Christianity Today Reports on Tragic Guatemalan Orphanage Fire

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Christianity Today – March 2017 reported the following:

Earlier this month, a fire at an orphanage outside of Guatemala’s capital caught international attention. Forty children died of carbon monoxide poisoning and burns; the tragic event drew worldwide condemnation.

But the aftermath of the fire has given hope to those who work with the Central American country’s orphans. As the government turns to evangelicals for help, it seems the tragedy may spark the breakthrough many have been praying for.

In some ways, the tragic blaze—set intentionally by children locked in the overcrowded facility—was not unexpected by evangelical experts. In 2006, Orphan Outreach founder Mike Douris told the Guatemalan government that the orphanage’s design wasn’t a good idea.

The government went ahead and built it anyway—another link in a chain of wrong moves. For decades, Guatemala has had some of the worst child welfare practices on the planet.

In 2015, the country had the second-highest rate of child murders in the world. Of the crimes against children that get reported—including murder, rape, kidnapping—most go unpunished (88%). An estimated 2 in 5 children are malnourished. Among indigenous children, that rises to 4 in 5. Tales of overcrowding, abuse, and malnutrition leak out of orphanages like the one near the nation’s capital, Guatemala City, where dozens died in the recent fire.

The infamous orphanage, the Virgen de la Asunción, was built for 400 children but housed about 750. Inside, orphans were physically and sexually abused by staff and by other children. There were complaints about water leaks and poor food quality. Only 3 of the 64 security cameras in the building were working.

The conditions resemble fellow public orphanages, which house about 1,200 children in Guatemala. At least three times as many live in private orphanages (about 4,000), but that’s still a small fraction of the 370,000 orphans that UNICEF estimates live in the country. Since Guatemala has no foster care system and very few domestic adoptions, virtually every child removed from a neglectful or abusive situation is sent to an orphanage. Many more live on the streets.

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Spread the Word: Supporting Vulnerable Children at Home and Around the World

One of the smartest things we can do is invest in the future of our children, and that starts by making sure each one has a loving and permanent family. That’s why I’m proud to have secured many priorities to protect and support vulnerable children and foster youth at home and abroad in the latest government funding bill.

This bill contains priorities I’ve been working on during the last year including: streamlining scholarship information for foster youth, strengthening domestic adoption family recruitment, urging Guatemala to finalize stalled adoptions and reduce redundancy while improving the welfare of children internationally.

Show your support for this bill by sharing it on Facebook, Tweeting about it or forwarding this email to others.

As you know, adoption is an issue near and dear to my heart and I will continue to do everything I can to ensure every child has a permanent and loving family. Keep reading below to learn more about the important priories and funding I secured to help vulnerable children in this year’s bill to fund the government.

If you have any questions about my work or this bill, please contact Libby Whitbeck or Whitney Reitz in my office.

Sincerely,

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Urge completion of transitional adoptions in Guatemala: After Guatemala suspended international adoptions in 2007, hundreds of children in the process of being adopted were denied homes.  For more than six years, the children involved have languished in institutions, while loving families have been prohibited from providing them with a nurturing home. To urge Guatemala to resolve this, we’ve suspended funding for the Guatemalan armed forces until we can verify that open adoption cases are resolved. I hope to send the message that these children cannot wait any longer to be connected with the loving families that they deserve

Enable more foster youth to find college scholarships: There are a number of barriers that all children face to earn a college degree, including paying for that degree. Congress has created specific scholarship opportunities for former foster children, but too many of these youth have no idea that such resources exist. A provision I authored will add a box on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to give students the ability to indicate that they are foster youth. Now, information on scholarships and grants will be shared directly with them.

Secured $4 million to support child-recruitment programs: Many states are unable to focus on recruiting adoptive families for children, particularly those who are considered hard to place because of age, disability or other barriers. In this bill, I created a new pilot grant to enable states to initiate intensive and exhaustive child-focused recruitment programs. These programs would focus on moving foster youth eligible for adoption into permanent families at a higher rate than traditional recruitment strategies.

Please contact Sen. Landrieu at the office nearest you.

Abandoned in Guatemala: The Failure of Intercountry Adoption Practices

This month a documentary by reasontv has been released regarding the elimination of intercountry adoption in Guatemala.  The video shows a side of the elimination not often discussed in the media.  We encourage our colleagues and friends to view and distribute the video at your discretion.  The video can be found by clicking here.

Background and Joint Council’s position

Guatemala ChildrenOn January 1, 2008, under significant scrutiny and amidst allegations of corruption, child trafficking and unethical practices, Guatemala implemented the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. Guatemala’s participation in the Convention was applauded by the many governments and NGOs who had insisted on changes to the practices in Guatemala and vigorously supported Guatemala’s participation in the Hague Convention. Joint Council advocated for systematic reform, rather than elimination of services to children.  Joint Council’s President & CEO, Tom DiFilipo states, “Eliminating corruption was the goal.  Ensuring children live in families in a legal and ethical manner should have been.”

The implementation was seen by many as the answer to corruption and unethical practices.  Unfortunately the manner in which Guatemala implemented the Convention has not resulted in an ethical intercountry adoption system or a stable child welfare system; it has resulted in no intercountry adoption system and an almost non-existent child welfare system. The implementation of the Convention has indeed succeeded in adding protections. But it has also failed in its role to serve children.  Protecting children and families from harm is one of the primary roles of the Guatemalan government and their efforts must be recognized and supported. However, much like the scrutiny and attention by the international community exposed the corruption of the prior system, this same community must now refocus their attention to bring to light Guatemala’s ineffective implementation of the Convention and its subsequent impact on institutionalized children and Guatemalan families.

The formation of a spectrum of services including Family Preservation, Kinship Care, Domestic Adoption and Intercountry Adoption is desperately needed to ensure that children retain their right to a family and are protected from the detrimental effects of institutionalization, or even an unnecessary death. Joint Council calls on all stakeholders who previously asked for reforms to move with speed in order to provide these much needed services.  Again, Tom DiFilipo, “Adoption reform in Guatemala has not resulted in the prosecution of criminals, nor has it served the best interest of children.  What it has done is force thousands of children into orphanages, onto the streets, or even worse.”

As part of Joint Council’s ongoing Guatemala 5000 campaign and the passage of the Ortega Law, we have continually advocated for the ethical and legal finalization of all adoptions initiated prior to the closure of intercountry adoption in Guatemala. Joint Council in partnership with its member organizations and the Guatemala900 again call for a swift conclusion to all pending adoption cases and the immediate implementation of the much needed services which will provide more Guatemalan children with the ability to grow and thrived in a safe, permanent family.

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