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.”
Have you ever had a situation that challenged everything you thought you knew? I had one of those when I met a young girl called Hannah in Liverpool, England.
I had just started working after completing my Bachelor’s Degree as a 22 year old drug treatment counselor. In this role one of my major, and most difficult, tasks was running police cell sweeps assessing the needs of children who had come into contact with the Police.
Hannah told me she had an older boyfriend. When I asked her a little more, however, it became clear that in fact it was a series of older men she was being passed between. After a comprehensive assessment it became clear that although Hannah was 16, due to some severe trauma she had suffered she had a mental age of 10 – and yet she was being trafficked, exploited, and raped by a series of men on a daily basis through the children’s home that should have been providing her care.
I came across many disturbing cases in this job but Hannah’s case particularly upset me. I knew I had to try to do something about it and so I raised it with my superiors. Having done so they immediately told me to drop it. Clearly there was no appetite to help Hannah. This attitude would never sit right with me so I raised it again, and again, and again, and always got the same response. I should drop this now or my young career would be ruined.
This episode taught me some uncomfortable, but important truths:
When children are out of sight, they are out of mind;
Children raised in less fortunate circumstances are much more likely to be trafficked or abused and need our help;
We must always challenge existing practices when they are wrong;
Powerful and haunting experiences like this one are what has led us to create Hopeland: children need someone to step up and fight for them so that they can have the safe, loving family they deserve.
I’m so pleased with the progress Hopeland has already made and I’m excited to share with you Hopeland’s 2018 achievements:
Hopeland has also been at the forefront of several important partnerships this year, including ReThink Orphanages, Destination Family, and work with The Share Trust. I am also proud that my incredible Co-Founder, Deborra-lee Furness, again hosted the Global Citizen Festival with her husband Hugh Jackman in Central Park. Our new video featuring Deborra-lee also debuted at the Festival. I was also proud to see Deborra-lee recognized for her work at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival Disruptor Awards.
Our important advocacy work continued as we have connected the Australian and UK Government’s experts on Modern Slavery as we further develop our FAMILY campaign which has the goal of testing the impact of direct cash transfers and support services on female-led households in preventing family separation, increasing education, and reducing violence.
Hopeland also held its first ever Hackathon at the Boston Consulting Group’s NYC offices and partnered with Paramount Pictures on its new movie Instant Family which explores the reality of adopting and foster care in America.
All this progress makes me so proud to be the CEO of Hopeland and I am so excited for 2019. I’m sure, though, that you are wondering what happened to Hannah.
The story ended with me sat in a community center in Liverpool with an investigator interviewing one of the men involved in the ring that they had exposed. In spite of the threats to my career I persevered. Working hard to do what was right taught me this:
Just because you didn’t cause the problem doesn’t mean you can’t be a part of the solution.
By being part of Hopeland’s family you are being part of the solution!
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.
As a father of two young children I’ve found the images of children separated from their parents at our U.S. southern border particularly painful to see, as I know parents all over the world have too.
Hopeland was created expressly to advocate for the innate value a safe, loving family can provide a child and to find better ways to keep children in families. It must be clear to anyone looking at these images that there has to be better ways to care for these children.
When millions of children live without families around the world, it is our responsibility to fight for these children, ensuring that they too can one day have a family to call their own. That’s why our first campaign was aimed to ensure ‘All Children Count’ – because it doesn’t matter what a child’s upbringing is; she will always deserve nothing less than an environment where she can be loved, and nurtured.
The more than 2,000 children who have been separated from their parents couldn’t be any further from their loving family and seeing the distressing images reminds me why I come in every day to work hard so that all children can have the upbringing that will let them thrive.
Anyone looking at the images of children sleeping on thin mattresses, under foil blankets, in hastily adapted facilities can imagine the distress this causes to the children. Heartbreakingly, the trauma this has caused for these children will be carried with them, likely, for the rest of their lives.
Even for the 500 children that have now been reunited with their parents the damage can be lasting. 60 years of undisputed brain science tells us that even a limited period of separation from a child’s parents can have serious developmental consequences. This 2015 study by Berens & Nelson confirms that as little as three months is needed to cause long term impacts; every three months in an institution causes one month of developmental loss. This can lead to impaired brain, social-emotional, and psychological development.
The same study also tells us that institutionalization can cause decreased weight, height, and head circumference for the children affected.
These developmental problems extend into adulthood too. The research of Sonugo-Barke et al established that an institutionalized child carries with them the scars of this trauma into adulthood. Low educational achievement, higher unemployment, and mental health problems are all seen amongst adults who had spent part of their childhoods separated from their families.
These facts alone show the impact of the parent-child separation policy and why it is imperative even after the policy has been rescinded to ensure the speedy reunification of the children affected with their parents.
I know the impact that this has had on everyone who has seen the images. As a parent, and the CEO of Hopeland, I’ve found it difficult to put into words the way this crisis has made me feel. The simple truth, however, that I want everyone to know is the damage that this separation will have on the children involved and therefore how important reuniting these children with their families is.
As Hopeland grows and our impact increases, I have had a nagging feeling that I want to express to the many faithful people who diligently, and without fanfare, invest in children. I struggled to find the words to do so until I stumbled across this powerful saying of Dag Hammarskjold, former Secretary-General of the United Nations: “It is more important to give yourself completely to one individual than to labor diligently for the salvation of the masses.”
I feel anyone committed to the welfare of children should take away one thing from this: the best and most noble thing you can do is to provide steadfast, faithful love to draw out the best in a child. With a committed, patient focus we truly give the best of ourselves and as a result bring out the best in a child.
Hammarskjold says to me that the people that are the real champions are people like my friends Phil and Helena who have committed themselves to a young boy who had spent too long in the foster system and desperately needed a consistent, loving care giver to tell him how precious he was.
I feel thankful to have those people around me as they point to a ‘true north’, they help ensure our direction of travel is always for the benefit of the one, thereby ensuring that our campaigns positively impact the many.
This work must always connect and benefit the one, the child who lacks a loving family, the refugee who could be separated from their family, the child in foster care who may be able to be returned to their parent when they recover from the drug addiction or may need to be tenderly and patiently supported as a better alternative situation is found for them.
When we lose the focus on the one, we lose what this work is about.
Hammarskjold also reminds us that by focusing on the one, we can then build this work to benefit the many. After 15 years as a practitioner working in the toughest and most deprived districts of England, I have found that by remembering the one we can scale this work to impact the masses. However, if we lose that focus on the individual, our work drifts and drags into an ethereal place that ultimately falls short of the goal, which is a child knowing that they are precious to a loving parent.
As Hopeland’s work continues to gain recognition and appreciation, I hope that we’ll never lose sight of who this is for:
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.
There are an estimated 25 million children growing up without their families around the world, including 8 million in institutions, 12 million on the streets, and 5 million trafficked or unaccompanied minor refugees. The reality is that most of these children, even those in orphanages have living parents.
Imagine the hardship you would have to go through before you felt that it was better for your child to be separated from you than living in your loving care and you will know the importance of helping the poorest mothers in the world.
Sadly there are many reasons why this heart-wrenching separation happens but some of the major factors are poverty, forced displacement, and lack of education. This month Hopeland is bringing specific attention to these issues because we are committed to working with others to advocate for children suffering without the loving care of their family.
We know from research by UNICEF that children make up nearly half of the 900 million people worldwide living in extreme poverty. Even those children who are not yet separated from their families are at daily risk of becoming the next child who will grow up alone. We at Hopeland can’t accept even one more child facing that situation.
There are many ways that vulnerable children around the world can be helped – for example a child born to a mother who can read is 50% more likely to survive past the age of 5. By tackling the causes of poverty, not just the symptoms, we can make it easier for families to stay together, making lives for children around the world safer.
The All Children Count campaign shows how Hopeland can partner with other organizations to change thinking. Our campaigns help children and families across the world and here in the US – you can read more about our FAMILY campaign and how together we can find better ways to keep children in families. This month, if you can imagine how painful it would be for your child to grow up without your love and support, please take time to support Hopeland by sharing our story.