It’s always the secret visits to institutions that reveal….

Much has been written about the nature of the progress made by Romania in recent years with respect to its “unwanted” children and adults…Of course, the grotesque orphanages made famous twenty years ago have largely been closed; there have undoubtedly been improvements in child welfare. But in Romania, as elsewhere, we continue to learn–sporadically–of institutions where children and adults continue to be warehoused….See this latest from the BBC–based once again on the hidden camera approach…

The story reads in part:

“The Romanian government had promised it had dealt with its notorious institutions as part of its conditions for joining the European Union. The only way we could witness the reality of conditions in adult institutions was to pose as charity workers, and secretly film our findings.

The Carpenis institution is just 32km (20 miles) from the capital Bucharest, the heartbeat of the country’s growing economy. In the main squares, neon lights advertise the biggest Western brands; shopping centres are bursting with families spending new money on Christmas gifts. It is a measure of how far Romania has come since the fall of its dictator Nicolai Ceausescu who bankrupted the country. But not everyone has seen change in the last 20 years.

In Bolintin, another village close to the capital, a lone nurse and six helpers take care of more than 100 patients – they are not sure exactly how many. They were wrapped in blankets and thermal jackets to escape the freezing cold.


Picture from secret filming at one of the institutions
Signs of gangrene were evident at one institution in Bolintin

In a wooden cabin, separate from the main building, we found 15 severely disabled people slumped on uncomfortable chairs. The nurse insisted they were at least 20 years old, but their tiny faces and bodies suggested they were much younger…..”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see an honest accounting of the true situation in Romania generally–the newly expanded foster care system–is that working as its proponents claim?? After shutting down international adoption, how many Romania children have lost chances for family life? It is an extraordinary fact that the EU allowed Baroness Emma Nicholson to dominate the discussion around Romania adoption for so long….I call again and again for impartial, neutral observers and more comprehensive reporting–The EU succumbed to the need to present Romania as “modernizing” and “improving” in all respects–as a function of the EU’s need to demonstrate its latest entrant country as a “model” for child welfare policies….

What is the child abandonment rate in Romania these days?  One doesn’t really know.


Into the mix–orphanages not so bad??

The issue of what to do about the millions of children living out of parental care is politically charged–Ignore them? Undercount them? Insist on family reunification? Insist on adoption? Fudge the tough issues (like original family rights) with foster care? What about institutions/orphanages? Always bad? Sometimes okay? A new study from pediatric specialists from Duke University suggests that–gasp–certain kinds of orphanages may not be so bad, when they are structured in particular ways and embedded within the community….How to read this data? What does it mean for analysis of child welfare policy?

To me, the question is not so much the form as the substance. Does someone really really love you? Need you? Will they be there for you? Suffer with you? Commit to you, protect you, take care of you? This kind of consistent, deeply bonded commitment is the point, which is why I think foster care is a disastrous choice– in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. I recognize that one can always find superb foster carers–and foster care is appropriate for certain children in certain situations…But as an institution–it is vastly inferior, in my view, to adoption. The Duke study seems to suggest that in Africa and South Asia, it may not be as good as certain…orphanages.

The Duke study, as other studies, should be read with nuance and caution. (Remember when the newspapers took the Bucharest Early Intervention data and blared out the misleading message–Foster care can be good for kids!!?) The authors of the Duke study make clear that they are not advocating that children live in institutions. They are urging caution as the UN and other bodies call for children to be moved out of institutions and into so-called “family based” options, like foster care….They are clearly excluding the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe from their analysis, and accepting the fact that the Eastern European model of orphanages is inherently, well, bad.

See a report on the study here:

More on the set of options facing all of us in a post to come soon….

From the NYT article:

“As for the African and Asian orphanages, the report in PLoS says, “Many institutions grew out of the community to meet the need of caring for the new wave of orphans and are a part of the community in a way that institutions in other regions and perhaps of the past were not.”

The pressure to move children quickly out of orphanages could endanger them, Dr. Whetten said, by sending them back to abusive or neglectful families.

“We’re not saying kids should be in institutions,” she emphasized. “We’re saying they’re not necessarily a bad option. We need to look at it as a feasible option for communities that are overwhelmed.””

The idea that foster care or even kinship care is automatically the most desirable option is an idiotic notion,  a point  I have been trying to make on this blog….One of my great fears is that the children now in institutions will, under unicef pressure, be moved into inferior foster care situations, and become so dispersed no one knows how they are doing or what their long term problems are….This will have certain political advantages in some nations–where out of sight is out of mind….And out of bad publicity…

To give one of the researchers the last word on this–

“‘The findings mean that there is peril in blanket generalizations about what is best for orphans, because there are good and bad versions of both orphanages and family homes,’ Dr. Whetten said.”

Foster care in Britain

In light of the article below (and countless other such studies and reports), how could anyone of British origin be going around the world telling other countries that they should expand their foster care systems–especially as a replacement for international adoption??

The article states in part that

“The state is failing in its duty to act as a parent to children in care by not adequately protecting them from sexual exploitation, homelessness and falling into crime, a select committee report will warn today.

The report calls for a “radical overhaul” of the system which goes beyond the reforms already being undertaken by the government to ensure that the country’s most vulnerable children get the services they require.

“The system is still failing too many children,” said Labour MP Barry Sheerman, who chaired the committee.

“The outcomes for children in care are not what any parent would want in terms of levels of educational attainment, likelihood of getting into criminal behaviour, going to prison. We are judged by how we treat the most vulnerable. These children should have the highest priority in any decent civilisation.”

The children, schools and families committee’s report says that children in care aged 10 and over are more than twice as likely to be cautioned or convicted of an offence, and blames the government for the “disproportionate criminalisation of young people in care”.

It also reveals “evidence of organised, targeted exploitation of girls in residential homes and hostels” and warns that the vulnerability of young people leaving care is “a matter of great concern”. The report calls on the government to take urgent action to protect them.

The report also comes as the Guardian publishes an investigation into the weaknesses of the care system, which found that:

• More than 1,000 children have been placed with at least 10 different families, while 10 children moved through at least 50 homes as local authorities failed to find them a permanent placement.

….• Despite legislation which aims to improve their prospects, more than half of all children in care leave school without a single GCSE. A disproportionate number also struggle with mental health problems, or end up as teenage parents, homeless or in prison.

….”Far from compensating for their often extremely difficult pre-care experiences, certain features of the care system itself … make it harder for young people to succeed,” the report says.

Sheerman said it was imperative that the government tackled “the perception that entering the care system is catastrophic for a child”.

This concern is widely shared by charities working to promote children’s rights. “There is this progression from foster care to residential care to prison – you can understand why people want to keep children out of there. But this means that they stay in dangerous families and end up getting killed,” the director of children’s services for the NSPCC, Wes Cuell, said.

….Of the 59,500 children in care in England, 71% are looked after in foster care placements, and the system by which carers are recruited and paid varies from one local authority to another. The report recognised that while some foster care was very good, young people interviewed as part of its research “felt very strongly that a lot of foster carers do it for the money”…..”

In the US, statistics indicate that 70-80% of prison inmates are former foster children….The problem of uneven quality, rotating placements, vulnerability to further abuse and neglect–these are endemic to foster care systems….

It is foster care that should be used sparingly, selectively and only as an alternative to institutions….There is simply no comparison between adoption, domestic or international, and foster care….

So much for the myth that adoptive parents all want “healthy infants”

See this terrible story on continued delay in the processing of these Kyrgyz adoptions…I had earlier read what is repeated here–that one of the children has suffered severe illness as a result of the delay…

Hey, great, review of procedures going on!  Undoubtedly, by the time the new procedures are in place, international adoption will have been safely relegated to the “very last resort”–with small group homes in the ascendancy….

This from the article:

“It was Chudinov who instituted a moratorium on international adoptions in February of 2009 amid allegations of fraud and child trafficking on the part of orphanages and adoption workers. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The government has been investigating those claims, and, with the aid of UNICEF, is developing a new adoption framework.

The 65 US families had gone through the often year-long process to be matched with an adoptable Kyrgyz child and were in the final stages of adoption when the Kyrgyz officials stopped processing applications. Many of the children have disabilities, including one girl who has become blind and deaf and has incurred brain damage during the wait because of late-diagnosed hydrocephalus, a problem that likely would have been treated immediately in the United States, the girl’s prospective adoptive mother, a Florida pediatrician, believes.”

Sad advice from unicef to Vietnam on orphaned and abandoned children

There are many aspects of child rights I like to think about and write on. I am not mono-focused on adoption. However, lack of permanency seems to me–in light of issues like child labor, sexual exploitation, street life, drug abuse and so forth–to be often at the root of other life-threatening problems for children. I first launched into the adoption debate with what I still think is an important article–Making Legal Regimes for Intercountry Adoption Reflect Human Rights Principles: Transforming the UNCRC with the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, 21:2 Boston University International Law Journal (2003). I argue many points in the article, but I make one overarching argument to the effect that as we work to reduce opportunities for corruption in ICA via Hague, there is no child rights- based reason for the international child welfare bodies to oppose it.

In a later article, I argue that the UNCRC’s Articles 20 and 21 are seriously flawed and grossly inadequate, and offer my own draft protocol to the UNCRC on social orphans. See The Missing Link: A Social Orphan Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1 Human Rights and Globalization Law Review 39 (Fall 2007/Spring 2008). That protocol I wrote would make clear to states that foster care should not be given priority over ICA. I am shocked to see the manner in which unicef continues to present its view, as if it is self-evident, that domestic foster care (not limited to kinship care!) is better for children than international adoption. I mean, please!!!

See the following paragraph from the MOLISA (Vietnam’s Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs)–UNICEF report of 2009 Creating a Protective environment for Children in Vietnam: An Assessment of Child Protection Laws and Policies, Especially Children in Special Circumstances in Vietnam (

On page 40, the report states that “With respect to inter-country adoption, both the CRC and the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption state that inter-country adoption should be considered as an alternative only if the child cannot be placed in a foster or an adoptive family or cannot in any suitable manner be cared for in the child’s country of origin.”  The report uses the highly misleading phrase “foster or adoptive family” when referring to in-country alternatives, as if these were even remotely equivalent.


Does the global public understand the implications of what unicef is doing here? Could any sensible person argue that a child is better off in ordinary foster care simply because it is the home country, as opposed to international adoption? Foster care is only preferable to institutional care–not to ICA!! Measure it in any way you like–how can there be any other conclusion, unless based on ideology alone? If that is the unicef argument, let’s really have the argument. Let’s not hide behind the very ambiguous and very flawed provisions of the UNCRC relating to adoption. Also, Hague says that foster care is better than ICA, too????

Ironically, Hague has proven to be a means of restricting international adoption, not what it might have been–and as I argued way back in 2003–a means of greatly increasing it, where family reunification or domestic adoption are not available. The hierarchy should be family reunification where possible (and strong efforts should be made)–domestic adoption where possible–then ICA, based on Hague principles–not Hague obstructions!

More on ISS and objectivity

I was looking at a post on a site called firstmotherforum, and saw a description of an exchange between the blog writer and Nigel Cantwell, one of the authors of the ISS report on Vietnam–the same report that the Irish government is relying on to evaluate whether international adoption between Ireland and Vietnam should continue or not. The blogger writes:

“Nigel Cantwell, a Geneva-based consultant on child protection policy, has seen the dangerous influence of money on adoptions in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where he has helped reform corrupt adoption systems. In these regions, healthy children age 3 and younger can easily be adopted in their own countries, he says. I asked him how many healthy babies in those regions would be available for international adoption if money never exchanged hands. “I would hazard a guess at zero,” he replied.”

If one holds such an extreme view, is it appropriate for a national government to hand over to that person responsibility for evaluating an adoption system–where the fate of children and families may depend on the analysis? Consider the implications for the way this ISS report has made Irish adoptive families–parent and children– feel. It is crucial that broadly representative views, pro and con, be sought and presented….

As for myself, I do in fact have a nuanced view–I am not blindly pro- adoption in all circumstances. But I am pro -permanency and seek the truth. The Irish government should have rolled up its sleeves and sent over a disinterested team–rather than waiting for ISS and unicef–unicef notoriously not objective in this matter–to dominate the discussion in Ireland. ISS is free to say whatever it wishes, of course. But national governments have a separate responsibility to seek the answers as widely as possible.

Again, I urge the Irish government to compare this recent ISS report on Vietnam with the one done by ISS and Cantwell about Ukraine some time back–then do some digging into the situation for social orphans in Ukraine–What is wrong with this picture?