May is Foster Care Awareness Month and it could not come at a more important time. Foster families across the country are stepping up for some of the most vulnerable children in our society. Nonetheless, the foster care system is in crisis as the number of children in need of care is rising year after year. We need better solutions to give these young people the future they deserve.
Foster care is a temporary living arrangement for youth whose parents are unable, unwilling, or unfit to care for their children. This situation can be caused by a wide variety of factors but the annual U.S. Government AFCARS report tells us the major reasons for foster care are neglect, parental drug abuse, and physical abuse – amongst others such as housing scarcity, parental incarceration, and alcohol and sexual abuse.
In the U.S. we have rightly moved on from orphanages. The question remains however, how much better for youth is foster care if many of those placed in care bounce from home to home and many are never reunited with their family or placed into an adoptive family that can give them the love, and the stability, that they need.
This lack of stability only worsens as the number of children entering foster care continues to increase. At the end of 2017 there were 442,995 children in foster care – a number that has increased every year since 2010. If we are to achieve a world in which every child has the safe, loving family they deserve then this number needs to reduce, not increase.
The most significant factor in this increase is the number of children entering the foster care system due to the opioid crisis. Every year since 2015 (when this was first measured) the number of children needing foster care because of parental drug abuse has increased. The latest figures show 36% of children entering foster care in 2017 came from a situation with parental drug abuse. With no clear solutions from government this number will likely only continue to increase.
Of course this factor only adds to the instability of foster care and a lack of permanence for our most vulnerable youth – something they need more than anything. This instability also means too often governments struggle to retain enough foster parents to give the youth in their system the care they need.
By reducing the number of children entering foster care, particularly by tackling the impacts of the opioid crisis, and increasing the number of foster families available to provide support we can improve the lot for these children who need our help the most. That is what Hopeland is working to achieve.
There is a reason to be hopeful, however. In NYC, where Hopeland is based, the Administration for Children’s Services has overseen a dramatic decline in the number of children in foster care from 16,854 in 2007 to 8,732 now. That means thousands of NYC children now have a permanent home to call their own that will allow them to be their best and thrive.
Hopeland will continue to advocate for policies that will achieve this success nationwide. We believe working towards systemic change is the only viable solution – simply stepping in when the problem is at its worst is neither sufficient, nor sustainable. Together we need to tackle these issues at root to ensure a better future for every vulnerable child. Follow us on social media throughout May to learn more about this important issue and what we can do.
Hopeland’s Campaign Director interviews Peter Kamau in the first of our Better Ways Champions series
Peter Kamau jumps out from the crowd in most rooms he stands in with his infectious personality and ear-to-ear smile. When you meet him you might not expect to find out that from the age of three to 18 he lived with his five siblings in an orphanage in Kenya.
“I may come across as well established with a success in the advocacy work that I am doing,” Peter tells me, “but the reality is that I’m an exception and not the norm, the norm is that hundreds and thousands of children in orphanages and those that aged out of the system are struggling or have lost hope for life out there.”
Kamau founded the organization Child in Family Focus and is part of the advisory team at the Kenya Society of Care Leavers – pushed by his desire to help those who found themselves in the same difficult place that he and his siblings were.
A Childhood Spent in an Orphanage: A Dream Which Never Came True
“The loss of my mother when I was six weeks old and my daddy a year later left me together with my five elder siblings in need of care and protection.” Tragically losing his mother in a building collapse and then his father soon after left Peter and his five elder siblings in need of care and support. It wasn’t immediately forthcoming, however.
The Children’s Court ordered that his two eldest brothers be placed in a reformatory for boys in conflict with the law and his two eldest sisters in a similar institution for girls, even though none had any behavioral problems or action against them. Meanwhile Peter and his youngest sister were placed in a home for children with disabilities. “After losing our parents we were separated from each other for two years in very inappropriate facilities,” Kamau recalled, “contact with our siblings during these years was a dream which never came true.”
It would take a further two years for the six siblings to be reunited in one orphanage and even then the housing of children according to their ages meant that “interactions with my brothers and sisters was limited to weekends and field visits and on occasions during mealtimes.”
Sadly Peter says that this “separation and limited interaction with my elder siblings is still felt today – there is no tight bond with my siblings and it can take over six months before we check on each other. Our eldest brother’s suicide in the year 2007 was a wakeup call for me and my remaining siblings to look out for each other often.”
Aside from this Peter feels his years in the orphanage were a “bittersweet experience with a share of highs and lows,” yes he had peers to play with and engage in mischief but he tells me “a lot of this mischief was so that we could get attention, as any attention was better than none.” Being one of thirty children cared for by two house mothers who worked in shifts meant it was very hard to get the attention, love, and care as well as guidance that is needed for a happy and healthy childhood.
“We never lacked material things, the biggest lack was love and attachment from consistent caring adults.”
The Inspiration to Work for Change: Family is the Most Important Source of Love
Knowing what children growing up in orphanages really need is the love and care of a family inspired Peter to turn down a career in communications and instead return to work for nine years in the orphanage that he had lived in.
Peter remembered being a child in the orphanage and the impact that seeing his friends being introduced to foster and adoptive families had on him, “I kept hoping that I would be next, every time visitors came to the orphanage to visit or bring donations was an opportunity to be at my best behavior so that I could increase my chances of being loved and taken into a family.”
In spite of what he knew about the needs of the children separated from their families he says that “a lot of the referrals that we got were from the chiefs and leaders in the communities for children who had one or both parents still alive.” Poverty, not the loss of their parents was the primary cause for them to be in an orphanage.
“Family is the most important source of love, it is the most important source of attention” knowing that these children had families who could be caring for them compels Kamau to continue his work.
Peter’s Connection to Hopeland
Hopeland is a proud member of ReThink Orphanages, a global coalition aiming to change the way we care and bring awareness to the damaging reality of orphanages. This is how we came into contact with Peter who plays a starring role in the documentary film ‘The Love You Give’. You can watch and share the film here.
I asked Peter whether being involved in this project inspired him? “Definitely” he beamed back. “Because I got a platform where I could get the message to a bigger audience in the interest of vulnerable children.’’ What do you hope people watching the film will gain? “I believe that it will bring forth mindset changes that will give them a better understanding of the issue of orphanages and voluntourism.”
By having the chance to work with Kamau it became clear that his work and Hopeland’s has a lot in common. While Hopeland is a global non-profit finding better ways to keep children in families, Kamau tells me that Child in Family Focus has a similar mission “to uphold every child’s right to family based care and see a Kenya where Family Based Care for Orphaned and Vulnerable Children is the norm rather than a privilege.”
“What Hopeland and Child in Family Focus is doing as well as other organizations is a much needed job that is aimed at making a world of difference to children, it continues to be an inspiration for me.”
What Needs to Change: Would I Want this for my Child?
“We have the wrong perception,” Kamau preaches towards the end of our interview: “that orphanages have more to offer than children’s families.”
How can this be the case, I asked him? As he says in ‘The Love You Give’, poverty is an incredible push factor for separating children from families in Kenya and around the world. “It is not only material poverty,” he says, “sometimes it is a poverty of the mind of thinking this is the right thing to do.” It is Kamau’s mission, which he shares with Hopeland and the whole ReThink Orphanages coalition, to change this thinking.
Kamau is aware that the problem is especially pervasive however, “Kenya has laws that allow children to benefit from alternative family care such as foster care, guardianship, and adoptions. However, many unscrupulous orphanage managers and directors retain children in their facilities to attract donations and volunteers, in effect perpetuating harm on the children, perpetuating more separation of children from their families, and also perpetuating the mushrooming of these facilities.”
I had to ask him: what would he say to those still donating to orphanages? “I commend the donors for their generosity and commitment to care for vulnerable children”, Kamau begins. However, “I respectfully ask them to pause for a moment and take a retrospective look at individual children that have gone through the orphanages that they fund: can these children be accounted for as leading successful lives? The benchmark should be – would I want this for my child?”
A Reason to be Hopeful?
“A reason to be hopeful,” Kamau says, “is first and foremost there is momentum, there is a shift in the way people care for children. Many different countries are engaging in care reform efforts.”
Peter is a man of faith, in fact as soon as our interview ended he was hosting a fellowship group at his house, and he tells me that he takes hope from scripture, specifically Proverb 23:18 which says There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.
“Even for the children growing up in the system today there is hope and it will not be cut off and thanks to organizations like Child in Family Focus, Hopeland, and Better Care Network, amongst others there is surely light at the end of the tunnel for these children, and not an oncoming train.”
Hopeland’s CEO & Co-Founder, Nick Evans, recently had the honor of being invited to address the European Parliament on foster care and adoption policy in the digital age. He was joined by Thea Ramirez from Adoption Share who spoke about her organization’s ‘Family Match’ program which uses technology to make it easier for loving families to adopt or foster children whilst increasing placement stability and better outcomes for everyone.
The invitation to speak came from Emma McClarkin MEP who has represented the UK’s East Midlands constituency in the European Parliament since 2009. She is a member of both the Parliament’s International Trade Committee and the European Parliament’s delegation to the United States. She has been a committed supporter of protecting children, including by campaigning on tackling the online exploitation and by hosting this event – which was the first ever event at the European Parliament to discuss adoption policy.
McClarkin’s event, which was a forum to discuss how technology can facilitate connections in adoption policy in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, was attended by numerous Members of the European Parliament (MEP). These included Syed Kamall MEP (UK), Daniel Dalton MEP (UK), Baroness Nosheena Mobarik MEP (UK), Ulrike Trebesius MEP (Germany), Bernd Koelmel MEP (Germany), and Sean Kelly MEP (Ireland). Commenting on Twitter after the event, Kelly said that the speeches had highlighted “the importance of good childhood experiences and family life.”
As part of the event Evans and Ramirez gave a presentation entitled ‘Pioneering innovation for foster care and adoption: How big data and technology can drive better outcomes for children and families.
Evans used this opportunity to highlight impactful data about children separated from families – for example there are 25 million children globally who are separated from their families but a staggering 385 million more at risk due to extreme poverty. Further, it is a fact that more than 80% of children separated from their families have living parents and it is eight times more expensive to raise a child in an orphanage as opposed to a family. This ‘big data’ shows us that there is huge potential to relocate resources away from damaging orphanages and towards family based care – whether this is family reunification, adoption, or foster care.
Speaking after the event, Evans said, “It was a privilege to be able to address the European Parliament on this important issue. We have seen significant success around the world on supporting children separated from families, for example with the passage of the Modern Slavery Act in Australia. I call on the European Parliament to take action themselves to support family strengthening programs like those I spoke about today and ensure that every child has a safe, loving family.”
Hopeland is excited to announce that it has been working with Paramount Pictures to promote awareness of issues related to foster care, adoption, and reunification in the USA following the release of their new movie, Instant Family.
The movie is directed by Sean Anders and stars Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne and was inspired by the true story of Sean and his wife Beth’s journey of adopting three children and the trials and joys that came with it.
In conjunction with Paramount Pictures, Adoption Share, and MDC Productions, Hopeland hosted a screening of the movie in NYC followed by a Q&A with Sean and Beth Anders, Hopeland’s Co-Founders Deborra-lee Furness and Nick Evans, and Adoption Share’s Thea Ramirez.
As well as being a hilarious comedy the movie tackles difficult issues such as the trauma children experience as they move from foster home to foster home, the damaging effects that substance misuse has on families, the fear and rejection that children experience, and the difficult decisions courts have to make as they decide outcomes for children.
After the screening, Nick Evans said, “The movie powerfully tackles the subjects of foster care, reunification, adoption, parenthood, and what it means to be a family. I have not laughed and cried so much in a while!”
If you want to learn more about the making of the movie you can watch a featurette about Instant Family here:
Hopeland’s 2018 Gala was a beautiful, and powerful, event bringing together some of NYC’s biggest hitters to hear how Hopeland is finding better ways to keep children in families while enjoying performances from Ari Afsar and Keala Settle.
The room was packed in spite of one of the earliest snowstorms in New York City’s history that brought six inches of snow and many downed trees.
The crowd heard from Dr Bertice Berry, the host for the evening, who’s powerful story of how she adopted her sister’s children to prevent them from ending up in the foster care system moved us all. This was of course not an easy task for her but she told the gala, “We have the power to make a difference in a child’s life – that’s why we’re here tonight.”
The first musical performance of the evening was from the up and coming artist Ari Afsar who is best known for playing Eliza Schuyler in the hit musical Hamilton. She performed ‘Dear Theodosia’ which was particularly apt for the evening as it is a song in which Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr speak to their children about their hopes for the future. The lyrics “If we lay a strong enough foundation, We’ll pass it on to you, We’ll give the world to you, And you’ll blow us all away”, speak perfectly to how children, with the support of a safe, loving family will thrive and do incredible things. This is exactly why Hopeland works to ensure every child has the support they need.
“Just because you didn’t cause the problem, doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the solution.” Hopeland’s CEO and Co-Founder, Nick Evans, used this call to action to rally those in the room to support our cause – based on donations on the night the call was heeded. Nick ran through Hopeland’s achievements in 2018 – read more here – and it is already looking like a great 2019 for Hopeland thanks to our many generous family members.
“Hopeland is about making sure every kid has someone that is fighting for them” were the words of Hugh Jackman as he introduced the star of the evening, The Greatest Showman’s Keala Settle. Keala spoke about what Hopeland means to her and then sang Mariah Carey’s ‘Hero’ and of course ‘This Is Me’ – the inspirational hit of 2018.
Keala’s incredible voice got the whole room on their feet and sent Hopeland’s supporters home with Dr. Berry’s mantra in their ears: “when you walk with purpose, you collide with destiny”. We all came together with the purpose of keeping children in families and thanks to our collision at the gala we have a stronger Hopeland family for 2019.
Hopeland is proud to announce that in partnership withThankful we will be a leading organization in the #Thankful4Women campaign.
The spirit behind the campaign is that the mere act of being thankful has the power to increase attention, mood, energy, and many other important aspects of our lives. If we stopped more often to be thankful for what we have our world would be a happier, more peaceful place.
We all have a lot to be thankful for and we at Hopeland are especially thankful for the many inspirational and impactful women in our lives – that’s why we’re part of this campaign! We believe that by empowering women and girls they will strengthen their families and allow them to grow.
Check out some of the beautiful posts people from all corners of the globe have already postedhere!
Take a moment to be #Thankful4 an amazing woman or girl by:
Tag the person you’re thankful for as well as @OurHopeland and @Thankfulorg
Don’t forget to use the hashtag #Thankful4Women so we can celebrate them together!
Encourage your friends to share and post their own messages!
Check out our pinned Instagram story for a template that you can use!
We’re thankful for our amazing Co-Founder Deborra-lee Furness and the many other women who are fighting for justice. Thankfulness is a virtue we can all appreciate the strength of; it encourages us to practice gratefulness and truly value the sweet and tender things in life – like a safe, loving, family.
All children count but not all children are counted. In 2016, Hopeland rallied a campaign with these words and, in partnership with over 160 different organizations, pleaded that the United Nations reconsider its approach to counting the numbers of vulnerable children in the world. You can read more about the campaign and why it is important here.
By putting pressure on the UN, Hopeland and its partner organizations successfully prompted new methods of collecting data that ensured that vulnerable children, no matter their circumstances, were accounted for. This meant street children, children in unregistered orphanages, refugee children and any child that would otherwise remain invisible should now be considered when monitoring the SDGs.
But now we need to keep applying that same pressure.
Just last year the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, called for a huge increase in funding so that all countries can meet the targets and provide adequate data to show that they are doing this for every person in their countries. His 2018 report, just released, however shows that there is much more work to do. We need to raise our voices for all the children, even those the global community isn’t listening too, so we can hold global leaders accountable and ensure they follow through on their commitments.
Mr. Guterres says in the foreword of the annual report “in some areas, progress is insufficient to meet the Agenda’s goals and targets by 2030.” Sadly, he adds that “this is especially true for the most disadvantaged and marginalized groups.”
Specifically regarding the results of the ‘All Children Count’ campaign the Secretary General says that “Today’s technology makes it possible to collate the data we need to keep the promise to leave no one behind” but yet we have not seen enough progress to be confident that all children will be counted by 2030.
Guterres says we need to “inject a sense of urgency”, Hopeland couldn’t agree more and supports his call for more “political leadership, resources, and commitment to use the tools now available.”
You can be sure that we will keep the pressure on – because nothing can be more important than making sure that all children are counted, not just those who are easiest to find.
What happens when you’re unafraid and willing to lift the voices of vulnerable children around the world? Well, add some passion, charm, and a genuine desire to ensure that children have safe loving families, as well as a few secret ingredients and you have our Co-Founder: Deborra-lee Furness, who was honored earlier this week at the 2018 Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards.
The ‘Disruptor Awards’ honor those who are unafraid to go against the grain to fight for the causes they believe in. This year’s honorees included 11-year old March for Our Lives activist, Naomi Wadler, influential music journalist and late night TV drummer, Questlove renowned HBO Documentary film director and female activist, Sheila Nevins and our very own Deborra-lee.
“There are 157 million orphans in the world and of these numbers 80% have at least one living parent. We’re going to the root of the cause and getting creative with solutions that will derail negative trajectories.” she said as she walked to the stage to accept her award – a bright red hammer, meant to symbolize the unabashed confidence each of the disruptors exhibit when standing for their causes.
“We are working on prevention, reunification, and mobilization because we believe every single child deserves to belong in a loving family and have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.” she continued.
You can also watch this video of Deborra-lee on the red carpet after accepting her award. She jokes: “I used to be disruptive as a child, I got detention, and now they’re giving awards for it!”, but we all know that she really deserves this award and are so proud of her and her amazing work!
You can find more about the Disruptor Awards here.
On March 8th, the world collectively recognized women who empower and strengthen one another by celebrating their social, economic, cultural, and political achievements.
For Hopeland, this recognition lasts year-round and is an integral part of our identity; which is why we’ve developed the FAMILY Campaign. As part of FAMILY, Hopeland will provide financial support to some of the most impoverished women in the world, truly empowering them to make decisions that are best for their families.
But why is such a campaign needed?
Often the poorest women in the world face difficult choices about whether they can keep their children with them at home. Sadly many women face such hardship that they are forced into an incredible bind where they truly believe their children are better off in an orphanage than at home.
Unfortunately, the fact that more than 80% of children in orphanages have at least one living parent is testimony to the fact that this is happening every day.
This means children in orphanages quite often aren’t “orphans” at all – and it absolutely stings to think about how detrimental institutionalized care is for the growth of the child:
For every three months spent in an orphanage a child loses one month of brain development.
Children in orphanages are often exploited for tourist dollars. This is disgusting, especially when you consider that orphanage tourism can lead to children developing attachments to strangers they’ll never see again – perpetuating feelings of abandonment
In many cases, children living in orphanages are being denied basic supplies of food, education, and safety
If poverty is causing family separation and putting children at risk of abuse, trafficking, and violence then we can all agree that something must be done.
There is not enough awareness of the reality of orphanages and that solutions do exist.
Hopeland is working to prevent children from being placed in orphanages in the first place, to reunite the 80% of children in orphanages who have living parents, and to mobilize families around the world to care for those who truly have no one.
Together we can follow through on the commitments made on International Women’s Day and ensure that even the poorest children in the world have a safe, loving family, not a life of despair and abuse in an orphanage – all thanks to the fierce and powerful mothers that we – and you – have supported.