Colombia’s Changing Adoption Landscape

Associate Director of International Programs Ben Sommers recently had the opportunity to visit Bogota, Colombia to meet with our Colombian representatives and visit institutions. Here, he shares his perspective on the changing landscape of adoption in the country.  

To those individuals and entities working within child welfare, “changing landscape” is an oft-repeated refrain referring to a generalized way to understand the broad shifts that have taken place in the field over the last several decades. In more specific terms, one of the most significant developments is the ballooning number of older children, children with special needs, and sibling groups who are living in institutionalized care. For Spence-Chapin, our own organizational shift is focused around taking a proactive approach to addressing the realities of this new landscape.

Colombia offers a compelling illustration of what the new landscape looks like. I recently had the privilege of traveling to Bogota to visit with our Colombian representatives and see firsthand how the rhetoric of changing landscape translated into reality. Bogota is Colombia’s most populous city, being home to approximately eight million people. Similar to any child welfare system in any nation on the spectrum of economic and social development, stories of children coming into the protection system due to poverty, violence, neglect, and substance abuse are commonplace.

The Colombian central authority on child welfare, Instituto Colombiano de Bienstar Familiar (ICBF) has approximately eleven thousand children under its protection in the Bogota region. Of these eleven thousand children, approximately eight thousand have a legal status that allows for international adoption. The vast majority of this population of eight thousand children is made up of older children, children with special needs, and sibling groups. While international and domestic policies prioritize domestic options, the children in protection institutes grow older, explaining the growing population number. Colombia’s domestic policies are admirable in their focus on family preservation and domestic options for these children but as these long processes unfold, or when they fail to yield legitimate options, the children get older.

Colombia San MauricioWhat I saw during my visits to four protection institutions clearly illustrated this reality: the former nurseries converted to dormitory-style housing, large outside play areas with soccer fields and basketball courts, varied facilities and extracurricular programming, and large staffs of child psychologists focused on the mental well-being of the growing number of children in each institution. It should be noted that the four institutions I visited are exceptional in terms of the resources available enabling them to turn into well-run, holistic facilities. Nonetheless, despite their summer camp-esque exteriors, the children in their care almost exclusively come from difficult backgrounds where abuse, transition, and disappointment have been present. Hence, the clinical focus on mental health and the socializing focus on creating structure, routine, and normalcy.

Again, the protection institutions I visited had the resources that allowed them to create these safe and structured environments. The institutions in rural, lower income areas that are home to thousands of children are not as fortunate. Also not as fortunate is the population of children with special needs who are living within the protection system. I heard numerous stories from child welfare professionals of misdiagnoses combined with bureaucratic indifference that has led to hundreds of children being placed in institutions that are inappropriate for their specific needs. Sadly, these children lack the advocates to help them find a more appropriate environment.

Ultimately, the children I saw are being productive. They take art classes, sing Disney songs, and idolize Lionel Messi. But for them, the notions of “permanent family” and a life free of foreseeable transition are still painted in somewhat vague colors. Many of the children are able to express the agency they feel over their futures by vocalizing either directly or indirectly their desire to be a part of a permanent family. There are challenges that exist for our adoptive families who hope to adopt these children, and these children will face challenges as they navigate the most significant transition of their lives. The limited snapshot of the Colombian child welfare system I was able to glimpse shows that the “changing landscape” rhetoric is grounded in the reality of individual anecdotes and that while the specific institutions I visited have constructed environments where children are able to progress, the key element of permanency is still missing.

Spence-Chapin presents child welfare training to ICBF and Colombian child advocates.

In order to ensure the successful placement of older children and sibling groups it is critical that all professionals involved in the adoption process are informed by the best current research and are all working out of the same paradigm to maximize success.  Spence-Chapin licensed social workers traveled to Bogota, Colombia at the end of September to present trainings to Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar/Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF)  staff and Colombian child welfare advocates who are key in facilitating domestic or international adoption of older children and sibling groups. The training focused on maximizing potential success of placement for older children and sibling adoption. adoption training

School-age children, those who are 8 years old and older at time of placement, are the most overly represented population in orphanages worldwide. However, the fears, unknowns, and myths surrounding the adoption of older children discourage many prospective parents from exploring this option. Currently, close to 8,000 children in Colombia, ages 10 and older, are waiting for a family.

The professionals involved in the adoption process have an important role in preparing the child and the people involved with the child before the child is adopted. The extent to which the child is prepared for adoption has significant impact on easing the transition and maximizing successful incorporation into the family. Using available resources and strategies based on the child’s developmental levels, and current psychological understanding regarding attachment, have been found to be successful in alleviating the child’s anxieties, minimizing the stress associated with change and maximizing incorporation into a new family.

The Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar/Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF), established in 1968, provides care services for children, adolescents and families, especially those under threat, insolvency or violation of their rights, and is Colombia’s central authority for adoptions.

Colombian Host-to-Adopt Program

Spence-Chapin Services for Families and Children announces the launch of a Colombian host-adopt program for the tri-state community.

Spence-Chapin and Foundation for the Assistance of Abandoned Children (FANA) in Colombia are partnering to present a special host-adopt program in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area. IMG_8665The program allows families interested in adopting an older child the opportunity to host a child in their home for three (3) weeks prior to making the commitment to adopt.

School-age children, those who are 8 years old and older at time of placement, are the most overly represented population in orphanages worldwide. However, the fears, unknowns, and myths surrounding the adoption of older children discourage many prospective parents from exploring this option. Currently, close to 8,000 children in Colombia, ages 10 and older, are waiting for a family. The goal of this host-adopt program is simple: to join those older children and sibling groups in need of parents with families who are ready to adopt.

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Having a child in a home before adoption finalization offers many benefits; aside from simply getting to know the child, a hosting period allows families to best prepare for the child’s homecoming – from favorite foods, familiarity with their routines, understanding the child’s personality, interests, and hobbies, families are better able to provide a child with a smoother transition into family life.

For the child, a host-to-adopt program allows for reflection on and a commitment to their adoption process. Children selected for hosting have expressed an interest in adoption; a hosting program offers the child not only a voice in their future, but also a choice. The adoption is a process of mutual selection – the family commits to the child, and the child commits to the family. Because of this, host-adopt programs have been very effective at placing school-age children.

For over 100 years Spence-Chapin has been the leader in adoption in the New York, New Jersey and across the USA finding homes for more than 20,000 children. Spence-Chapin also supports families with a variety of services including counseling, support groups, parent coaching, mentorships, and more. Similarly, the Foundation for the Assistance of Abandoned Children (FANA) has been caring for thousands of children for over 40 years. Through their host-adopt program more than 9,000 children have found fulfilling futures with loving families.

 

Championing the Waiting Child

This summer we traveled to Colombia, South Africa and Uganda to explore opportunities to expand our reach to help more children. Visiting these countries and meeting with their child welfare representatives solidified our resolve to find adoptive homes for children there. During our trips, we witnessed the love and care these children receive but also were acutely aware of the staff making do with what little resources they had. In each country we clearly observed the changing face of adoption and saw the many school-aged children, sibling groups and children with special needs who are waiting for a family of their own. Because we feel that that every child deserves a home, championing the adop­tion of these children is part of what Spence-Chapin does.

Our time in Colombia was inspiring, encouraging and sobering. Having met with the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF – The Colombian Institute of Family Welfare within the Ministry of Social Protection), our staff was impressed by the level of care provided to the approximately 9,000 children in their custody. In each adoption house visited, we encountered psychologists, social workers and other professional staff helping children prepare for adoption, and yet no forever families were on the horizon for these children.

In South Africa there is no question about the number of children needing permanency; by 2015 there will be more than 5.5 million orphans in South Africa. As one of just two U.S. agencies approved by the South African Central Authority to place children with American families, we are delighted to partner in this initiative with Johannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCW). Our similar mission and history of having worked together on our Granny program, make this partnership a natural fit. We have officially launched this program and are eagerly accepting applica­tions for adoption. We are excited about placing children with black families as well as families who will open their hearts and homes to the children most likely not to be adopted in South Africa because of their age or medical needs.

In Uganda, we learned about the millions of orphans and their extremely limited options. When parents die some children are taken in by relatives but many others try to survive on the streets. While there, we established a strong relationship with MIFUMI, a Ugandan international aid and development agency. MIFUMI is opening doors for us to explore child welfare and adoption needs in Uganda, and while program development can take some time, we are already looking at opportunities for James, a 5-year-old boy who does not have family to care for him, who does not have a local children’s home to care for him, and with no other option, is living in a domestic violence shelter among women and chil­dren experiencing repeated trauma. We see James and the difficult situations he has already had in his short life, and we are moved to create something better for him and the millions of other children in situations like his.

In the past year, we’ve talked much about the changing face of adoption, but what we know has not changed is the number of chil­dren, particularly older children, sibling sets, and children with special needs, waiting to be adopted. Spence-Chapin has refocused efforts to help all families afford adoption by offering Adoptionships and specialized pre-adoptive parent preparation and training that will enable families to feel more confident about opening their homes to these children. It is with your ongoing commitment and needed support that we move forward with passion and dedi­cation as we refine our vision and enhance our services to these resilient children and their adoptive forever families.

Visit our Flickr page to see pictures from this trip.

Read more about Waiting Children on our site.

Dia Del Trabajo

With the exception of a small number of countries, America included, Labor Day or Workers’ Day is a holiday celebrated on May 1st of each year, dedicated to the struggles and success of working class people.

In Colombia, this day is called El Dia Del Trabajo. Walk down the usually busy streets of Bogota on this day, and you’ll find them deserted! Like in America, on our Labor Day, held in September to mark the end of summer, almost all businesses, post offices, banks, and stores are closed. Instead of working, people protest and parade across the country in solidarity with the working class.

On el Dia Del Trabajo in Colombia, workers from all industries make it a point to stick together and peacefully demand rights for the working class. Traditionally, they dress up in bright red, which stems from the holiday’s socialist origins. El Dia Del Trabajo isn’t only celebrated in Colombia, actually, notable celebrations happen all over the world.

There aren’t many celebrations in America, since our Labor Day is September. However, the origins of Dia Del Trabajo are a great history lesson to teach children. While it is a very somber topic, there are many great themes you can focus on: Human Rights, Equality and Fairness, Solidarity, and Tradition.

Here are some resources to get you started:

The Gaurdian – The History of Mayday

LibCom.org – A Short History of May Day

Holy Week in Colombia

 

The Colombian people have deep roots in Catholicism. In part, they express their beliefs through the splendor with which they celebrate Holy Week. Many of this special week’s traditions date back to the colonial centuries. During Holy Week, the Catholic religion commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is an entire ritual that congregates cities and towns and is proof of the religious spirit of the Colombian people. Holy Week Eastercelebrations in Colombia run from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.

During these eight days, all regular activities come to a stop and people devote themselves to staging the drama of Christ in a variety of interpretations that reflect the social and cultural history of each community.