March 9, 2011
Statement on Children and Family Services in Ethiopia
The work of Joint Council on International Children’s Services includes the development and implementation of the highest standards and ethical practices, the support of children living outside of family care and advocacy for permanency. As a leader in the international child welfare community, we are deeply concerned about the well-being of Ethiopian children and the integrity of the intercountry adoption process. Respecting Ethiopian culture and sovereignty, we offer the following for consideration as we collectively serve Ethiopian children and families and partner with others in supporting the efforts of the Government of Ethiopia.
Children need families – Who we are as human beings is largely influenced by our genes and our environment. The attention, affection, responsiveness, consistency, communication and interaction of a family have profound effects on all aspects of human development especially in the earliest stages of life. No institution, regardless of how well organized and funded it may be, can replace the nurturing, safety and guidance of a family.
Birth families need accessible, efficient and well-funded alternatives – Relinquishing a child is a painful decision for any birth parent or extended family member. This is especially true in remote and rural areas where few alternatives exist. If intercountry adoption is to decrease over time, birth families need accessible and reliable social service programs to support them. To date, many adoption service providers and other NGOs, are filling this gap in Ethiopia. Joint Council partner-members are contributing over 16 million per year to family preservation and community development programs that strive to keep vulnerable children and families together. They are assisting 1.2 million vulnerable individuals per year that otherwise would not receive these services.
Institutionalization can hurt children – Quotas and other drastic measures mean that children currently living in orphanages will reside in an institution longer. Sixty years of multinational human development research on institutionalized children, such as the Bucharest Early Intervention Study, indicates that the longer a child is in an orphanage the progressively worse their social, language, fine motor and gross motor skills become. Any change to the intercountry adoption process needs to carefully consider its effects on all children currently in orphanage care and the length of time newly institutionalized children will reside in the orphanage to complete their adoption process.
There are nearly 5 million orphaned children – This is nearly 13 percent of the child population in Ethiopia. These children need a family for love and support so they grow into productive adult members of our global community and retain their inherent human rights. There need to be support services for vulnerable children including adoption. At present, intercountry adoption only serves .001 percent of all orphaned children in Ethiopia. This fraction of a percentage, while rising, is not disproportionate to the number of children in need.
Various manners to combat corruption – Corruption is deplorable in all its forms especially when children’s lives are at stake. There are numerous manners to prevent, discourage, and punish corruption without punishing children, families of birth and adoptive families. A gardener who wants to beautify a landscape does not cut the weeds in his garden by a certain percent. Rather, he mindfully detects the weeds and eliminates them from the root up. A quota, no matter how small, will not eliminate corruption. It simply reduces the quantity of ethical violations that can occur in an environment. In fact corruption, like a weed, can actually grow in a restricted environment if it is allowed to exist.
Children with special needs deserve special consideration – Children with special needs require care and resources that are not easily given in an orphanage setting. According to research conducted by Joint Council, 40% of children adopted from Ethiopia are considered special needs. When contemplating new policies or procedures, children with special needs deserve expedited processes or exemptions whenever possible.
Intercountry adoption is one of many solutions that can successfully assist vulnerable children. Forty years of outcomes research indicates that intercountry adoption is a positive solution for most children. While there are several other programmatic alternatives that can be designed over time, it is one of the few permanent solutions currently available that situates children in the optimal environment to reach their full potential as human beings – a family.