Saturday, December 19, 2009

Orphanages Not So Bad, After All

Yesterday, I was on a panel at the Practising Law Center in NY, addressing fees and ethics in adoption.

Also there was Prof Bartholet who seeks to make laws "adoption friendly" [are their laws that aren't?] with her pro-adoption rhetoric. She and one of her colleagues, Dr. Jane Aaronson, founder of World Wide (WWO) Orphan Foundation, have most incredibly expanded the definition of orphan to include children with no families or from "families at risk."

Aaronson stated at the PLI conference yesterday that there are 143M orphans, "some living with families who are destitute or impoverished."  (Poverty = being an "orphan" ! ? !)

Aaronson also speaks about the "deleterious effects of the Hague."

The mission of WWO is:

To transform the lives of orphaned children by taking them out of anonymity and helping them become healthy, independent, productive members of their communities and the world.

This mirrors Bartholet's use of terms such as "parentless" chidren when describing children in orhanages, such as those adopted by Madonna - adoptions which Bartholet, who also rationalizes and justifes baby selling, supported.

Interestingly, a new study reveals orphanages can be a 'viable option.'

"Children who live in orphanages fare as well or better than those in family homes," reports a Duke University study that tracked more than 3,000 children in five Asian and African countries.

The study, released today, is touted as one of the most comprehensive ever done on orphans. Orphaned and abandoned children ages 6-12 were evaluated over a three-year period in 83 institutions and 311 families in Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya and Tanzania. Those in institutions had significantly better health scores, lower prevalence of recent sickness and fewer emotional problems.

"Our research is not saying that institutions are better. What we found is that institutions may be a viable option for some kids," says study leader Kathryn Whetten, director of the Center for Health Policy at the Duke Global Health Institute. She says what matters most is the caregiving.

The study's findings contrast with U.S. and international child-welfare policies that strongly favor family placement over institutional care for orphaned or abandoned children.

In the U.S., group homes and other forms of institutional care exist, but they are no longer called orphanages. They housed about 16% of the 463,000 children in foster care in September 2008, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"Institutional care is not always Dickensonian," says Richard McKenzie, an economics professor at the University of California-Irvine. He lived in a North Carolina orphanage from age 10 to 18 and wrote a memoir about his mostly positive experience.

McKenzie says the Duke study debunks the myth that families are the better choice. He says some foster care kids are abused or bounced from home to home.

The study does not apply to U.S. foster care, says Olivia Golden, who studies child and family programs at the Urban Institute, a research group. She says the U.S., unlike some poorer countries, provides schooling and health insurance to its foster care kids and tries, in addition, to find them families so they can thrive.

Golden says research on child development shows that children, especially very young ones, benefit from having a consistent caregiver.

The Duke study, published in the peer-reviewed journal PloS ONE, was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Development.

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