Thanksgiving Day and “Save the Children” on orphans–again!

I have been thinking about the name itself–Save the Children! No wonder this “children’s charity” gets worldwide attention for its every utterance–even if totally off base. This time, Save the Children has released what it is calling “research” results to indicate that most orphans have living parents and that the contrary view is a myth. The main problem with this “new” information is that everyone already knows about it. No one with any involvement in children’s issues believes that most children in institutions are without living parents. The idea that people do generally think that is itself a myth. But here goes the world’s press—reacting in awe to these comments….

We know that Save the Children has been vehemently opposed to international adoption–explicitly and on the record–for years. I have never been able to understand why they are accepted as an expert in this matter. Like UNICEF, they are not set up to deal with this issue. Many who support them are not aware of how much energy they expend in opposing adoption. The latest “report” focuses on the exploitation of children with living parents by, yes, orphanages.

The report notes what we all know–that children who grow up in institutions often encounter tragic, frightening life outcomes. Having opposed international adoption, knowing that adoptive parents cannot be found domestically in adequate numbers in most countries, and filling a child welfare policy vacuum (where is the expert international body I keep calling for?), Save the Children now blames…orphanages.

The problem with the Save the Children/Unicef view of the social orphan problem (or one of the problems–there are many) is that it is so doctrinaire and simplistic. They fail to differentiate between policies needed to deal with children who become detached from original families because of poverty per se, and children who are not brought up in those families because of other, complex social factors. They fail to admit that they are incapable of carrying out the investments needed to accomplish mass scale family reunification. They rely on broad and sweeping charges against everyone in the various systems–except, of course, themselves and the governments they are trying to influence.

The upshot? Foster care–foster care!!! The BBC reported this week on foster care in Russia–one home it showed (and there is virtually no international access on these matters) had eight children crowded into a house or apartment–it was not looking very good for those children. Anyone who believes that children who are unlikely to be reunited with original families should, as a matter of children’s rights, go into foster care rather than an adoption system, is living in some bizarre and even cruel fantasy land….


Why a free pass for international foster care?

Several weeks ago, yet another scathing indictment of a major US state’s foster care system emerged–this time, a report on New York’s child welfare practice, by the group Children’s Rights. See their homepage at

This site, in fact, is full of important information about the disaster that is American foster care. It uses the right language–blunt, honest and horrifying. Children enter state foster care and are subject to horrific treatment–not in every foster care situation, of course–though some of them are likely to be truly awful–but rather due to the inherent impermanency and contingent status of foster care as an institution.

Oddly and perversely, in a world that cannot face up to the issue of parental rights, child abandonment and families made from other than blood ties, “foster care” has become the new clarion call for “children’s rights” in countries around the world. If one compares foster care to the old state institutions, maybe there is a case to be made. But the idea that placing young children who are very unlikely to be reunited with original families in foster care is consistent with their “rights” is a travesty.

I made a related point forcefully in an article I published a couple of years ago, in which I drafted a protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to the effect that states must account for their social orphans and children at risk of living out of family care, and ensure them permanency instead of the absurd “compromise” supposedly represented by foster care.

If the US government does ever get around to advocating for international standards of child permanency, it will have to take on this widespread illusion that foster care achieves anything like what a genuine, permanent, committed family can.

How many Kyrgyzstans?

I have written before that one of the main rationales for this blog was that I was completely tired of and worn out over the “adoption debate”–a debate which the pro-adoption side is losing in every sense but on paper…..I have continued to insist that the task should be to unearth information on the fate of children who have become detached from their original families. The reality is shocking, and almost completely ignored by the international human rights establishment….We have countless conferences and write countless law review articles on a small number of Guantanamo detainees, but discussion of the often unnecessary suffering of social orphans is off the radar screen.

Here is one small snippet from Kyrgyzstan–where, as you may know, recent international adoptions (only a handful in any event) have been held up through a “slow down” and red tape–to the point where it is alleged that some of the waiting children have become sicker and perhaps even died.

At least 3.5 thousand children live in orphanages in Kyrgyzstan

06/11-2009 10:33, Bishkek – News Agency “”, By Eliza BOTALIEVA

At least 3.5 thousand children live in orphanages in Kyrgyzstan, Tolkun Bekbulatova, chief of the Child Protection Department under the Kyrgyz Labor, Employment and Migration Ministry said Friday at the round table discussion on implementation of the state policy for orphans housing issues’ solution.

About 1,300 thousand children enter orphanages and 25 percent of the inmates leave them annually. “Unfortunately, none of the government agencies monitor future of the children. We do not have our own statistic, but in other countries 60 percent of such children fall into risk groups. We believe that it is a consequence of unsolved housing problems. Orphans simply do not know where to live and find no better occupation than crime or prostitution,” Bekbulatova said.

I suspect the overall figure of institutionalized children presented here is low–but the official at least acknowledges that the life outcomes for these children is bleak at best….Where is the Red Cross??

My Children’s Rights book is about to appear!

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International Children’s Rights
by Sara Dillon
View table of contents (PDF)

ISBN 978-1-59460-115-6

Available November 2009

1,008 pp


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International Children’s Rights provides an exciting and comprehensive look at the main themes, legal and political, affecting international children’s rights today. Designed for use in undergraduate, graduate, and law school settings, it is divided into seven major topics: the role of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, child labor, children in the global sex industry, children without parental care, children and punishment, children and armed conflict, and, finally, children’s rights as interpreted and applied in regional human rights systems.

Sara Dillon has brought together a wide variety of writings so that students will understand the underlying controversies relating to each unit. These include academic articles, United Nations reports, evidence provided by non-governmental organizations, and material from many other sources. Introductory sections and notes and questions frame the readings, and facilitate use of the book as a teaching tool.

The book is accompanied by a CD containing additional cases, treaties, and UN documents.

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News on child deaths from abuse in America–Good heavens

A new report from ngo Every Child Matters Education Fund informs us that deaths from child abuse in the United States have risen an astonishing and heart breaking 35% since 2001….Such deaths are many times higher in the US than rates in other developed countries. In this eight years, according to the report, more than 10,000 children have been killed in this way.

The report points to the fact that funding to prevent such abuse has been slashed, but surely there is much more subtle behind these statistics? Obvious culprits are teenage pregnancies and widespread poverty.

Predictably, the debate between those advocating for more spending on family preservation versus those who favor early resolutions of the child’s situation in abuse cases arises over this data….

Instant adoption–children first at last?

From the UK, an interesting story–remarkable for how obvious this is; yet incredible that this approach is so rare.

The principal idea is that one children’s charity is promoting the idea of moving at risk children immediately after birth into the home of people who would love to adopt them. The original mother/parent is given one year to make changes that would allow the child to be returned. If that does not happen, then the family that took in the child would quickly and smoothly adopt him or her.  See from the Times Online:

‘The new model has been pioneered by Coram, the children’s charity founded by Thomas Coram, who created the London Foundling Hospital in 1742. Coram developed the model to speed up the process of adoption and prevent very young babies from being moved around while decisions are made about their future. The latest research on emotional development suggests that babies have to “attach” to their primary carer and suffer deep emotional trauma if moved around. Only a very small proportion of the babies in the scheme have gone back to their natural parents.

Coram has been piloting the scheme with four London local authorities for several years and overseen about 50 successful placements. It is most commonly used where the natural mother is a drug addict whose behaviour during pregnancy suggests the child will have to be taken into care from birth or shortly afterwards.

However, the charity is frustrated that, despite the enormous benefits for the baby, most local authorities are still sticking to old methods.

Jeanne Kaniuk, head of adoption at Coram, believes there are so many advantages it should be taken up by all children’s services departments. She said: “It is crazy that there are not more local authorities using concurrent planning. It is a great system for parents who want to adopt a baby, although obviously they carry all the risk and have to be quite courageous.

“It is very sympathetic to the birth parents, who are given help and support and every chance to show they can care for their baby. It speeds up the process and a decision is made early. And, of course, it is good for the baby.”

Ms Kanuik thinks there are several key reasons why the model has not been take up more widely. It is complicated idea and social workers in a busy local authority are often fire-fighting, doing everything in a rush, such as considering care proceedings, finding foster carers or finding a place at a mother and baby unit. Budgets are also made up of different pots of money which, in some councils, works against concurrent planning.

“There is also often a fear that some solicitors representing birth parents will fight it very hard in the belief their clients are not getting a fair deal,” Ms Kanuik said. “But the baby’s welfare should be paramount and concurrent planning is a fair offer to both adoptive parents and birth parents.”’

These models of easier permanency and adoption must eventually proliferate. The spectacle of children being abused through multiple placements and early impermanency is just too terrible. Though, as I have been pointing out on this blog for months, countries like Russia are actually moving towards more paid stranger foster care! Who is promoting this? Have they any idea what more ordinary foster care can lead to?

Note in the article the reasons why such a process is not followed more widely–these reasons certainly have nothing to do with the child’s interests….