Season 1, Episode 5: Sebilu Bodja, MPA & Kristi Gleason, LMSW, outline Ethiopia’s transition from being a sending country for international adoptions toward developing and prioritizing domestic foster care and adoption programs. They highlight ways that Bethany Christian Services has worked in partnership with the Ethiopian government and local communities to establish policies promoting family-based care, expand the social work workforce, and move towards deinstitutionalization of children previously cared for in orphanages. They identify ways that, historically, funding from NGOs, churches, and individuals may have inadvertently led to proliferation of institutional care and provide suggestions for ways to direct funds and volunteer efforts to promote family-based care for vulnerable children globally.
Listen Now (transcript below)
For more background
Dr. Emily Helder: [00:00:55] So hello, I’m Dr. Emily Helder and I’m here with Sebilu Bodja and Kristi Gleason. Sebilu, you are the director of Africa programs at Bethany Christian [Services], and, Kristi you’re the VP of Global Services at Bethany Christian.
So, you are also both the coauthors of a chapter in the Rutledge Handbook of Adoption on the development of the domestic adoption system in Ethiopia, and the roles that, that you’ve played in that, and Bethany has played in that. So yeah, why don’t we start and, Sebilu , you can start, will you tell us a bit about your current role, and the components of your current role and kind of what drew you to that role?
Sebilu Bodja: [00:01:39] I have been with Bethany for the last 10 years now. The first five years were, primarily my involvement with the Ethiopia program. I was the country director. So I was, heavily involved in, developing programs for the Ethiopia office, pretty much what we do in the rest of Africa, and I guess around the world.
But, then the last five years I’ve been, working more closely with all of our Africa programs. So, in which where we have offices in countries such as Ghana, and Ethiopia, but also where we work through partners in countries such as South Africa, Uganda and Zambia. So my role is to help our country offices and partners in program design, implementation, and some organizational issues when it comes to supervision and ensuring commitment to best practices when it comes to implementation of programs. I also work closely with our country directors and, and helping them with growth and management of existing programs.
Dr. Emily Helder: [00:03:01] Great. Thank you so much. And Kristi, can you go?
Kristi Gleason: [00:03:04] Sure. So as VP of global programs, I see all of the programs and all the service lines we have around the world. So besides intercountry adoption and domestic adoption that we’ll be talking about more today, we also have programs that serve to keep families together, so family preservation and strengthening. We have, humanitarian response and in Ethiopia, we are working in some of the refugee camps in Southwest Ethiopia, and so we also have some refugee services that we do. So I’ve also been with Bethany for almost 10 years and so was really excited to come on board and join the team. I really liked the, the mix of both the domestic US work, but then also the ability to help build and support programs around the world.
Dr. Emily Helder: [00:03:49] Yeah, it’s so great. I think the programs that you have for Bethany, both in a number of countries in Africa and around the world are really unique and exciting. Yeah. That’s why we were kind of excited to have you guys write the chapter. So, the chapter really outlines a lot of the movement, toward this development of the domestic adoption system in Ethiopia, that you’ve been a part of, and making it a more formalized, you know, process based on best practices. So, Sebilu, will you give us a bit of a outline about what are the current options available for kids in Ethiopia in particular that aren’t able to be cared for within their biological family?
Sebilu Bodja: [00:04:34] Yeah. So Ethiopia is, is a signatory to the convention on the right of the child and the other conventions in international instruments for best practices when it comes to alternative care.
So I would say our policies to a large extent align with what is globally accepted as best practice. So in Ethiopia, the major, the overarching policy instrument is what we call the alternative care guideline. I would say something that is to a large extent adopted from the UN guidelines on alternative care.
So it, gives priority to, local options, here in Ethiopia, we call them, “community based options”. And more specifically, I would say “kinship care” is kind of the first priority, where kids are, encouraged to be with extended family. But in a more and more in an informal way.
Yeah, not going through the court process or any formal placement where there is also accountability on the caretaker, but, something that is widely practiced, I guess, across the developing world. So that’s the first care option and next is foster care. and foster care as it is conventionally understood to be a temporary form of care here in Ethiopia, but it takes different variants.
And we, Bethany Christian Services are, I would say the, the, the ones that introduced formal foster care. Although there were kind of attempts to do that in a more informal way alongside kinship care. But government also promotes foster care and then comes domestic adoption, along with international adoption. There was lack of clarity which takes kind of the first precedent, but for some reason, when we had been practicing international adoption, international adoption was widely preferred, than domestic adoption.
So that has been the case until international adoption was banned in 2005. It is the it’s the institutional care, which is basically a care of children in orphanage. And that has been clearly discouraged and is considered a measure of last resort. But, you know, I think I would say we don’t see what’s on paper on, on, on, in practice.
So it looks really good on paper and I think it kind of provides the, the thinking and the intent of the government and what needs to be happening when, you know, to, to serve the best interest of children, but in practice, we don’t necessarily see the implementation of those services along these priorities.
So in the past, in that it has, it has been highlighted in the article, international adoption and institutional care were, I would say the widely used service lines and the other domestic services, we’re kind of lagging behind.
Dr. Emily Helder: [00:08:18] And this seems to be kind of what you’re targeting in your work is to really make that shift, make the, make the, paper what’s on paper, you know, an actual reality.
Sebilu Bodja: [00:08:32] Exactly.
And, and so the Ethiopian government was to a large extent, promoting that, but not necessarily having the means, the expertise and the tools to do that. And Bethany’s actually what that, that’s the gap we saw, and we tried to work, provide help to the government and other likeminded organizations who were really seeking to see that happen.
Dr. Emily Helder: [00:09:00] Yeah, that’s great. Kristi, so, on the US side of things, a lot of us agencies have either, reduce the size of, or eliminated their international adoption program. So, from the U S side, I’d love to hear your thoughts on, on the kind of things that are leading to those that change in the system here in the U S.
Kristi Gleason: [00:09:28] Yeah, there’s been a huge decline in the number of inter-country adoptions, I think everyone’s probably aware of that. I, I think that Bethany Christian services has maybe a little bit of a different perspective on why that is: so I hear a lot that, Inter-country adoption numbers are down because there’s just not the number of children available.
I don’t think that that’s true. There’s still thousands and thousands and thousands of children around the world that are available for inter-country adoption that are cleared, but these children are different than they were. 10 15, 20 years ago. Right? So these are older children, children with significant special placement needs children, with significant medical needs, children that are quite a bit more difficult to find the family for.
And so those children are still available. They’re still there. Most of them are still in orphanage care, institutional care. And so, that, that, that change in the population of children that arecavailable for inter-country adoption, doesn’t really meet what Americans are looking to adopt, in general. There are lots of wonderful families that are looking to adopt older children and children with special placement needs.
So I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen. But really Americans are still looking to adopt very young children, as healthy as possible. And so there’s that mismatch, right? And so the numbers have really, really plummeted. Bethany sort of had this aha moment maybe probably 10 years ago.
As we started to see the numbers decline, I think part of it is because of the rule that Ethiopia, the government of Ethiopia had instituted, where adoption agencies had, if they were going to have a license to do intercountry adoption in Ethiopia, they also needed to invest in doing some social services work in country in Ethiopia.
So as we had that opportunity to do more, Bethany saw this gap. That Sebilu was just talking about of children that are outside of family care, not going to be placed through in inter-country adoption. And so really looking to find alternative community-based options for them in Ethiopia.
And so we’ve just kind of started building towards that, building towards that. And then a couple of years ago, well, probably more like four or five years ago. Now, the tipping point kind of pushed us over the edge to really wanting to focus on the domestic options for children. One – it’s also, in very much in alignment with the Hague Convention where those local options are the first and the priority.
And, so we, we started seeing this ability to place children in Ethiopia, in Ethiopian families. And we started thinking, why, wouldn’t we do that? That makes the most sense. It’s in-line with national standards, it’s better for children. And so really sort of have been shifting. And then now with the closure of inter-country adoption in Ethiopia a couple of years ago, it all, it all very much kind of came together.
That that would be our priority and our focus.
Dr. Emily Helder: [00:12:25] Yeah.
Thank you. Thank you. So I want to go back to you, Sebilu. So one of the things I thought was really interesting as I was, you know, editing the chapter, working on it with you was the section that you wrote about, informal adoption practices that were happening in Ethiopia for quite some time.
And, and that, yeah, that, that formed the framework around which you could build some of the more formal legal options. I’d love to hear from you a bit about how you thought through using that preexisting framework to make a kind of culturally sensitive adoption process there.
Sebilu Bodja: [00:13:07] Yeah. So as much as I liked you know culture to be, the importance of being culturally sensitive. I also see that not everything that we find in culture is necessarily useful and serves the best interests of the child. So Bethany has been very aware of that, right from the beginning, when we began, we were fortunate enough to have, have a local word for adoption.
Not all cultures have that, as a preexisting practice. So, we had a word for that. We didn’t have a word for foster care but we had a word for adoption. And with that word comes, you know, all the, the cultural practices and values and norms attached. So we really try to tap into that, where we think it aligns with best practices, but also kind of try to be very careful about how we use cultural practices in promoting family-based care that meets standards of practice. So we, we took in both ways. So in situations where it allows us to have, you know, helps us with the welfare of the child or protects the child’s welfare better then we kind of reinforce it that through even more scientific evidences and kind of reaffirm to the community that this is a good practice to build on.
but in other situations where we found that the practices don’t necessarily serve the best interests of the child, we were also open to kind of not really highly criticizing, but just, create the awareness to the community to make sure that they are aware that those practices don’t necessarily help the child.
So with Gudifecha which is the local, term we use here in Ethiopia, in some communities, there are practices, you know, there are different variances of Gudifecha. And in some cultures, they, families that have more children would give one of their children to a family that can’t have a child, and as much as this is a good gesture, and you know, kind of maybe helps, you know, the community to build that sense of, you know, solidarity with this family that couldn’t have a child, but that’s not necessarily good for the child. That’s basically like it was being handed over to another family. And so we, kind of tried to discourage that, and by teaching them about, you know, what it means for their child to be raised by biological parents and, how that’s the best interest of the child should be, our primary concern and based on which we make every decision about the child. So that has been kind of, that will continue to be an ongoing work, but in the same community, there is also a very elaborate culture of officiating and the placement of the child into this new family.
So we do have our standard formal placement ceremonies but in those cultures, we try, we tend to use that cultural placement ceremony because it introduces the child to the entire community, not just to that family, new family, but to the whole community. And that, from that moment on the entire community would regard that child, as their own and belonging to this new family, so that that’s good for their child and good for the community. And we have had problems with some parents having difficulties, even sharing, you know, that the child has been adopted because, you know, because of sensitivities around, the reaction from extended family members or the larger community, but being part of such ceremonies, kind of you know, solves that problem, and so we’ve been promoting that. So it kind of requires you to be very careful about which, you know, service, which cultural practices to use and not to use, but then we’ve been very careful and selective about that.
Dr. Emily Helder: [00:17:50] Yeah, I would think that being, having so many staff that are in Ethiopia, you know, lived there all their lives, that your ability then to be able to see that culture and know the best practices and be able to weave those two things together really results in the best outcomes for kids.
Sebilu Bodja: [00:18:13] Yeah.
Dr. Emily Helder: [00:18:15] Another thing that’s in the chapter is a discussion of some of the, laws and policies that have been in place. And we’ve talked about these a little bit already so far. One thing I was curious about was, you know, how you’ve seen some of those written policies, impact on the ground, direct practice changes that you’ve made. You know, I’m just curious how much of the policies were already in place? And you’re just, you know, you’re working to make the direct practice kind of aligned with the policies or are there policy or law changes that you think still need to be made, in Ethiopia to try to align with the direct practice that you’re aiming for?
Sebilu Bodja: [00:19:07] That’s a very good question. So, if specifically speaking about Ethiopia, we, I would say our policies kind of lag behind practice. And that’s what we discovered at least from, from what we’ve been trying to do in Ethiopia for many years now. We have the, kind of the generic framework for family-based care, as I described earlier. But not necessarily the details when it comes to, you know, standards of practice and regulation across different regions, and especially in Ethiopia where we have a federal kind of government arrangement where each region or state have their own autonomy in terms of making policies, it’s been kind of very irregular and inconsistent, around the country. So with our practice and we’re currently active in three regions, we’re trying to create that base for best practice, for which then policy makers can say, okay, what is lacking in our policies? What are the gaps? And we’ve been feeding into that. So that’s the situation in Ethiopia, but if you look at other African countries, for instance, Ghana, I think they’re kind of way ahead in terms of having clear policies and laws and guidelines, but kind of lagging in the, on the practice side.
Or Zambia, that would be another example for that. But South Africa, is where you see kind of that balance between good policies and kind of, you know, a long tradition of formal family based care practices. Although there is kind of inequality between the different, people groups in South Africa for reasons that we all know.
So that is kind of my assessment, but now with our program, especially now. We are currently implementing a USAID funded project where we are trying to address that. So after having identified the gaps in policy and the laws we have kind of working upwards now, helping policy makers address those gaps.
We have an active project currently that is, that has brought together almost 15 major child welfare organizations, such as UNICEF, Save the Children, Plan International, where we are working closely with the government of Ethiopia, to put in place a directive for alternative care, we have the guidelines, but guidelines are guidelines, kind of, they’re not enforceable.
They’re not legally binding. So we are kind of, we will building a directive now and in a team of five subgroups are currently working on that directive, which we hope will be completed towards the end of the year, and that will provide what we have identified as gaps that would provide provisions for standardization of services, and provide the, the different government officials in the regions with the tools they need to properly regulate, services across the country.
Dr. Emily Helder: [00:22:45] That sounds like a really exciting initiative. I’m looking forward to following the outcome of that.
Sebilu Bodja: [00:22:51] Yeah,
Dr. Emily Helder: [00:22:52] No, that’s great.
So, another thing that I wanted to ask you about, and there was a really, maybe I’ll even read the quote that I was thinking about, but one of the things that your chapter highlights is sometimes, a lack of alignment between an intent and then the actual impact of that. Yeah, and if you don’t mind, I’ll just read one section that I thought was particularly good.
So, it’s “the government required NGOs to run programs, to help orphaned and vulnerable children in Ethiopia, if they wanted to facilitate inter-country adoption, the revenue generated through inter-country adoption fees funded new orphanages which then were filled with children who many times had one or two living parents. While the intentions were good, it also ensured that inter-country adoption and institutionalization of Ethiopian children would remain the first option for children rather than the last resort.” and I think there’s a at least, I just saw a recent article in Lancet that talked about this at a more global scale, this idea that, That’s some of the intent to support and help children, the end impact is more institutionalization. So yeah, when you see, when you think about that idea, what do you see as some of the responsibilities of the NGOs of people who volunteer, donate, et cetera. especially when that funding is based outside of Ethiopia, you know, what do you see as the responsibility of those groups individuals to stop the proliferation of institutions?
Sebilu Bodja: [00:24:38] Yeah. I can speak from the field side. Maybe Kristi, you want to start with what is going on the US side, and I think you had a very good article last year on it.
Kristi Gleason: [00:24:50] Sure. I think that quote really targets, one of the unintended consequences of the extraordinary growth of inter-country adoption, not just in Ethiopia, but around the world.
It really has created a change in the way children are cared for in the continent of Africa, also all over Asia, which have had these longterm effects of large numbers of children being institutionalized. We know from research that, you know, in a lot of the countries that, we’re working in 80-90% of children living in orphanages today have one or two living parents.
There’s the children living in orphanages aren’t orphans. So one of the things that I like to say is that when we talk about all the time, we talk about, how there’s, there’s an orphan crisis worldwide, and we have to get involved and we have to, and I don’t think it’s an orphan crisis. It’s an orphanage crisis, right?
Like there’s too many orphanages. And I think that inter-country adoption helps serve that. Helped put more fuel on the fire. I don’t think it’s the only reason why the explosion of orphanages have happened. It is part of it, but I do think that we do have a responsibility. We also know from research that a large number of the orphanages still being built today are being built and funded by the U S church.
And so the church groups, I think that also need to take responsibility to take a look and take a step back and say, “Hey, do we want these children growing up outside of their family based care? No, we don’t.” Why? Because we know from research, it’s not in their best interest, children that grow up in institutions don’t have the same outcomes and successes in life that, that children do that are raised in families.
And so I think we need to really say, “enough is enough.” Right? Like I think, over the years as, as the evidence has been growing and building, we’ve been kind of a little bit gentle about it. Like, “Oh, we didn’t realize this, Oh, these numbers are growing.” So I think that, that the Western church really needs to say, we’re going to stop doing this.
NGOs as well, right? Like NGOs also need to say, okay, enough is enough, right? The USAID, the U S government will not fund orphanages around the world. They stopped doing that years ago. And so I think we need to draw a line in the sand. It’s time. I think also in order for that to work, we’re going to need to partner with governments around the world.
Right? So there’s the, the funding coming in from churches and people with very good intentions, right. That very much want to help children that are orphans and vulnerable. Right? Like I’m not saying that they’re bad. I’m saying that, that they have really good intentions, but it’s being misdirected.
But I think the other piece that’s missing is government. And we’re seeing this now starting around the world. Rwanda has done it. Cambodia has done it. Ethiopia is doing it. For governments to say enough, we are not going to prioritize institutional care for the children in our country. We are going to prioritize community-based care, family-based care.
That’d be that balance, right? It’s got, we, we have to, as, as external NGOs and entities have to go in with a posture of partnership, right, instead of saying, “this is the way we’re going to do it, this is the best. This is the best way.” No, let’s partner with government let’s partner with local NGOs and populations on the ground with the experts that really know what’s possible in each country and say, how can we do this better?
How can, how can we make a change and start to change that trajectory of the numbers of children still going into orphanages today?
Sebilu Bodja: [00:28:32] Yeah. And I think, especially when you look at it attached to international adoption, what I have seen on the field and especially in communities where a large number of, children have left, the country, to be with a new family, people have started to see inter-country adoption kind of as a form of social insurance. So there were really misconceptions around what, why those children are in the first place eligible for for adoption. Some parents were given the wrong information that their children would return after they turned 18 and that they would help them.
And they’re just there temporarily. And even the, the care in orphanges were kind of a little bit superior to the direct care that children received in there, with, you know, when they are with their biological children, which meant that. You know, it was kind of a push factor for the families.
“I want a better life for my child. You know, if I can see my child in the nearby orphanage, why not, you know, if they can pay for his medical needs and education needs, you know, I can often go and visit him or her.” And those were kind of the, the misconceptions around that, not having the longterm impact of institutionalization and, so with the funding with came, the proliferation of orphanages and with the defunding came, I would say the more proliferation of family based care. So you can see there’s kind of really a direct correlation. And so where the money goes really matters. So I echo what Kristi just said about funders and donors and churches being, you know, very thoughtful about where the money goes.
Dr. Emily Helder: [00:30:38] Yeah, I think that’s such a helpful call because I don’t necessarily think that, 15 years ago say people realized this in the US as much. So, yeah, good. So, building on that a bit, you know, we talked about kids who are older, kids who have disabilities being maybe some of the harder kids to place.
And so I’d love to hear, you know, within Ethiopia, as you’re moving towards this deinstitutionalization, what are some options for those kids in particular?
Sebilu Bodja: [00:31:16] Yeah, sure. What we’ve been trying to do was really try to build this program kind of from moving from the simple to the complex. So children, with specific needs that you’ve just mentioned, are the kind of the, the group that we haven’t been able to address, in the past, because most of our families, the families that we recruit, are open for children with, you know, much younger and healthier, and as I have seen that trend with international adoption, when the options for healthier and younger children were kind of narrowing. Then people started to be open for children that are currently available, for for adoption. So I would expect the same things to happen on the domestic adoption side, but it requires more intention and effort from agencies like us, including government to raise awareness about, the needs of these children. So what we’re currently targeting is, you know, what is kind of the next challenge, you know, not really like a very huge, complex challenge that we are not able to meet, but something that is within our capacity to meet. So we are kind of considering, children that are living with HIV and AIDS virus.
So, because we’ve seen some willingness because of what has happened with our awareness raising, when it comes to HIV positive children, some families are open. We have had two adoptions so far with that group. So we want to build on that. We are also currently considering children with minor medical needs, and those would also be, something that some parents are willing to consider, especially parents that have adopted before and have, you know, they know the challenge of, you know, going through both the process in raising an adopted child so that we’re working with those families and trying to also tie it with a new variant of foster care, temporary foster care that we’re trying to build.
So if we can, as families who are open to temporarily care for, such a group of children and kind of build that relationship and kind of commit longterm to them, then we can slowly move them as we have done with the foster to adopt program. So, it’s, really a challenge, not just Ethiopian, but the rest of Africa that I have been to, but I think something that is possible, but that will take time too .
Kristi Gleason: [00:34:24] Oh, if I can just quick add to that, I’m glad that that Sebilu brought up trends. It’s been really, really interesting watching Ethiopia develop their domestic adoption program, because I’m seeing a lot of the same trends that the US struggled with the inter-country adoption, play out in, in a domestic situation, so well, but we’re able to learn from the mistakes that we’ve made and the lessons learned. And so like the importance of post-placement and post-adoption support for families, the importance of training families on how to talk to your child about being adopted and the importance of doing that very, very early on and not waiting, you know, until they’re 18 or some number so those, those lessons that we’ve learned through inter-country adoption, it’s been nice to sort of be able to through our program, kind of start to head that off a little bit, but we are seeing this again, this trend of the children that are harder to have, it’s harder to be able to care for them.
They tend to be the last children in orphanages as we deinstitutionalize. Right. And so, as we work to, I love how Sebilu put work from the simple to the complex. So as we build on the lessons learned, and we build on this community, that’s more aware of adoption through the adoptions we’ve already done in Ethiopia, really to build, we’re looking to build on those strengths.
So we’re looking right now, to help implement different, training modules. So if you’re gonna, if you’re gonna look to place children with, with disabilities or significant medical needs, you need to recruit differently. You need to train your potential foster families and adoptive families differently, and you need to support them differently.
And so right now on the US side, both Bethany, within the expertise we have just domestically, I’m looking at treatment foster care models of treatment, foster care, looking at the work that we did, towards the end of, especially in Ethiopia where the end of the inter-country adoption process where the vast, vast majority of the children that Bethany was placing through inter-country adoption from Ethiopia were children that were older and had significant needs. And so how did we, we were really looking right now at how did we recruit those families? Like what worked, what didn’t work, and then taking that knowledge, and then we’ll, we’ll launch that, in the, in the domestic arena in Ethiopia, hopefully coming soon. Also the good news that I’m seeing too is another trend of we, Bethany is not the only agency looking at how to place children with disabilities into, into local foster care.
And so we’re having conversations with other organizations and looking at building shared training modules, shared resources so that we’re not starting from scratch. We’re not reinventing the wheel and we’re, and we’re using the expertise of other organizations as well. So that’s been an exciting movement forward, I think, in placing children out of orphanages into families is that we’re not the, Bethany’s not the only one doing this and that. I think that’s the only way that we’re going to get it done, right, is that, we all have to work together to do this.
Dr. Emily Helder: [00:37:26] And it seems too that the partnerships that you’re able to develop and the work across different countries who’ve experienced similar kinds of trends is really, like you said, valuable.
You don’t have to start from scratch, you don’t have to make the same mistakes necessarily if those partnerships are there.
Kristi Gleason: [00:37:45] Yeah.
I really think it’s one of the, my aha moments in the last couple of years of working in the deinstitutionalization field is that, we can’t do it alone. We have to collaborate.
We have to collaborate with other organizations. We have to collaborate with other governments. We have to collaborate with the local church, with the US church. We’re not going to be able to solve this problem if we try to, if everybody tries to do it on their own. And so the more collaboration and the more partnerships, the better.
Dr. Emily Helder: [00:38:14] Sitting from your, both of your vantage points, I wanted to kind of wrap up hearing from you both about, you know, if there’s individuals, if there’s churches, if there’s other groups that are very committed to supporting vulnerable children globally, if we’ve already said, you know, “Hey, be thoughtful. you know, maybe think about avoiding that donation for new orphanages”, where would you have them direct their time, their energy, their resources, you know, from your vantage points, where, where should they direct those resources? .
Sebilu Bodja: [00:38:51] Yes. So I also want to really mention that, you know, we’ve, kind of with the traction that we’ve been able to build in the momentum that we have.
I think we are working towards addressing critical gaps within the system, which I also referred to earlier. You know, helping the government have clear policies and directives, and also helping government have, building social workforce, which is lacking in Ethiopia and ensuring that we, those social workers have the skills and the tools they need as they regulate and supervise, services and also help organizations like us implement. So I would say it has to be seen both from the macro and the micro, standpoint.
So supporters can really help, you know, in, I I’ve seen the US side of kind of, you know, services where it’s matured over the years and there is, you know, very strong workforce, but that’s not the case in many, many African countries. So, that the support that can go towards helping the government and organizations like us build the capacity of the government and the social workforces is huge.
And it’s really transformative. It’s, we’ve seen that firsthand in Ethiopia where, because of what we’ve done in the past, now there is this broader awareness in the community, the government, and, and even a clear prioritization of family-based care, and also very strong political will, from the government.
So I think we, anything that can reinforce that is, is really helpful and helps the children, not currently in need, but also future children that will be in similar needs. Speaking of really specific programs that can benefit from, people’s support. I would say our first priorities need to be towards strengthening, biological parents or families of origin.
We want to make sure kids are raised within their family of origin and, and we need to do as much as possible to make that happen. And we have really had a good success with that. And that’s basically preventing the crisis from happening, you know, domestic adoption or foster care is kind of a response to a crisis, but if we can prevent that crisis from happening, you know, it is in many ways, you know, reduces the amount of time, effort and energy we put into addressing the crisis after it has happened.
So, we have seen a renewed focus from other organizations towards that, you know, for organizations that used to help orphanages or, even, you know, including government that I would say without even referring to its own policies was unintentionally promoting institutional care. There’s now that awareness on which we can really build off of.
And so, I would say it’s, let’s help families. Let’s keep our families together. Let’s keep children in their families of origin.
Dr. Emily Helder: [00:42:29] Yeah. That family preservation work is so valuable. Kristi, anything you would add?
Kristi Gleason: [00:42:35] I think he nailed it. I think focusing on prevention is key, I think.
Being really intentional about where your money goes, doing the research. I’ve recommended people, like, if you’re thinking about donating to an organization, call them up, right. See who you can talk to learn more about the programs. I love talking to people who are interested in what we’re doing, in order to help them see the impact that we’re providing.
So, see if they’re open to that, right, see if someone will talk to you and if they don’t then think about maybe finding an organization that you can get involved with in a different way than donating to, and, or visiting an orphanage. So be really intentional. and I think my, the last point that I would like to make is, just really thinking about how long this process takes.
Right? We’ve been working on this, this project, this particular, idea of getting children into families and keeping them in their families. In Ethiopia its been about, I want to say 12 years or so, 13, 14 years. So it’s not a quick, there is no quick fix. Right? And so, what I would like to say to donors or potential donors is to be patient, right?
This is a paradigm shift, right? This is a different way of thinking about things. and so to, to pick a great organization to support, but then also be patient in that it’s not going to be, it’s not going to change overnight, and so just realizing that being a part of like, as supporting a project like this, you’re a part of the change, but it’s, it’s not always a very super fast process.
Dr. Emily Helder: [00:44:12] Thank you both so much both for the chapter. It fits so well within the greater handbook, and I think provides such a important perspective about, how you can kind of weave together the, on-the-ground direct work with the policy-advocacy kind-of macro-level work. So, yeah, thank you both for writing the chapter and being willing to talk about it here.