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From Analogue to Digital

The digital revolution of the 1950s challenged outdated mechanical practices introducing more effective and efficient ways of working. Hopeland has been working to create similar change in services for young people – especially those who are aging out of foster care. Too many former foster youth face unemployment, homelessness, and other issues so this change is long overdue.

The result of our work is TechLink. This first-of-its-kind public-private partnership pulls together the global tech powerhouse Google with other key partners to provide an innovative tech and coding pathway for New York City’s most vulnerable young people. After over a year of planning, design, and preparations, this idea is becoming a reality.

Applications from young people in foster care eager to apply for the TechLink program are beginning to arrive in our inbox. Those selected will access the world’s most exciting state of the art technology. This includes 3D printing, video game development, and laser cutting. We are excited about this dynamic partnership with Google, the Administration of Children’s Services, and New Yorkers For Children.

Sadly, while we worked on this project the response I often heard was “foster care is broken”. We cannot and will not accept this defeatist attitude. At Hopeland we are pushing past this broken narrative to find better ways to help vulnerable children.

Getting to this point was not easy – when designing this program we had people say to us “it won’t work, these kids are too troubled.” Hopeland’s values, though, tell us that no one is without hope. The ‘trouble’ that some people see in these youth can in fact sometimes turn into the grit and determination that pushes boundaries and creates new opportunities. Having walked through great adversity, these youth have the empathy to understand what their peers deal with. This means they know how to change their pathway given the right tools and resources.

At Hopeland we understand that innovation is crucial for the development of the foster care sector. Innovation can make the pathways into opportunities, a loving family, and a supportive community that much easier. While innovation can open the door to new ways of working, we cannot forget the human element of service provision. This is why we are putting in place important training to assist the people working with these children, such as trauma informed training.

Technology can help connect children with families and help the life chances of vulnerable children. So every effort must be made to achieve this. This pilot project, if successful, will expand across the U.S. in a major strategy to improve the lives of America’s most vulnerable young people. Our hope is that this innovative approach and spirit, can also benefit other communities. We know vulnerable young people will find great value in the opportunities TechLink offers.

The digital revolution changed the lives of Americans across the country. Likewise our focus on delivering projects like TechLink for vulnerable young people can have the same life changing effect on them and set them up for great futures. We hope you will follow with us the progress of this revolution for foster youth.

Working Together to Keep Vulnerable Children on the Global Agenda

The biennial meeting of all Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) is scheduled to take place in June in Kigali, Rwanda and Hopeland has been working with a group of like-minded organizations to ensure that care reform for children without parental care is on the agenda.

Rwanda has made great progress and has been a global leader in curtailing the use of orphanages, and instituting alternative positive interventions to allow every child to grow up in a safe family environment. Since 2012, the country has closed 25 of 39 orphanages. This means that the next CHOGM meeting will be a great opportunity to highlight this issue and see the governments of one-third of the world’s population take action to support the most vulnerable children.

CHOGM is an important meeting where key decisions impacting the 2.4 billion people who live in the Commonwealth are made. It is also an important opportunity for development focused non-profit organizations (such as Hopeland) to make progress on vital goals.

For example at the last CHOGM in London in 2018 Hopeland’s CEO had important meetings with various officials that allowed us to develop our international work.

However, as with all other gatherings large and small – the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is threatening the event and may mean there is a need to postpone until 2021. Africa is beginning to confirm more cases of the COVID-19 disease and Rwanda has just this week ordered a shutdown of the type we have seen in Europe and North America.

In any case, Hopeland is part of the Civil Society Working Group for Care Reform in the Commonwealth which has been working together to ensure that children without a safe, loving family are supported and in the hope that a policy agreement can be made on the importance of ending orphanage care and ensuring family care is valued across all 54 commonwealth countries.

This work has included Hopeland’s Campaign Director taking part in monthly video calls with colleagues in the U.S., Europe, Africa, and Australia to ensure we do all that we can to get this issue high up the CHOGM agenda. The group is drafting text that highlights the importance of taking action in this area, outreach to various organizations and officials involved in planning the event, and working together on the possibility of a side event at CHOGM to highlight this vital issue.

Of course the safety and well-being of the people of Rwanda and all those who would attend the event is the most important thing – but when the event is able to go ahead we hope to be able to advocate for this vital issue on the global stage. 

Maintaining the 2020 Vision

As the clocks chimed heralding in 2020 there was a real sense of hope and focus that many enjoyed. However, as the year has continued this hope and focus has certainly dwindled. Recently, I have heard many say that they are looking forward to 2021 as this year has brought so many challenges. With the bushfires in Australia, the political quagmire surrounding the impeachment of the US President, the untimely death of the basketball legend Kobe Bryant, and now the global pandemic caused by Coronavirus (COVID-19) it is not surprising that many are struggling to feel hopeful for 2020. Yet, hope and a determined focus is exactly what we need right now.

Because having 2020 focus means maintaining that visual acuity – a clarity and sharpness of vision. 2020 vision does not mean perfect vision, as we all struggle with distractions and concerns, but, the ability to make the main thing the main thing is crucial right now.

This focus is crucial because coronavirus is adversely affecting children around the world, in horrible ways. The insidious impact on children includes increases in exploitation, gender-based violence, the death of a parent or caregiver, financial hardship, social exclusion and separation from caregivers. An understanding that the plight of vulnerable, abandoned and orphaned children is severely impacted by this global pandemic must spur us on and prompt us to take action.

Indeed, this is not simply conjecture, we know that “School closures during the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa from 2014 to 2016, for example, contributed to spikes in child labor, neglect, sexual abuse and teenage pregnancies. In Sierra Leone, cases of teenage pregnancy more than doubled to 14,000 from before the outbreak.”

And this is not a problem just overseas, in America there are already reports of the coronavirus negatively impacting children in the foster care system in crucial areas such as family-visits.

What motivates me, is that I think of the children who have bounced around the foster care system who are trying desperately to believe that their new family will love and accept them, this understanding of the pain children endure and need to find better ways to help them drives Hopeland forward. Indeed, we don’t minimize the situation and we are keenly aware of the need for appropriate precautions to keep ourselves and others safe, but we are motivated by a deep conviction that we must and can do more for this vulnerable group.

We keep this focus because the vision is greater than the vehicle, the vehicles we use to achieve the vision can change but the vision holds firm as we press towards the ultimate goal. Indeed, technology offers us an opportunity to keep that connection. For example, we know that our friends at New York’s Administration for Children’s Services need to source desperately needed smartphones and technology to ensure children can maintain education and virtual family visits. If you can help please do so on this website.

We are guided by the belief that just because we need to be distant socially doesn’t mean we need to be socially distant. This is because technology allows us the gift of communicating and finding clever and more agile ways of communicating. This is also because, in moments like this, we are often able to recognize what really matters, which is family. In these uncertain times, it doesn’t mean we ignore the suffering we see around us, quite the opposite; instead, this hardship fuels our conviction that we must fight for others. It is understandable to be afraid of Coronavirus, but what we should be most afraid of is that we lose our humanity and the 2020 vision that guides us forward.

Hopeland Recognized for Outstanding Women’s Advocacy

On International Women’s Day, Hopeland was honored to be awarded the EPIQ Women’s Advocacy Award in recognition of our work to empower safe, loving families, and the women who play such an important role in them.

Hopeland is a proud recipient of the EPIQ Women’s Advocacy Award

The award ceremony took place as part of the New York City Bar Association’s International Law Conference on the Status of Women at the Bar Association’s Headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. The event saw influential female speakers from around the world speaking on what there was to celebrate in the fight to defend and expand women’s rights but also highlighting what more needs to be done.

Hopeland’s CEO Nick Evans (center) with board members Raegan Moya-Jones (left) and Fiona Bassett (right)

Hopeland was delighted to be included amongst some incredible winners, from fighters for justice for Yazidi women to those making waves in the boardroom and the United Nations! We were moved by their stories of injustice, and inspired by their fight to change the world.

As part of the conference, Hopeland’s newest Board Member Fiona Bassett spoke about the gender economics separating women from their children and Hopeland’s work to tackle this. Fiona is a Managing Director at Deutsche Bank’s subsidiary DWS and is widely recognized for her leadership and innovation in the financial services industry receiving acclaim from American Banker, the Institute of International Finance, Mutual Fund Industry and Crain’s New York Business.

Addressing the room, Fiona said “Hopeland is seeking to effect change through policy, through advocacy, and through campaigns that focus on mobilizing a movement to support the most vulnerable to family separation, to deliver better futures to people, and drive long term equality and opportunity”.

Fiona Bassett addresses the NYC Bar Association on Hopeland’s work

Hopeland’s number one policy goal is to prevent family separation. This forum, which focused on the progress of women internationally, was a particularly significant one at which to discuss this issue because if we improve the lives of women worldwide we also can reduce family separation.

Extreme poverty is the major factor in causing family separation and the World Bank tells us it is one that affects women and girls disproportionately. For every 100 boys in extreme poverty there are 105 girls and, extraordinarily, in the key childbearing age cohort of 25-34 there are 122 women in extreme poverty for every 100 men.

Additionally, female-headed single parent families are more likely to be vulnerable to family separation – in Indonesia for example 75% of single-headed families are female-led and those families are three times more likely to live in poverty.

This fact and the high prevalence of family separation (up to 500,000 children are growing up apart from their families) is why Hopeland’s global work is currently focused on Indonesia.

Hopeland and our partners are developing a landmark intervention to evaluate the impact of community support and economic empowerment tools as a cost-effective solution to address the drivers of family separation, and improve the overall wellbeing of at-risk children and families, with a special focus on households living in poverty.

Fiona discussed this work at the conference and encouraged support for it. The initiative is incredibly important because it aims to support some of the most vulnerable families in Indonesia whilst also developing vital data to change the way the world cares for families vulnerable to separation. If successful our first of its kind project can disrupt a centuries old funding model that supports orphanages and other institutions.

For too long international development and philanthropic efforts have promoted efforts that too often hurt not help vulnerable children – Hopeland is working to change that and so we were proud to be involved in such an important event and to have the opportunity to spread the message of our work.

Better Ways Champions, Thea Ramirez

Thea Ramirez has never been one to take the easy route. She is an incredibly dedicated CEO, wife and mom of three kids who balances the hundreds of daily tasks involved with running her successful non profit organization. After talking to me today, she had to prepare a dish for a potluck event at her kids’ school that afternoon, get on a weekly stand-up call with her tech development team and then meet with donors, to give you just a snapshot of a normal afternoon for her.

“I am a clinical social worker by training and originally had my sights on becoming  a counselor” Thea tells me, but quickly realized this wasn’t her calling, finding a job as a director of a private licensed infant adoption agency. This would set her on a path to founding Adoption-Share, the non profit organization that created the Family-Match program.

It was the Family-Match program that connected Ramirez with Hopeland when we worked together on a screening of Instant Family in New York. Ensuring every child has a safe, loving family is a cornerstone of both organizations.

Adoption-Share

Thea’s early experiences in adoption fueled a passion to create an organization that is really upsetting the apple cart, first in private infant adoption and now in foster care.

“I had gone into private infant adoption thinking this was going to be amazing, it’s going to be helping families and kids but actually found it to be an industry with a lot of money changing hands, a lot of attorneys coming to hospital rooms and giving out checks”. “It just felt wrong”, said Ramirez, explaining that she felt called to action by a feeling that it wasn’t enough to just leave that job behind but that she had to do something to truly help – “that something became Adoption-Share.”

“I launched the organization right after having my second child,” Thea remarked, “there’s no better time when you’re not sleeping anyways, so I maximized the hours between 1am and 6am for the first six months and did everything to get it off the ground.”

What needed to change?

I asked Thea to paint us a picture of what needed to change.  “In the early days, when I was just starting out, I knew I needed a way to cut around the industry-like arm of the private infant adoption agency that really demanded families go to a brick and mortar organization; pay thousands of dollars; and then get a number and wait in line.”

“What made it worse is that these families would think they were in a line, but you’re not in a line, you’re in a pool and that pool is not objective, it’s very subjective. In some cases you’re chosen not necessarily even by an expectant parent you’re chosen by what is in the best interest of the agency and how they can best optimize their pool of financial dollars.”

Adoption-Share ringing the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange

On the other hand, Adoption-Share says as long as you have a home study and you’ve been licensed by a child placement agency that’s licensed in your state you should be able to work with any licensed agency in the country. It was this realization that led to the creation of an online network to provide a way to allow home study approved families to work directly with licensed child placement agencies.

Was there a special moment that told you it could work, I asked Thea? “I think that the kicker for us was when we had two active duty parents in the Air Force who had just completed their home study and were both deployed, get matched on our network while serving overseas. 42 days after coming home stateside from their deployment they were holding their son for the first time in a hospital room!”

Great moments like these generated a lot of publicity for the organization, they were featured on CNN and invited to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. “What we were doing was unheard of, people were finalizing an adoption through our online network within eight months of starting their home study process.”

Creation of Family-Match

“The publicity that grew with the success of our online network for private infant adoption resulted in child welfare leaders approaching our team. They wanted to find out if they could leverage our solution for private infant adoption to help children in foster care with a goal of adoption get matched with a permanent, loving family through adoption.

We quickly realized that though a completely different process, the barriers keeping children from achieving permanency through adoption in the foster care system mimicked what we had seen in the private infant adoption community.  Families are being corralled into pools whereby they are visible only to the placement workers from their own agencies. This fragmentation of an entire population of waiting resource families is where we saw an opportunity for the biggest improvement. You literally have families in every state across this country waiting longer to adopt kids from foster care than the kids are waiting to be adopted. For decades we have misdiagnosed the issue as having a lack of demand when truthfully what we have, and what we are helping correct through our Family-Match Program, is solving what is fundamentally a connection problem.”

Family-Match is solving the connection problem by helping workers more efficiently and appropriately connect waiting children with waiting families. Designed as a centralized repository or common platform for an entire state, Family-Match leverages its proprietary compatibility assessments authored by former senior researchers from eHarmony to help ensure that to the extent possible matches made on Family-Match are matches that can last a lifetime. By using algorithms and digital technology to place children with the best families who are going to provide the stable, loving home a child needs Adoption-Share has really changed the way we leverage data for child welfare.

“Family-Match is operating currently in the Commonwealth of Virginia and in the State of Florida with plans to hopefully roll out in Tennessee as well. About eight other states have reached out to find out how to start the process.”

Adoption Awareness Month

This interview was timed to coincide with Adoption Awareness Month and Ramirez told me that Adoption-Share wants to use November to highlight the waiting families, families that are approved and licensed, families who have gone through the arduous process of becoming home study approved and yet their homes are sitting empty.  “We should be putting those people up on billboards and interviewing them on the news.”

If you’re inspired by Adoption Awareness Month then “there are ways that people can step up and help. It could mean becoming a respite family, someone who can give another foster parentor adoptive parent a date night or a weekend off from fostering”.

“There needs to be an army of people that are just willing and licensed and safe to take in kids to give people the respite that they need. And then there’s other ways: offering to transport kids, mentoring, you know, there’s so many ways that people can help”. You can find out more about the need to mobilize American families to support vulnerable children here.

A Reason to be hopeful?

Is there a reason to be hopeful I asked at the end of our interview. “Absolutely! I would not be doing this without that as the very  beacon we are all running towards. There has not been a more solvable problem that can be achieved in our lifetime. We know mathematically that the numbers are there.  There are over 120,000 kids in this country that have a goal of adoption and we know that the number of willing and interested families is over 200,000.

“Ensuring every child with a goal of adoption knows the warm embrace of a forever family is something that can be achieved.”  Indeed, for those reading with a desire to learn more- Thea is eager to tell you how. For more information go to adoption-share.com

 

Hopeland Advocates for Change During Foster Care Awareness Month

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.

Better Ways Champions, Peter Kamau

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.

Peter Kamau spent his youth in an orphanage – now he is working to end the practice

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 uses his communications skills to spread the message that safe loving families are what children need most

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.

Peter sharing his experience of being raised in an orphanage, and the work he is doing now, at the screening of ‘The Love You Give’

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?

Peter Kamau with Hopeland’s Co-Founder, Deborra-lee Furness. Hopeland will continue to work with Peter and those working to bring an end to orphanages

“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.”

You Can Be Part of the Solution

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.

CEO Nick Evans Speaking at Hopeland’s 2018 Gala

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’s first campaign ‘All Children Count’ has now received support from the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, who has called for $1billion of extra funding to ensure all children are counted. The UN Foundation’s Global Mom’s Challenge also recognized our FAMILY campaign and called on its supporters to get behind our work.

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.

Global Citizen Festival 2018

      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!

How Being Thankful Can Empower Families

Hopeland is proud to announce that in partnership with Thankful 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 posted here!

Take a moment to be #Thankful4 an amazing woman or girl by:

  1. Letting us know about them on social media by posting on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook
  2. Tag the person you’re thankful for as well as @OurHopeland and @Thankfulorg
  3. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #Thankful4Women so we can celebrate them together!
  4. 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.

We hope you will join this incredible campaign!

UN Secretary General Wants to Make Sure All Children are Counted

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.  

– Andrew Stone

Addressing Family Separation

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.

– Nicholas Evans

The Power of Focusing on the One

 

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:

the One.

– Nicholas Evans

Deborra-lee Furness: Disruptor

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.

The World Needs Better Solutions for Children in Orphanages

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.

Finding Better Ways to Tackle Family Separation Globally

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.