Foster Care in Developing Nations
Foster Care in America goes back to the early 1900’s. It has evolved and changed into something entirely different today. Our current system of foster care was originally created with reunification in mind. It was never meant to be a permanent solution for children. As the need for permanency has become more necessary for children that cannot return to their families of origin, a demand is placed on finding permanent homes for 1000’s of children. It is far from a perfect system that could use a national overhaul, but one thing we can all agree on is this: Children thrive in safe and loving families and not in institutions!
It is no secret that foster care is dear to my heart. My husband and I have six children that have joined our family as a result of foster care adoption here in America. I know and witness the difference a stable, loving and safe home can make in a child’s life and future. Whether a child is born in America or another country, I care. This is what led me on an adventure of a lifetime to Africa as a child advocate for children all over the world.
Many countries around the world are beginning to look at the foster care model as an answer to care for more children within families as well. As a National and Global Board member of Bethany Christian Services, I was privileged to take a 2 week journey across the sea to Ethiopia and Ghana. I went to observe and learn about the programs that Bethany is offering in these countries to transition children from orphanages to foster homes. I was also privileged to conduct training for social workers, orphanage staff and NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) in each country on loving, nurturing and adopting children that have experienced trauma and deal with issues such as sexual abuse, food related disorders and more.
“Adoption is not about finding children for families, it is about finding families for children.”
Joyce Maguire Pavao
When organizations keep in mind that the well-being of children are their focus and not foster/adoptive parents, they will stay on the right track of providing permanency in the best interest of the child. I was pleased to observe the priority of Bethany to put a child’s interest first. This is the continuum used to achieve permanency for the children referred to Bethany’s programs in these countries.
1 Family Preservation/Reunification and Empowerment – Providing resources, training and support to families to stay together when their economic status is threatening to tear them apart.
2 Extended Family- When a child is not able to be cared for by their family of origin, Bethany does an extensive search to find extended family members, in hopes that the child can stay within the family.
3 Foster to Adopt- This option gives a child the opportunity to be in a loving home and achieve permanency within their community and culture.
4 Domestic Adoption- Children are adopted within and remain in their country and community.
5 International Adoption- When all other steps have been taken, a child may be referred for international adoption to a loving family from another country.
6 Institutional Care- This is the absolute last resort after exhausting all of the other possibilities above.
Ethiopia, Ghana and other countries fight against many cultural barriers that make this work challenging. Having a culture that is familiar with kinship care but averse to caring for children unrelated to your family requires a mind shift of epic proportions. It is a new concept for them. Those that are willing to do it may face scrutiny from family, friends and community in many cases. Another cultural barrier is fostering/adopting special needs children. Depending upon the tribe or community, it is sometimes believed that a child with special needs was born that way because of a curse on the birth family. It is thought that taking this child in can bring a curse upon the new family. Despite numerous cultural barriers, many families are taking the leap, making the mind shift and opening their homes to children in need.
My favorite part of my trip was meeting the families that are a part of Bethany’s programs and getting to know them and their motivations. In Addis Ababa (the capital of Ethiopia) I had the pleasure of meeting one of the most inspiring and beautiful women I have ever encountered. Her name was Demitu. She had been left with six children to care for by herself. Her family was in danger of falling apart because of her inability to provide for her children. She was referred to Bethany for their Empowerment program and as a result was given training, support and resources to help her start her own business. This also included help with her children’s school fees that she was unable to pay on her own. This program gave her the confidence and knowledge to use her current resources and skills to provide for her family. She currently has several income generating activities that take care of her children and keep her family together. Demitu sells fruits and vegetables for profit. She also rents out part of her yard to house her neighbor’s donkey and part of her home to a renter. She got so creative that she began walking unattended children to and from school for a fee as a service to working parents. This amazing woman used what she had to provide for her family. Her appreciation for Bethany’s help is obvious in her smile and determination.
We also had the opportunity to visit the small town of Hawassa which is about five and a half hours from the capital city of Addis Ababa. In Hawassa, the idea of fostering to adopt is spreading like wild fire. What use to be taboo and unheard of is becoming a topic of conversation. I was so honored to be welcomed into the home of a very passionate family with two biological sons that had recently welcomed a precious little girl into their family. It all started with a presentation that the mother heard at her local church about children in need of families. She came home and mentioned it to her husband who was skeptical. As time went on he ran across more information about it and began to explore the idea. Once they decided to move forward they were in it together and excited. They welcomed a little girl into their home and their life has never been the same. “This little girl has brought so much joy into our lives. If we even knew this was possible, we would have done it much sooner,” the father shares with great passion. Now, the family is a walking billboard for waiting children. They share at their church, work place and in their neighborhood about the need for families to care for children. Their passion has become so contagious that they now have several neighbors in training to follow in their footsteps. Bethany is changing the perception and cultural barriers that are keeping kids from growing up in loving families.
I have seen with my own eyes how effective these programs are and the life changing work that Bethany Christian Services is doing in Ethiopia and Ghana as well as other developing nations around the globe. I have committed myself to advocate for and support these programs. My passion for the welfare of families and children does not end at our U.S. borders. No matter what continent a child is born on, they deserve to grow up in a loving, safe and stable family. I am proud to say that Bethany is making that happen!