This trip to Haiti was unlike all my others. I always look forward to spending quality time with our young adults. We cook together and share meals together, worship together, do devotionals in the evenings together and church on Sunday mornings. We go to the grocery store, make popcorn and watch a movie or two. On this trip we did all these things. And additionally Beth and I also spent two days at the Family Preservation and Reunification Conference and had the opportunity to share the journey and future vision of YES! After years of traveling into Haiti to love and encourage the teens it was as if a new curtain was pulled open that God revealed what else He has been doing with other organizations in Haiti and how YES! fits into His greater plan.
We have been learning the importance of finding children proper care with family or foster families versus living disconnected from a loving home by living in an orphanage. At this conference I heard first hand, powerful reconfirming truths and statistics directly from people working first hand with at risk children. It is important for me to share these findings with you. As they say, once we know better we can do better. I hope and pray as we become better informed we will realize the direct positive impact we can have on the lives of venerable children.
At this conference we heard from many child and family advocacy NGO’s including two Haiti-headquartered UNICEF employees. Partnered with the Haitian government’s Institute of Social Welfare and Research (IBESR), UNICEF is focused on child protection, deinstitutionalized care, safe placement, and the prevention of child separation from their families. The conference was insightful, showing us first-hand the efforts being made for the betterment of children by the Haitian government.
The IBESR has extremely limited funding and most of its resources come from UNICEF and other not-for-profit organizations. Those doing the work are often without mobile phone service or even gas for their cars to visit the children. They were working without pay for six months before Hurricane Matthew hit but continued to work on behalf of the children during and after the crisis. We heard an example of one worker walking many miles to aid a three-year-old in need because the team only had one car and walking was the only way he could get to her.
Yet, beyond their commitment to helping individual cases, IBESR’s work has greater implications for the Haitian orphanage system as a whole.
According to IBESR, which began evaluating orphanages in 2011, Haiti has 754 orphanages and of those only approximately 60 are meeting safety and welfare standards. In 2014, deinstitutionalization groundwork began. Between 2020 and 2022 approximately 700 orphanages not meeting safety and welfare standards are slated to be shut down.
That means there’s urgency for IBESR, UNICEF, YES! and other like-minded organizations to encourage that orphanages rethink how children exit their institutions. Transitioning to a different model, rather than simply releasing them as young adults, with no resources or life skills, into Haitian society.
Meanwhile, 30% of IBESR’s funding goes toward current institution care, while 70% goes toward reunification. This highlights the importance of keeping children with their families in the first place. Family IS a basic need. Every family has strengths and every community has strengths. And poverty should never be a reason to separate a child from their family.
So, IBESR and other organizations such as YES! knows the best thing to do is keep children with their family or reintegrate them into family.
What can we do now?
There is a long-term vision for change. But kindly know countries like ours play a large part in this. We need to remember what we learned in the US, and why we eliminated orphanages. Supporting orphanages in other countries isn’t somehow what’s best for other people’s children if it wasn’t best for our own.
Unfortunately, many churches, individuals and organizations who give money to orphanages without doing their homework lead to the problems we see today. Foreign nations give $90 million directly to orphanages in Haiti annually, without truly knowing how these children are cared for. Our donations could be used to support organizations working to keep children with their families, supporting existing “approved” orphanages with a thoughtful exit plan for their youth, and supporting many other like-minded groups including YES!
If you or your church support an orphanage or are considering supporting one, please know we have references on this website where you’ll find critical questions you should ask your church leaders or points of contact before making the decision. And information specifically for Haiti. For instance, Haitian orphanages must be registered with IBESR. IBESR forbids giving to orphanages that don’t meet safety and welfare requirements. These regulations are in the process of becoming law but they are already the directives. Actions are subject to legal penalty and are already being enforced.
A hopeful future includes IBESR working in partnership with UNICEF to:
Reinforce positive social norms, like keeping children with family even if it’s not their parents, it can be aunts, uncles, etc. (of course the environment must be safe for the child)
Assist in emotional and educational care
Advocate family care
Monitor foster care
Educate families and donors that poverty is never a reason for child separation
Haiti has a long way to go and UNICEF realizes there’s a gap between policy and application but they are committed to positive change. The system isn’t perfect but UNICEF and many IBESR workers are committed to the cause.
Finally, Haiti is making updates to legislation that will be implemented later this year. The updates reinforce a 1985 law mandating that all children are to attend school and that children should be treated with fair and equal human rights.
We were so encouraged to hear how many like-minded groups are working towards setting families and youth up for success. And what was so surprising is that they are all rising up at the same time. At this conference we clearly saw the opportunity for the YES! young men and women to have a direct impact on younger teens who will be leaving institutionalized care. We see how they can be directly involved in the orphanages exit plans. We see how they can love and encourage young lives and share their personal orphanage experiences with orphanage Directors, church board members and even Government officials to give them insight into to things that worked and didn’t work while they lived under these same roofs. I’m excited to be part of God’s plan for the future of YES! as it unfolds and these young men and women take on greater responsibility to be the game changers their country so desperately needs. Isaiah 43:19 says “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” May we follow His lead and expand His Kingdom.