Unicef, Russian adoption, and Guatemala


A friend and fellow adoptive mom posted this Statement by Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director, on the Proposed Russian Adoption Ban to a Guatemalan adoption listserve:

NEW YORK (December 26, 2012) – “While welcoming Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev’s call for the improvement of the child welfare system, UNICEF urges that the current plight of the many Russian children in institutions receives priority attention.

“We ask that the Government of Russia, in its design and development of all efforts to protect children, let the best interests of children – and only their best interests – determine its actions.

“We encourage the government to establish a robust national social protection plan to help strengthen Russian families. Alternatives to the institutionalization of children are essential, including permanent foster care, domestic adoption and inter-country adoption.

“All children deserve an environment that promotes their protection and well-being. Russian children – indeed all children – need to be in protective and loving families or family-like environments.”

Add me to the list of people who read these words: “Alternatives to the institutionalization of children are essential, including permanent foster care, domestic adoption and inter-country adoption,” and said, “Excuse me? I’m confused.”
Where has Unicef been since Guatemala’s intercountry adoption program shut down, five years ago? How has Unicef partnered with Guatemala to advocate for and improve the welfare of the thousands of Guatemalan children in institutionalized care? This includes the approximately 200 children whose adoption cases remain unresolved and whose lives are suspended in limbo, members of the group known as the Guatemala 900. Maybe I’m missing something, but I haven’t read or heard anything about Unicef in Guatemala since intercountry adoption closed in December 2007.
“Alternatives to the institutionalization of children are essential.”
Agreed. But where is the leadership from Unicef?



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5 Responses to “Unicef, Russian adoption, and Guatemala”

  1. Kelly says:

    Hello Jessica…I am a fellow adoption Mom with a beautiful little girl from Guatemala. She is 7, came home at 2 on October 19, 2007. Just two shorts months before adoptions in Guatemala stopped. I am so engrossed in your book…it is like living my life with our adoption of Caylie all over again. Can I ask you at what age you took Olivia back to Guat for the first time? We are debating what a good age is. BTW, in the book you just got your hair cut off after she bleached it blonde! Gave me such a giggle!

  2. Jessica says:

    Hi Kelly: Thanks for writing. So happy your Beautiful Caylie came home in October 2007! Especially because, as we both know, many children and families remain stuck. Every day, we count our blessings.

    Thank you for reading my book. Knowing our story resonates for others feels great. I appreciate your telling me. And yes, my hair. Yikes… ;-)

    Whenever people ask me about visiting Guatemala with children, the first thing I say is that every child is different. You know your child best. What works for our family may not work for other families; what was best for our kids may not be best for every kid.

    That said: Olivia returned the first time when she was around 3, but that was only to pick up her brother, Mateo. Her first big visit was at age 7, which you will read about in Mamalita, if you haven’t gotten there yet.

    Some psychologists recommend visiting before puberty hits, when many identity issues kick in and a child faces the big “Who am I and where do I fit in?” question. Others advise against visiting before age 18, when a child makes his or her own decision about going.

    For us, visiting early made sense. Guatemala now feels like a familiar part of our lives. Our children love going to Guatemala. We visit the country annually; this year, we will visit twice.

    My biggest piece of advice is, If you do go, make it fun. Especially the first trip. Many families join up with Heritage Trips so their kids can spend time and play or hang out with other kids, and experience Guatemala together. (Nancy Hoffman is the expert on this; her website is http://www.guatemalareservations.com.)

    Also: a first trip doesn’t necessarily need to be about connecting with birth or foster family, although it certainly can be that. A first trip is to discover the beauty and complexity of Guatemala–lovely Antigua, glorious Lake Atitlan, the culture and history of your children’s birth country.

    Hope this helps. Good luck with whatever you decide! ~

  3. Lisa says:

    “including permanent foster care, domestic adoption and inter-country adoption” … if you read their literature carefully along with the guidelines they provide countries and authorities they want to exhaust options *in that order*. It did allow for international once all other options were exhausted until they started introducing their “family like setting” phrases for institutions and permanent foster care. If you read it very very carefully they are not just against ICA they are for family reunification, which is honorable, but they are dead set on it to the point of blindness where they would block even domestic adoption for the greater good over time.

  4. Lisa says:

    End all they believe a childs best interests as served with the biological family and either they fix mom and dad or they try to go through aunts and uncles and grandparents to repair the family and keep it together. They believe adoption breaks families apart, harm child, serve best interests of people wanting children instead of best interests of child, and that its impossible to fight corruption therefore they will work towards fixing the family. Again, very noble, and they have points in some of it. But its just the opposite extreme of unrestricted adoptions. Completely open and completely shut are both wrong.

  5. Jessica says:

    Lisa, I share your frustration. Adoption cannot be (or should not be) viewed as “all good” or “all bad.” Each case is unique. Sweeping generalizations serve no one, least of all children, and yet sweeping generalizations now seem the new normal, instead of the exception.

    My theory is that shutting a system down is easier than teasing it apart to fix what’s broken, which is why so many countries choose to shut down systems instead of enforcing the laws already in place that are designed to protect children. In addition, the element of “shame” contributes to a country’s decision to end ICA–no country wants to be seen as “exporting” children because they can’t “take care” of them. The thinking seems to be “if shutting the system leads to children growing up in institutions, so be it.”

    I strongly support keeping biological families intact where possible. Placement with extended family and in-country, domestic adoption are wonderful second and third options. But we live in the real world where such options aren’t always possible, or the best option for a child. Again, frustrating.

    Thank you for reading and commenting.

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