Dear Anderson,
It’s me, Kristen. Your #1 fan. I have loved you for a long time. I still do. When you decided to go back to Haiti to continue to tell their story, I was deeply moved. You are everything I appreciate in a journalist: smart, articulate, compassionate, adventurous, and quick-on-your-feet. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about your show is your willingness to present multiple layers of complex issues. But last night. Oh, Andy. You made a misstep that had me considering a break-up, and that left adoptive parents, child therapists, and orphan advocates scratching their heads.

Following an update on the Idiot Idaho Ten (I made that name up, but you can use it), you began a discuss on the plight of the orphan in Haiti. Let me first express to you how tired I am of this group of missionaries being the springboard for discussion on orphans in Haiti. After the obligatory “let’s let dumb American people upstage the Haitian children” update, you featured an orphanage that seemed to be doing great things in Haiti. In doing so, you personally cited UNICEF’s position that orphans should not be adopted to other countries, and suggesting this orphanage was “doing it right” by keeping children in-country to grow up in their orphanage instead of being adopted. You then allowed several staff of the orphanage to make similar statements about how children in orphanages will be the future of Haiti, and that removing orphans from Haiti will strip Haiti of its “natural resources”.

These are pretty ideas, to be sure. But as with any opinion that affects people on a broad scale, it’s important to do some investigation. You know, like if you had a show that had a “Keeping Them Honest” segment . . . ? Oh wait. YOU DO.

I realize you are tired. I realize you don’t have a background in child development. I realize that it may be convenient and easy to just read off the policies UNICEF has readily available for you, and to speak with UNICEF’s ample spokespersons and PR reps who seem to be making the rounds. I realize it may be difficult, radical even, to question the policies of such a large and seemingly benevolent organization.

However. May I suggest a bit more investiation before you support a broad-stroke ideology that leaves orphans to grow up in institutions, or before you allow someone to suggest that a generation of institutionalized children will be the hope of an already struggling nation. Just a precursory examination of the literature will make it clear that even the best orphanage is no substitute for the familial developmental needs of a child.

Unfortunately for most children in Haiti, loss is an overwhelming reality right now. Many have lost homes and friends, and even been separated from their families. I applaud the efforts UNICEF is making to reunite displaced children with their families and to house children. I wholeheartedly agree that adoption is not the best option for all Haitian children, or even all orphaned children. I do think there are some amazing orphanages raising great kids. But for those children who have lost both parents in this earthquake, categorically relegating all of them to a life in an orphanage , in a country already struggling to care for an overwhelming number of orphans before this tragedy? This seems devoid of compassion.

I am cognizant of the losses involved in adoption, and specifically the cultural losses involved in international adoption. However, children who never form loving attachments with adults are at risk for much greater losses than cultural identity. Studies show institutionalized children are at high risk for incarceration, and may exhibit developmental delays, hoarding/stealing, hypersexual behavior, habitual lying, outbursts of rage, autistic traits, and cruelty to children or animals. Parents who have adopted older children from orphanages know the harsh reality of attachment issues, and are doing the difficult therapeutic parenting required to reverse these effects. You have likely angered many of them with a casual endorsement of UNICEF’s anti-adoption stance, when they observe the far-reaching issues their children face even after adoption.

Anderson, for the sake of these kids, do your research. Don’t allow UNICEF or other organizations that benefit from the dependency of orphans to speak for them. The risks orphans face are much greater than a sweeping policy of “keeping kids to their own kind”, and there is a wealth of literature to inform us of the real issues. Here are a few places to start:

Achenbach, T. W.; Edelbrock, C.; and Howell, C. T. (1987). “Empirically-Based Assessment of the Behavioral/Emotional Problems of 2–3-Year-Old Children.” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 15:629–650.

Ames, E. W. (1990). “Spitz Revisited: A Trip to Romanian ‘Orphanages.'” Canadian Psychological Association Developmental Section Newsletter 9(2):8–11.

Ames, E. W. (1997). The Development of Romanian Orphanage Children Adopted to Canada. Ottawa: Human Resources Development Canada.

Bowlby, J. (1953). Child Care and the Growth of Love. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books.

Broussard, M., and Decarie, T. G. (1971). “The Effects of Three Kinds of Perceptual-Social
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Carlson, E. A., and Sroufe, A. L. (1995). “Contributions of Attachment Theory to Developmental Psychopathology.” In Developmental Psychopathology, Vol. 1: Theory and Methods, ed. D. Cicchetti and D. J. Cohen. New York: Wiley.

Chisholm, K. (1998). “A Three Year Follow-Up of Attachment and Indiscriminate Friendliness in Children Adopted from Romanian Orphanages.” Child Development 69(4):1092–1106.

Chisholm, K.; Carter, M.; Ames, E. W.; and Morison, S. J. (1995). “Attachment Security and Indiscriminately Friendly Behavior in Children Adopted from Romanian Orphanages.” Development and Psychopathology 7:283–294.

Crittenden, P. M. (1988a). “Relationships at Risk.” In Clinical Implications of Attachment, ed. J. Belsky and T. Nezworski. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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Dennis, W. (1960). “Causes of Retardation among Institutional Children: Iran.” Journal of Genetic Psychology 96:47–59.

Dennis, W. (1973). Children of the Crèche. New York: Appleton-Century-Croft.

Fisher, L.; Ames, E. W.; Chisholm, K.; and Savoie, L. (1997). “Problems Reported by Parents of Romanian Orphans Adopted to British Columbia.” International Journal of Behavioral Development 20(1):67–82.

Goldfarb, W. (1945a). “Psychological Privation in Infancy and Subsequent Adjustment.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 14:247–255.

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Handley-Derry, M.; Goldberg, S.; Marcovitch, S.; McGregor, D.; Gold, A.: and Washington, J. (1995). “Determinants of Behavior in Internationally Adopted Romanian Children.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Behavioral Pediatrics, Philadelphia, September 1995.

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Morison, S. J., and Ellwood, A. L. (2000). “Resiliency in the Aftermath of Deprivation: A Second Look at the Development of Romanian Orphanage Children.” Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 46(4):717–737.

O’Connor, T. G.; Rutter, M.; and the English and Romanian Adoptees Study Team (2000). “Attachment Disorder Behavior Following Early Severe Deprivation: Extension and Longitudinal Follow-Up.” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 39(6):703–712.

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