Christianity Today Reports on Tragic Guatemalan Orphanage Fire


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.


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.



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.

Adoption Notice: Guatemala

Update on Intercountry Adoptions in Guatemala  

Joint USCIS-State Delegation to Guatemala

May 29, 2013

During the week of May 13, 2013, Special Advisor for Children’s Issues Ambassador Susan Jacobs traveled with USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas to Guatemala for meetings with Guatemalan government officials of agencies directly in­volved in adoptions, including the Procuraduría General de la Nación (PGN) and the Guatemalan National Council on Adoption (CNA).  They also met with members of the Supreme Court, the Ministerio Publico (MP), the Ministry of So­cial Welfare, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).  Their visit provided an important opportunity to meet recently-appointed Guatemalan officials and emphasize that the timely and transparent resolution of all the remaining pending transition adoption cases in the best interests of the children remains a top priority for the United States. 

The meetings were also an opportunity to review the progress on completion of these remaining cases following recent administrative and personnel changes in the Government of Guatemala.  In the last several months, the Guatemalan gov­ernment has accelerated its completion of cases, and fewer than 100 pending transition adoption cases are awaiting reso­lution as of the date of this notice.  Twenty-nine cases have moved to CNA’s Acuerdo process, and nine cases have con­cluded with the immigration of the adopted children to the United States with their U.S. citizen parent(s).  Guatemala also completed an additional four cases under the notarial process and these children have joined their families in the United States.  Some cases have concluded with the child’s reunification with a biological family member in Guatemala. 

Officials at the PGN, which has the authority to complete the investigations in the pending cases, report having 52 cases in various stages of investigation.  The PGN has received renewed funding for its investigators, allowing them to con­tinue their work with a goal of completing these investigations within two months.  Once it has completed an investiga­tion, PGN will request a hearing with a Guatemalan court judge for a determination of the child’s adoptability , or reuni­fication with biological or extended family.  It is also possible, though not likely, that the judge will order the case to conclude via the notarial process.  According to the Guatemalan Supreme Court, there currently are no backlogs at the courts in Guatemala City, so that legal process should proceed without delays.  The cases with court decrees of adopta­bility will go to the CNA for evaluation of their eligibility for completion of the adoptions through the Acuerdo process. 

The USCIS and Consular staff of the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City are in constant communication with the Guatema­lan officials responsible for adoption procedures.  U.S. Embassy staff monitor and promote Guatemalan progress in re­solving the remaining cases by attending the semi-weekly meetings of the technical group where these authorities work through the cases.  Prospective adoptive parents may contact USCIS directly at, and the Immigrant Visa Unit of the Consular Section directly at, in order to inquire about the status of individual adoption cases.

The Future Of Adoption: International And Domestic

APADOPTION1000-500x333 Russia, Guatemala, and more are slamming the door on American adoptions. Is the great age of international adoption behind us?

Americans know international adoption well. Look around. There are families all over with adopted children from China, Korea, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Russia.

But the profile of American adoption is changing. International adoption is way down over the last decade. Down by more than half. Sometimes it’s a political change: Russia just threw the brakes on last fall. Guatemala is housecleaning its adoption process. China has decided it needs its girls.

And there are a hundred thousand children in the US foster care system ready for adoption.

This hour, On Point: the changing global profile US adoption.


Courage in the Adoption Waiting Game

By Craig Juntunen | May 1, 2012

“It was probably the closest thing we’ll ever have to giving birth.”

After months of paperwork, interviews, emails and endless anticipation, the magical moment for Lori LeRoy and her husband Nick had finally arrived. Lori and Nick received arguably the most important piece of mail of their lifetimes. It was an adoption referral on their soon-to-be son, Nate, a Vietnamese boy who was given up by his sick and impoverished mother when he was two days old. They received a photo of Nate and an instant love flowered.

For any parent, the first moment you see your child is indescribable. I will never forget the feeling I had when I saw my three adopted children from Haiti for the first time. I was no longer a man who had no interest in being a father. My place in the world was with these kids, and my role was to love and protect them regardless of what happened.

Today, courage and strength have replaced love and desire as the most important characteristics for people who take on the international adoption process. Unfortunately for many prospective parents, including the LeRoys, the expected 18- to 24-month adoption process has turned into a maddening and unnecessary four or five year ordeal. Every day they wait, their son or daughter loses another critical day of physical and social development.

Despite the best intentions of those committed to international adoption, the debilitating process has taken adoption off the table as an option for orphans worldwide. In situations where children already start a step behind, don’t they deserve as many options as possible? We’ve reached a critical point in time where a national conversation must start about doing better for these kids.

In 2011, more than 9,300 children were adopted from overseas by Americans. That’s a steep drop from 2004, when close to 23,000 children were adopted by Americans. That astounding decline over seven years is the result of several factors outside the control of families trying to provide children with a safe, loving home.

A closer look at the nearly four-year process that the LeRoys endured to bring Nate home is instructive. In 2008, the U.S. raised red flags about alleged fraud in Vietnam’s adoption process. Alarmed, and frankly offended, by these largely unsubstantiated claims, Vietnam decided to shut down adoptions to the U.S., stalling cases that were already in motion and extending the adoption process for the LeRoys and others. While the politics played out, Nate waited an extra two years in an institution before arriving at his new home in the U.S.

What is more concerning is that we’ve seen similar situations play out with other countries, including Cambodia and Ethiopia. The U.S. government preaches compliance with the Hague Convention, the international treaty that establishes practice standards for international adoptions, as the magic bullet solution. No one doubts that safeguards and protections in the process are important; however, years pass as countries implement reform measures, leaving children to languish in institutions for that much longer.

We have to wonder if our policies align with acting in the best interests of these children. As a world leader, the U.S. has a vital role to play in ensuring that international standards are being met, but in doing so, we must maintain an open dialogue and take a proactive approach to working with countries to develop the appropriate programs and policies that foster safe, ethical and efficient adoptions. Ultimately, we have to strike a balance of maintaining safeguards, but also ensuring that we’re moving forward expeditiously.

We have recently seen the benefits of the U.S. working in partnership with another country to build child welfare capacities. Guatemala, previously known as one of the worst actors in international adoption due to corruption and fraud, has made great strides during the last two years to develop a system that serves its citizens and provides options for children in need. Guatemalan officials have committed to moving forward 300 adoption cases that have been stalled for years. A culture of adoption is also being cultivated at the grassroots level. There is a long way for Guatemala to go, but we’re seeing what can happen when two countries make a commitment to doing what’s necessary — and right — for orphans.

There will always be many highs and lows in the international adoption process. But the staggering decline in international adoptions from the U.S. indicates that something is not working here. We must realize the promise in international adoption, just like the LeRoys and thousands of families across the country have done. The question becomes: why aren’t we doing more to make international adoption a less problematic option for children in need of a home and families with room in their hearts?

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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