Orphanages Better Than Foster Care
Wednesday - September 05, 2007
She impressed me immediately. Bright as a star, articulate, self-assured. She was a 9-year-old with more poise than most adults I know.
“My name is Anastasia. I will be giving you a tour of New Hope Center.” Our small group followed Anastasia, her posture perfect, her English crisp.
Her name wasn’t always Anastasia. At 4, her parents both dead from AIDS, she said to her very ill grandmother, “When you die, I want to live up there,” pointing to a construction site. So, Grandmother and child trudged the rocky road to see Dr. Elizabeth Hynd, founder of New Hope Center for orphaned children in Swaziland, the world’s No. 1 AIDS-infected country. A signed contract ensured this little one a safe and secure future at this Christian center. Two years later grandmother died, but despite her wishes relatives snatched away the 6-year-old girl taking her miles away, where she was physically and sexually abused.
But this clever child ran away, back to grandmother’s mud hut. Though barred by cultural taboo from entering for 90 days following death, desperation trumped culture. Her search found, yes, the signed contract. Dr. Hynd told me she’d never forget the day this tiny girl strode boldly to the front gate of New Hope (www.newhopeswaziland.com ), contract clutched tightly, saying, “I’ve come to live here and I want my name to be Anastasia now.”
Thank God for orphanages. Six thousand children are orphaned monthly in Swaziland because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. WHO predicts 18 million in Sub Saharan Africa will be orphaned by 2010.
But that’s Africa, where social services are slim if any. Orphanages there are the only solution.
And this is America, the most developed nation in the world. And this is Hawaii, where love for our keiki is unquestioned. How could we even consider orphanages for children whose parents are either dead, abusive or unfit?
Back in 1994, after the 1980s explosion of crack-addicted mothers created a unparalled social services crisis, then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, born to a single 16-year-old mother himself, suggested orphanages might be a better solution in some cases than foster care. His political opponents crucified him. The word “orphanage” equated to whippings and gruel and Dickens’ Oliver Twist.
But what about the 12-year-old girl found last January on Oahu, weighing only 50 pounds and suffering brain damage likely from being starved by the same parents who abused her when she was 5? Might she have been better off in a loving, well-run care home?
A Washington, D.C., Report article from Hawaii’s Hope Inc.’s web site says that there are approximately 500 children and teens whose parents are “the state of Hawaii.” They want to be adopted, but meanwhile are bounced from foster home to sometimes inappropriate foster home without stability, security, consistency. Also, since 1999 while child abuse cases across the U.S. have decreased by 8.6 percent, they’ve increased in Hawaii by 40 percent with around 4,000 confirmed cases a year. Statistics show that 80 percent of all prisoners lived in a foster home at some time.
A report commissioned by the Reagan Administration in the late 1980s concluded: “Foster care is intended to protect children from neglect and abuse at the hands of parents and other family members, yet all too often it becomes an equally cruel form of neglect and abuse by the state.”
Then there are the courts.
“Shelley,” 12, had been physically and sexually abused by her father. The courts refused to hear the pleas of many, including former Alabama football great John Croyle, who instead of taking a offer to play with the Dallas Cowboys founded, with his wife, Tee, Big Oak Boys’ Ranch in Gadsden, Ala. Croyle begged the judge to let Shelley come to his ranch, but the judge put her back with her parents, who three months later beat her to death.
In Shelley’s memory, the Croyles started the Girls’ Ranch. Call it what makes you feel good — care home, ranch, group home — but it’s an orphanage, and it works. If an orphan is defined as a child of parents who died, I say parents who starve, beat and neglect their children might as well be dead. John Croyle, big as an oak himself, is a hero for children. His story is found at www.bigoak.org.
I’ve met street children and orphans in Malawi, Kenya and Swaziland. They’re like every child, including children right here. All they want is love, trust, protection and consistency. They didn’t choose parents who were abusive. Is it always best for a child to be returned to them if possible? Or might it be better to put some in a safe group environment to await adoption by parents the child can either approve or reject? Do we ever ask children what they want and really listen with our hearts?
Anastasia will tell you if you ask her.
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