their lives where they feel like they can’t provide for their own child, and essentially send them away in hopes of a better life. Because truthfully, this is not about lazy parenting, or neglectful parenting, this is about families who live in countries with high poverty rates, countries where little to no social services exist (nothing such as food stamps in the US), or countries where the chances of a woman finding a stable, safe job are slim to none.

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Of course, not every child’s case is due to poverty. There are children who have experienced significant abuse, unimaginable torture, sex trafficking, willful and cruel neglect, stigmatization from their community due to AIDS or because of their caste, female genital mutilation, tribal warfare, etc. etc. Those are all very real cases that still happen today. And for those children, there is no “Child Protective Services” such as we have in the U.S. There is only the open door of the nearest orphanage, where they can only hope the staff will be kind, there will be social counseling available, and ways for them to find a new family or reunite with the old one day.

All this we have learned in our 7 years of research and traveling in the field, and this has greatly changed our perspective on how we feel we can best empower these children to thrive. We acknowledge the need of an orphanage in places where no other safety net exists, but we are also supporting community outreach programs that help families stay together and not be separated due to lack of food or access to education.

But it does not stop there. We have the ability to push for stronger policy in terms of child protection. That is why our latest project deviates from our traditional sustainable, income generating projects. This project is being done in conjunction with the Kenyan government, who have a very limited budget when it comes to their Children and Family services. (Why they have this small budget is another story (read: mismanagement) but we will not go there). Thus, Kitechild is sponsoring a 2 day training program for 27 orphanages in Nakuru county. This conference will focus on guiding each home to create an exit strategy for their children: meaning, a strategy to successfully re-integrate eligible children back with their families or with extended family in their own communities. The importance of social workers and commitment will be stressed. The timelines and budgets will be outlined, and we will have a follow up training in the first quarter of 2018 to follow up on progress and record how many successful integrations have occurred, what the challenges are, and best ways moving forward.

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The goal of this training is to further educate and spread awareness to these orphanage directors and caregivers of the importance of making every effort to keep children with their families, whenever it is safe and healthy for the child to do so. Many of the directors I have met are no doubt selfless, kind, and good hearted people who see it as their ‘calling’ to help at risk children, but they do not realize that rather than taking in as many children as possible, what would be better for the child is to support the child while living at home. Plus, these type of outreach programs are more cost effective than housing a child in an orphanage.

The funding needed for this campaign is not very much – around $1900.00. I strongly believe in the way in which Kitechild is moving forward, and I hope that you can join me as we continue to create real, measurable, and long term change in the way that at risk children are empowered to thrive.

With gratitude,

Jacqueline Herrera
Co-Founder and Director

Adopting the Right Questions: Understanding Orphans in India

by Jacqueline Monet, Social Media Manager

 

According the the Washington Post, there are over 30 million orphaned children in India and last year, only 2,500 were adopted. As someone who works for an organization that transforms living conditions for orphaned and vulnerable children and has partner homes in India, I can’t help but ask, why?

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Ashirvad Home Tuni, India

 

Our liaison in India, Shobha, recently wrote to us after meeting with the District Officer of Social Welfare in Chennai. Contrary to what many people believe, the majority of children living in orphanages have one or both living parents. They are often placed in orphanages due to poverty, stigma, abuse, and other difficult situations. Shobha relayed that the Indian government verifies that each  family that sends a child to an orphanage lacks the resources to adequately support their child. Most of the orphanages are run by private organizations, under the jurisdiction of the government. Unfortunately, though, it makes it difficult to get these children proper care “because no one can question our government,” according to Shobha.

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LAMP Home Rajamundry, India

 

Would it be better to give aid to the families of children who have no other recourse but to place their children in homes? Is that how the Indian government should allocate its funding, over building institutions? It’s a complicated question about a complex situation. Regardless of what might be the best course of action, how do you account for the millions of children in India living in orphanages and the comparatively miniscule amount of adoptions? In my own personal research, it was hard to come to a conclusive answer as to why it is so difficult to adopt a child from India.

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Adoptions in India are complicated. Families in India are often under more pressure to adopt children who are aligned with their ethnicity, religion and social status. According to Shobha, families often get involved in the adoption process and end up stalling or halting it through concerns of how the child was born, to whom and into which caste. While the caste system is outlawed in India, the legislation is so poorly implemented that it barely makes a difference. Other considerations like the color of their child’s skin and health conditions also are major factors. As such, many children are virtually unadoptable, especially if they have a disability or a health issue.

Even when adoptions happen within India, they remain a long, arduous process that usually takes between 3 and 4 years. Since it is such a difficult process, the illegal adoption market is a huge problem in India. This has resulted in more missing children and less children going to eligible adoption agencies. There are even more additional cultural reasons that need to be taken into consideration, as well. For example, adoptions by Indian citizens who are Hindus, Sikhs, Jains or Buddhists are governed by the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act of 1956, which prohibits the adoption of more than one child of the same sex.

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Ziah Home Hyderabad, India

 

For those looking to adopt from other countries, such as the US, the process remains challenging. It’s  very difficult for Americans to adopt Indian children, despite the fact that the U.S. adopts more children internationally and domestically, as the rest of the world combined, according Adam Pertman, author of “Adoption Nation.” Indian authorities first have to determine that the child would be better placed outside of India. The Indian government prioritizes finding suitable Indian parents for adoption over foreign adoptions. Often this means that only disabled and/or older children are eligible for outside adoptions. In addition, certain parameters exclude would-be parents, for example, same-sex couples are not eligible to adopt Indian children.

Meanwhile, the foster care system in India largely remains a mystery to me, due to the lack of information found online. Shobha found that foster care in India is very limited to specific situations, such as a trial period for parents considering adopting a given child. There are alternatives to the traditional orphanage system, however. Shobha was taken by our partner home, Christ Faith Home, to visit an organization where there are women living with their children. These women have been left by their husbands, widowed or have found themselves in another desperate situation of some kind. The home was setup into apartments, with nearly 30 women residing there. The women are able to keep their children and are even learning skills so that they can enter the workforce, like tailoring.

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Source: Christ Faith Home Chennai, India

 

Christ Faith Home recently welcomed two infants into their home. The police brought both babies to them, after one was given to the police and the other was abandoned on a train. “The babies were so cute looking, seeing them I was broken,” said Shobha. She is continuing to visit orphanages and to research their major challenges. Kitechild works to support communities and provide the best lives for children, wherever they might find themselves within the complexity of poverty. It is our job to better the lives of vulnerable children and to care for them, whatever their circumstances might be, and the best way we can do that is through understanding and compassion.

 

Sources:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/india-moves-to-improve-shameful-record-on-orphan-adoptions/2015/03/20/cefd4fce-c82a-11e4-bea5-b893e7ac3fb3_story.html

 

http://www.businessinsider.in/Child-Adoption-Still-a-long-way-to-go-in-India/articleshow/46986727.cms

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/7597109/Caste-discrimination-against-Indias-untouchables-is-an-international-issue.html
http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/16/world/international-adoption-main-story-decline/

#TBT! Check out this video from our first little fundraiser we did back in 2010! We all have to start somewhere, and this is a great example of the ways YOU can be a Kitechild ambassador – hosting small get togethers in the community, donating a birthday, etc. are all great ideas! To get started, email ambassador@kitechild.org; we’d love to collaborate on some great ways to get involved and give back!

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