Fabiola came into our care in 2012, when she was three years old. Fabiola has a medical condition, and Child Hope International stepped in to provide care for Fabiola. The whereabouts of her parents was unknown, but it was believed that they had died in the 2010 earthquake.
In Haiti, the government agency for child protective services is underfunded and understaffed. In the fall of 2017, Child Hope increased our social work capacity and began trying to get a more complete picture of child histories, so that each child would know who they were and where they came from. After an extensive search we found Fabiola’s mother, Emerante, was alive! Emerante was overjoyed to hear that her daughter was thriving at Child Hope, and she began visiting frequently. We invited her to attend our family day event. In awe, Emerante watched her healthy and joyful daughter run and play. She kept saying in a soft voice, “Look at her run! She is running!”
We asked Emerante if she was interested in reunification. The answer was yes, but coming from a place of poverty, it was difficult for her to see how she could provide for her daughter. She worried that Fabiola would not be able to attend school because Emerante could not afford tuition, and she feared not being able to take Fabiola to the hospital in an emergency. We assured Emerante that Child Hope International would continue to walk alongside their family and provide support when needed. With her financial fears calmed, Emerante enthusiastically began the reunification process.
For six months our social worker completed assessments and oversaw the reunification process. Fabiola spent an entire week with her family. Emerante and our social worker found a school closer to Emerante’s home where Fabiola could transfer.
Finally, all of the assessments were complete and our social worker recommended Fabiola be reunified with Emerante. As Fabiola held a backpack full of belongings and climbed into the tap tap with her mother, her eyes were red. Saying goodbye to the other children was like saying goodbye to her brothers and sisters. But her eyes held something else, too. We read in them the excitement of a nine year old little girl who was looking forward to a lifetime of love and care that only her mother could give her. It’s moments like these that led Child Hope International to reevaluate how we serve children in Haiti.
With approximately 32,000 children in orphanages, it’s evident that there is an “orphan crisis” in Haiti. But this crisis isn’t what most people assume. The fact is, nearly 80% of the children living in orphanages in Haiti actually have one, and often both parents living nearby. So why are they in an orphanage? Although the reasons are very complex, poverty is the main factor.
At Child Hope International, we believe children should not be separated from their families simply because their parents live in poverty. It is our mission to provide care for vulnerable children and create hope for families in Haiti. For the 23 children living at our Boys & Girls Homes, our vision is to see them establish relationships with their families, and possibly even be received back into their families’ homes.
In 2017 Child Hope launched our Family Hope program. Since then we have been developing the program, learning by doing. The process has included family tracing, supervised visits at our Homes, overnight and extended visits to families, and hours upon hours of assessment. After a child returns to their family’s care, we continue to monitor the situation and make sure the child is healthy and safe. We empower the family to care for their child while providing extra support if necessary.
In the two years since starting this new program, we have hired a full-time social worker and have been working with psychologists. We have been developing forms for each step of the process at an insane rate, because to the best of our knowledge, standard reunification forms do not yet exist in Creole. We have been in constant communication with the Haitian government and while we’ve increased the quantity of our care to include supporting families, we’ve also pushed to increase the quality of the care the children in the Boys & Girls Homes receive. Our philosophy is that institutional care like our Boys & Girls Homes should be the last option for children, but we also want to be the best “last option.”
All of this goes to say that we have received a number of disappointments along the way. This past summer, protests in Port-au-Prince disrupted some of our planned family visits. Six children have suffered the death of a close family member in the last year and a half. Some parents are crippled by hopelessness, and, despite our support, feel that they just can’t care for their children. In the midst of this, we see a light. We know that God “sets the lonely in families,” and we are doing a mighty work by getting involved in the messiness of reconciliation and reunification. And though we are just getting going, the shining moments serve to confirm the power and importance of this work.
*Names changed to protect the privacy of the family
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