January 26, 2010

In the Best Interest of Haiti's Children

When the earthquake hit, someone I know who has a very loving heart came to me and said their first reaction was that they wanted to open their home to an orphaned Haitian child.

I reacted less favorably than they thought I would.  Immediately, my mind went to my own stepsons and how they would react to a major tragedy such as an earthquake of even half the devastation of what happened in Haiti.  I imagined then that some well-meaning person took them out of the United States, put them on a plane to a country where the language and customs were completely different from what they had grown up with and dropped them into a new family.  That family might even be a different race, a different religion, and with different values all together from what they have learned growing up. I imagined the pain of adjustment to such a new experience, so soon after a major catastrophe.

Recently, Save the Children called for a halt to new adoptions because, as spokesperson Carolyn Miles said ""The vast majority of the children currently on their own still have family members alive who will be desperate to be reunited with them and will be able to care for them with the right support..."

Adoption in Haiti has already been fraught with problems. Some orphanages and organizations are calling for a relaxing of Visa and Immigration requirements to allow orphaned Haitian children to be adopted out more quickly. However, in the absence of a clear and structured plan and the ability to be certain that children from Haiti are not being placed out of the country when there are as yet unidentified relatives available to take them, hasty action could have lifelong negative consequences for these children.

That being said, from the pulpit this Sunday my own Pastor spoke of the struggles of a family member who had been trying to adopt an orphaned Haitian child now for several years. The child had already been selected and cleared for adoption, but paperwork delays held up the uniting of the new family for years.  The earthquake brought attention to this issue, and many children caught in a paperwork malestorm were released recently for adoption.  This is a different situation than taking children orphaned recently by the earthquake (or possibly not even orphaned) and shipping them to foreign lands.

We must not assume that we, Americans or Europeans in particular, are a better choice for raising these children than other Haitians.  It is a dangerous assumption.  Although there are children who will need the sheltering arms of foreign families, the first effort should be in providing support for Haitians willing to adopt these children, particularly if they are members of their own family.  The youngest of Haitian orphans may fare better at changing cultures.  However, for children over three or four, the culture shock after already suffering through "the thing" as some Haitians are referring to the earthquake might be too much for fragile young psyches.

A plan for Haitian orphans should include the following:

1. Caution, prudence and care must be taken to match as many Haitian children with their own family members or families in their own communities as possible.

2. Because this process will take time, foreign governments and organizations should make their second wave of aid, after the immediate medical and nourishment needs of the earthquake victims, be aimed at providing support to Haitian orphanages. 

3.  When children have been identified as definitively orphaned, foreign adoptions should only be granted once the child has had an opportunity to go through age-specific counseling to help them with the cultural change.  The primary gatekeeper for allowing the adoption to proceed should be a mental health professional.

4.  Once the children are emotionally prepared for adoption, then it is in their interest to remove the impediments of immigration policies and adoption procedures that needlessly prolong the child's stay in the orphanage.

5. Adoption subsidies should be provided for families in Haiti willing to accept orphaned children so that there is an incentive to keep the children in their known culture.

These steps will take funding, and the commitment of the Haitian government and the United Nations.  However, Haiti's beautiful children are well worth it. Rebuilding must begin with the littlest of Haiti's citizens.

January 4, 2010

2010 Resolutions for Child Advocacy in YOUR Family and Community

The year changes. The ball drops. We tip back a glass of champagne and scribble down some resolutions, some of which we may keep, some of which we may not.

But what resolutions can you make to advocate for your children or the children in your family and community?

1. If you have children, have a will. Find an attorney who can make an air-tight will in your state (if you are in New Jersey, I do them!) that gives guardianship of your children to someone YOU would choose if something should happen to you. Don't let your state's Child Protective Services make the decision of who your child should live with if they lost you.

2. If you do not have children, but wish you did...consider foster parenting. There are many, many children out there so desperately in need of a home where they will be loved and cared for, even if its only for a short time.

3. If you have children in your family, get to know them. So many adult survivors of child abuse will describe how they spent countless hours around family members who did not know they were being hurt. Get to know the children in your family, and let them know that if they have troubles they can come to you.

4. Become a mentor. Studies show that children at risk are greatly benefited by mentors. If there isn't a Big Brothers/Big Sisters or other mentorship program in your area, start one!

5. If you have a child with special needs, get serious! Get involved with the school, the IEP process...if they aren't listening to what your child needs, see an attorney who specializes in education law. Get to know the law and make sure that your child is getting all the services they need and deserve.

6. If you have a child in the public school system, get involved! Vote in local elections, join the P.T.A. (or start one), get to know the teachers that your children are dealing with. Teachers are almost always happy to have parents involved who are concerned about their children and want to know what is going on. Don't worry about bothering the teacher, they want to talk to you about how to help your child succeed!

7. Involved with a church, mosque or synagogue? Make sure your place of worship has information, and even maybe speakers available about child advocacy in your community, or at the least about how to recognize and report child abuse. Likewise, educate members of civic groups you belong to.

8. Educate yourself. Know the signs of child abuse. Know what to do if you see them.

Personal Note: I haven't updated this blog in awhile because I have been busy opening my law firm! The Law Office of Lynda L. Hinkle does family law, education, wills and municipal law. Hopefully, now that we are up and running I will be returning to a regular blogging schedule.