This is a guest post by Shelley Clay, originally published on the blog for The Apparent Project. I read it last week and it so clearly articulated the thoughts I’ve been having about the polarity of thinking regarding international adoption and orphan care. Shelley graciously let me post it here. For a little backstory, Shelley and her husband Corrigan live in Haiti, working with The Apparent Project.This non-profit seeks to assist mothers and fathers in poverty keep their children, by providing them with a specialized skill, such as jewelry making, bookbinding, or sewing. In Haiti alone, they are estimating around 380,000 children who are not living with their biological parents according to the latest UNICEF reports. We call them orphans. Of those kids, many are with relatives. A common misperception in the adoption world is that Haitians, (and disadvantaged people of all kinds), don’t take care of their own. Can I emphatically say that this is NOT the case in my world. Many of our artisans have children that they raise AS THEIR OWN that were given to them by a family member who died or just couldn’t take care of them. This is very common in Haiti as well as many other disadvantaged people groups. (including in North America). It super irks me when we act like we are the only ones trying to help these children. If they can’t go to relatives, there are a variety of situations they can end up in.
- They are on the streets (prostitution, trafficking etc.. ),
- They are given as child servants (a restavek is a child given in domestic servitude to another family in exchange for shelter, food, and possibly a chance to be educated- although this can play out to be anything from a foster care like situation to pure slavery), or to orphanages.
Of all of the orphanages in Haiti, very few actually adopt out children. The children live in usually below poverty level situation ( much like when they were with their families), are not well cared for or loved the way they would be if they were with their moms, and will often end of with little hope for a decent future. Even GOOD orphanages have a hard time transitioning kids from orphanage life to the real world once they hit 18. It is a tough job raising kids in bulk! Some of the better orphanages in Haiti, many run by expats, do offer adoption and will offer this as one of the solutions for this horrific problem of orphaned and vulnerable children. Of all the orphanages that offer adoption in Haiti, only about 200 kids get adopted each year. (see chart at the bottom). With new laws currently in the works, this number looks like it will be going down even further- not just in Haiti but all over the world. Too much corruption, child trafficking, and dishonesty has made specialists in the field- from the governments on down to the social workers feel it necessary to slow down in order to PROTECT vulnerable children. Please hear me. If your adoption is slow. The powers that be aren’t just having long lunch breaks. They are literally more concerned about the 1000s of cases of unethical treatment of children and are bogged down with trying to decipher between legitimate relinquishment, abandonment, and true orphans and the corruption all over the place makes it hard to do that job well. Now to get to the point. I find too often in my world that you have the pro-adoption and anti-adoption camps. The pro-orphanage and anti-orphanage camps. This paradigm is completely skewed and doesn’t make sense. It’s an illogical comparison. If we have 380,000 vulnerable children and only 200 are even in process of adoption to the U.S. and maybe 200 more to other adoptive countries like Canada and France, then we have approximately 379,600 kids who ARE STILL VULNERABLE. While I submit to adoptive parents to be careful where they adopt from, know that it will be one of the most challenging experiences they will ever face, and that they will most likely get their heart broken several times- both before and after the adoption is complete, let it be clear that advocating for a solution for the other 379,600 children is in no way anti-adoption or anti-orphanage. WE are all working for the cause of protecting vulnerable children. This is why we can all have different solutions to the same problem and be in harmony- and should be in harmony. I myself have two adopted children. I work tirelessly to help mothers be able to sustain their families. These are two ways that I work towards a solution- in tandem. And I think that what those of us on the ground in the field are tirelessly trying to communicate to the rest of the world is that we NEED to prevent child relinquishment not because we are anti-adoption, but because we see this gaping hole in the side of the vulnerable people groups all over the world. This gaping hole is that parents need an opportunity to take care of their children. If we are called by God to help “the orphan” than with any brain in us, we can figure that helping prevent relinquishment helps the orphan. By nipping it in the bud. Any by help, I do not mean AID forever, but rather the dignity that comes through sustainable development- a JOB. And here’s the thing- we appeal to ADOPTIVE parents because we know that they are the most likely of all the people on the planet to want to help families stay in tact. Because they see that adoption is a redemption- not the first plan. That their kids have scars. And they want to help. My point is that this should never be and adoption VS sustainability issue. My point is that we can do it all in tandem- cooperatively and as individuals. Let’s adopt kids who truly need it. And let’s help parents who wish to keep their kids find jobs, and let’s buy products from Haiti, because stimulating the Haitian economy is helping families all over Haiti, and let’s soak up some rays at the beautiful beaches of Haiti because the tourism industry is Hait’s #1 chance for economic recovery. And let’s support schools and feeding programs for children because it provides some reprieve for parents who are struggling to be able to make ends meet. Let’s do this thoughtfully and in a way that ultimately allows parents to keep their most precious and valuable gifts given to them.Let us love the orphan before she becomes one. And though we choose to adopt for now, do feeding programs for now, support schools for now, let’s work tirelessly to make that ultimately unnecessary. ~shelley clay
One last word- while we all work together to solve this problem, we should also be willing to not tolerate vulnerable kids getting abused whether in birth families, as restaveks, or in orphanages. Period. If we know it is happening and we don’t speak out to help. We are participants.
You can more about The Apparent Project here.