Wednesday, April 28, 2010

From Half The Sky

"... If you’ve been following Half the Sky for a long time, you may remember when I wrote to you back in 2005 announcing a “milestone week for China’s orphans,” a week during which the Chinese Government publicly declared for the first time that nurture and loving attention is every bit as important and basic to the welfare of young children as are food and shelter and medical care. That recognition was huge for Half the Sky. To bring loving care to orphaned children is why we exist.

And now the story of China’s orphans takes another giant step. Last week in Nanjing, Half the Sky co-hosted a national symposium for 130 orphanage administrators from every province in China. The topic was how to better integrate HTS’ four nurture and enrichment programs into everyday life at the orphanage. Our co-hosts were the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) and the CCAA.

I’m going to share more about this extraordinary event in our upcoming Spring Progress Report newsletter. But I just can’t wait to tell you about some of the big changes that are about to happen for the most vulnerable children in China, and how big an impact the support you have given Half the Sky over the years has made.

Director-General Wang Zhenyao, head of the welfare department at MCA, told the gathering that child welfare in China is about to enter a new era and that Half the Sky’s models for child nurture and enrichment will help lead the way. He said, “Like Half the Sky programs, we must now begin from the interests of the children. We must raise the standards of care for all children.”

After weeks of talks with Director Wang, we knew these weren’t empty words. He has a plan, agreed to by China’s leaders, and Half the Sky has been invited to play a key role in its implementation. He shared some of the news at our event:

CCAA will soon become the China Child Welfare Center (CCWC), responsible for protecting the welfare of all children.

CCWC will serve the interests of all children – particularly orphans, children with disabilities and serious illnesses, children of migrant workers, single parent households and families living in poverty.

CCWC will renew its efforts to find an adoptive family for every child possible, particularly those with special needs, as the number of “healthy” abandoned children has dropped dramatically with China’s new prosperity.

CCWC will tackle a major failing of all institutionalization – that children grow up in total isolation from the real world – by opening children’s welfare institutions to the community, turning them into community centers that provide services like HTS programs for all children, especially those who are disadvantaged: preschools and enrichment classes and guidance for teens and young parents who have no other place to turn.

Looking forward, I can now imagine a time when fewer children are abandoned; when desperate families know where to go for help.

So what does this mean for the children we work so hard to help?

First, it means that the thousands of children we serve will no longer be outsiders in their own communities. They will share classes and parties and holidays and ordinary days with “regular” kids. Almost all children will be placed in families. Those who do not find adoptive families will grow up in “Family Village” homes like those run by Half the Sky, with parents and siblings, rooted in the community but with special services provided by the new community centers.

And Half the Sky made its own big announcement at the symposium. It has always been our goal to put ourselves out of business – to turn operation of our programs over to those who are the true guardians of the children – and to commit ourselves and our small resources to training and mentoring. Now we see how it can happen.

By the end of 2012, if we reach our fundraising goals, we will have met our commitment to create a model Blue Sky Children’s Center in every province in China. At that time, we will stop creating new centers and just focus on training – sharing all we’ve learned with all those, at every level, who are responsible for the welfare of orphaned children.

We will continue to ask for your help so we can support operations of our existing and our new centers for five years. That means we will cease supporting operations at our current sites at the end of March, 2015. For the centers we establish from now until 2012, our five-year financial commitment will start on the date we establish them.

During the five years of support for each center, HTS will use what it’s learned to collaborate with the directors to help them work out how they will fund and operate the programs themselves.

And, of course, even after the five years, and for as many years as we’re needed, we will be there to provide training, mentoring and guidance for all those who care for the precious children who have lost the love of family.

After so many years of writing urgent pleas for help for the children - not knowing if things would ever really change - I feel I can absolutely tell you that your support has helped revolutionize care for the most vulnerable children in China. And the day will finally come when China will shoulder full responsibility for their nurture and care.
Of course, none of it will happen overnight.

In the meantime, we must continue to keep our promise to the children. As incredible as it seems, according to the MCA, the model centers that we are working so hard to create in every province will now provide a guide to the future for the whole child welfare system.

We still have a long way to go. And the children who spend their days in the welfare institutions as this transition unfolds still need our help. We did a thorough count early this year and, given the number of child sponsorships that have lapsed and were not renewed, we now are in need of 2349 sponsors to keep our current programs going strong.

If there is any way you can become a child sponsor or add another child to your ‘sponsorship family’ there’s no better time. Mother’s Day is coming soon. What better gift to honor your favorite mom than to help a child know that somebody loves her?

It seems like only yesterday that a handful of foreigners – adoptive parents who quite simply adored these forgotten children and were prepared to do whatever it took to give them a voice in their own country – made a first hopeful proposal in Beijing. So many said that what we proposed was impossible.

I was privileged to be leading that small team. By nature, I am an impatient person. China has taught me that if you wait (still not easy) and persevere, nothing is impossible.

But I will never forget that it is you and your support that truly makes it all possible. Ordinary people like you and me are making the impossible happen every single day.

with love and gratitude,


Executive Director
Half the Sky Foundation

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Dead Rat

Rats ate all my apricots last year. They also pooped all over my garage. I set a live-catch trap last summer and never caught one. Lately, I've not been in my garage and, therefore, haven't been checking the trap. Today I saw that the trap had been sprung and there was a rat in there and it was dead.

I felt terrible!

This trap captures them alive and the point is to release them in the woods. My little rat died a terrible death of dehydration and starvation. It was a very pretty rat, like a small chinchilla with a super, super long tail. It was not a sewer rat, but a Norwegian roof rat.

I will check my trap regularly from now on, but I left the "scent of death" in the trap when I reset it and that will probably deter all rats from entering my garage from now on.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

In the Press...

Challenging special-needs cases make up growing share of adoptions from China
by David Crary, AP March 27, 2010

Most adoptions from China now special-needs cases

NEW YORK — Not long ago, the choices facing Robert and Julie Garrett would have been simpler. Once they set their hearts on adopting a child from China, the odds were high they could soon bring home a healthy infant girl.

It’s different now.

Faced with a long wait — and a smaller pool of healthy orphans available to foreigners — the Garretts have decided after much soul-searching to adopt one of the special-needs children who now abound in China’s orphanages.

“It’s really hard, and we want to make the right choice,” said Julie Garrett, of Gainesville, Ga.

The children’s conditions range widely. Some are correctible, some not: cleft lips and palates, congenital heart disease, missing or malformed limbs, impaired vision or hearing.

“It’s important for us to not take on more than we can handle,” Garrett said. “That process takes time — praying over it, discussing what medical needs you think you could take on.

“It’s a journey in itself just to decide if that’s the right direction to go.”

Starting in the early 1990s, and as recently as a few years ago, the large majority of Chinese children adopted by foreigners were healthy baby girls abandoned by their parents, often because of a preference for a son in a country rigidly enforcing a one-child policy.

Between 1995 and 2005, Americans adopted more than 60,000 children from China. The peak was 7,903 in 2005.

Circumstances have changed dramatically since then. China has eased its one-child policy, fewer baby girls are abandoned, domestic adoptions of healthy orphans have increased, and the waiting time for foreigners to adopt a healthy infant has tripled to roughly four years.

As a result, U.S. adoptions from China have plummeted more than 60 percent, to 3,001 last year. And of the children now adopted, roughly three of every five have special medical needs.

One contributing factor is China’s rate of birth defects, which a government family planning commission said increased by nearly 50 percent between 2001-2006.

Amy Eldridge of the Oklahoma-based Love Without Boundaries Foundation, which oversees several programs to aid Chinese orphans, says many children with birth defects — boys as well as girls — are abandoned, and they now comprise a majority of the orphan population.

“Some parents feel the child will bring bad luck to their family,” said Eldridge, who has traveled often to China. “And we’re seeing many poor families abandon children with medical needs in hopes they will get care.”

The Garretts, in their 30s and without children, signed up in December 2008 for the traditional program that might lead to adoption of a healthy infant. But facing a long wait, they later entered the Waiting Child program, which features special-needs children and can complete an adoption in less than one year.

The Garretts — he’s an aluminum plant worker, she’s an office manager — have decided they’re not ready to take a child with a severe or incurable medical problem, so they’re seeking one with a correctible condition.

“We have reviewed a couple of children,” Julie Garrett said. “It’s grueling to look at their faces and try to make a decision if you could care for them, and come to the realization you’re not the best fit to be able to care for them the best they should be.”

Bethany and Kevin Durkin, who live in the Westchester County suburbs of New York City, went through a similar decision process and are now parents of two girls adopted through the Waiting Child program.

Olivia, 7, had a weak, underused right arm when she was adopted in 2004, while Lucy, 5, had a cleft palate that was repaired through surgery soon after her adoption in November 2007.

“They ask what you’re comfortable with,” said Bethany Durkin. “I wasn’t with hepatitis B or heart surgery, but we were comfortable with cleft palate.”

Both girls undergo therapy regularly — Lucy for speech, Olivia to improve the mobility of her arm and right hand.

“She does cartwheels, jump-rope — people don’t even know she has an issue,” Durkin said of Olivia. “She just can’t open her hand by itself.”

As for Lucy, “she’s a total social butterfly,” her mother said. “A really happy kid.”

Agencies focusing on adoptions from China now find that a major part of their work is preparing families to take on special-needs cases.

“We don’t want a family to join this program just because it’s faster — that’s the wrong way to go,” said Snow Wu, president of Great Wall China Adoptions.

“We want them because in every aspect they’re ready — we screen them very carefully, financially, emotionally, physically,” she said. “This is not for everyone.”

Wu’s agency, based in Austin, Texas, has placed roughly 8,000 children in U.S. homes since 1996. Special-needs adoptions now comprise about half its caseload.

“We’ve not heard a single family say they shouldn’t have done it,” Wu said. “If they decide not to do it, it’s before they bring the child home. Once they do that, none have complained.”

Eldridge, of Love Without Boundaries, said advance education is crucial to the success of special-needs adoption.

“Some families get cold feet when they get to China,” she said. “We receive one or two calls a month from parents who feel overwhelmed while they are on their adoption trip, but often, once they have someone to talk with, they realize they can continue.”

She cited calls from parents who hadn’t been fully aware of the speech and eating problems faced by children with cleft palates. In other cases, she said, parents panicked because the child they were adopting seemed too frail — not realizing that this was due to living in a crowded orphanage, and not a result of a chronic medical problem.

Eldridge, who has five biological children, also is the mother of two orphans from China, a 10-year-old daughter adopted as a healthy infant and a 5-year-old son, T.J., who is missing the lower half of his right arm.

“I was one of the people who, on the first adoption, never would have considered special needs,” she said. “I had a great fear that I could never do that. I thought people who took that path had white robes and halos.”

Her outlook evolved as she started meeting special-needs children, and she’s grateful.

T.J “can do everything,” she said. “I don’t even look at him as special needs.”

Since it began encouraging international adoptions in the 1990s, China has won praise for striving to provide accurate information about the children in its orphanages. But as more children with complex medical conditions are put up for adoption, experts say there’s often less certainty about their prognosis.

“A lot of people are having to make lifetime decisions based on less information,” said Dr. Jennifer Chambers, who counsels many parents as director of an international adoption clinic in Birmingham, Ala.

“There is more risk being taken because there’s more unknowns,” she said. “I don’t see false information, but I see lack of information, and different medical systems from ours.”

America offers so many opportunities to these children, Chambers said.

“They could have ended up at 18 after bouncing from one state-run institution to another — they wouldn’t have a chance,” she said. “Over here, they have surgeries, life-changing therapies.”

She told of a recently adopted 1-year-old blind girl who suffered neglect at her understaffed orphanage in China.

“Here she will get every specialist she needs,” Chambers said. “She’s starting to talk and babble. She’s coming alive, she’s going to meet her potential. There, she might have died.”

Another pediatrician specializing in foreign adoptions, Dr. Jane Aronson of New York City, said she remains concerned that some parents consider special-needs adoptions primarily because the wait is shorter than for a healthy child.

“The problem then is they’re not realistic about the complexity of special needs,” she said. “They’re often not a good match and may end out doing more harm to the child.”

However, Aronson said she relishes the challenges of helping special-needs adoptions succeed.”What I love is providing the families with recommendations when the child comes home, setting them up with specialists, seeing how the child goes through surgeries, and then the child is happy and the family is happy,” she said. “When it’s done properly it’s so wonderful — it’s win-win. But I get crazy when people go into it as a lark.”

Many of the U.S. agencies involved in overseas adoption belong to the Joint Council on International Children’s Services. Its president, Tom DeFilipo, expects the ongoing changes to be permanent and broad-based — with fewer international adoptions of healthy infants and a larger share involving special-needs and older children.

The council conducted a survey of its members last year, covering adoptions from all foreign countries, and found that 27 percent were special-needs cases and 29 percent involved children 3 or older.

“Surprisingly enough, recruiting families is not the biggest challenge,” DeFilipo said. “It’s ensuring they’re adequately prepared and that they have post-placement services for medical and psychological needs.”

Most families have insurance to cover the medical bills, he said, but often psychological counseling is not covered or hard to obtain.

“That’s a huge problem,” he said. “A shortage of qualified service providers, and difficulty of paying for it.”

For some special-needs children, medical costs can be enormous — placing a premium on generous health insurance.

Susan and Richard Moore of Orlando, Fla., estimate they’ve incurred more than $200,000 in medical bills for their daughter, Hannah, since they adopted her in December 2007 through Great Wall China Adoption. Hannah has had several operations, and scores of visits to doctors, to deal with hydrocephalus, also known as water on the brain, and spina bifida, a birth defect on her spinal cord.

The bulk of the cost has been covered by Richard’s medical benefits with his employer, Hilton Grand Vacations. He also works a 7 a.m.-2 p.m. schedule so he can spend afternoons with Hannah, now 7, and her brother Harrison, an autistic, U.S.-born 12-year-old who was adopted as an infant.

“We thought if we can handle autism, we can handle anything else they threw at us,” said Susan Moore. “We figured we had a lot of stamina.”

The Moores say Hannah is doing well, but they closely monitor her progress at school to be sure she doesn’t fall behind her first-grade classmates.

“You worry about her with physical activity,” her father said. “You don’t want her head to get hit, for her to get bumped. … If she’s on a bike, make sure she has her helmet on.”

The Moores encourage other families to consider special-needs adoption, which they describe as immensely fulfilling, but also urge careful deliberations.

“Don’t make a decision because you’re falling in love with a picture and you want that beautiful face looking up at you at the end of the day,” Susan said. “You have to put the effort in, do your research, and know that not every day is going to be as good as the other days.”

Associated Press writer Chi-Chi Zhang in Beijing contributed to this report.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Three Years!!!

Now this is a milestone! I've been waiting, logged in at CCAA for THREE YEARS!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

In The Ball Park

Referrals started coming in today for families logged in up to April 17, 2006. This means that I'm two days into the year's worth of families ahead of me. So, to honor this particular countdown, I've created a new graphic. I can't ever get the colors nice, but it's the counting that counts!