It has been nearly six months since the U.S. Government launched the Action Plan on Children in Adversity at the White House.
The Action Plan represents the first-ever whole-of-government strategic guidance for the U.S. Government’s international assistance for children. Some of the critical components are Building Strong Beginnings, Putting Family Care First, Protecting Children from Violence, Abuse and Neglect and Strengthening Child Welfare and Protection Systems. On May 21, 2013, the Senate also held hearings on the topic because very limited evidence exists on how many children currently live outside of family care.
The Joint Council on International Children's Services, a Virginia-based NGO has been working for decades on the pillar of advocating for children in family care - especially for those around the globe who may be growing up on the streets or in orphanages or other institutions. This entails helping kids get placed in foster care or kafalah/adoption situations and providing evidence and research on the damage done to kids living without permanent loving adult guardians to guide and support them. According to President and CEO, Tom DiFilipo, "children who are alone should be placed in appropriate settings.”
In the greater Washington DC area, government agencies identify refugee youth overseas (often living in camps outside of their country of origin) who are eligible for resettlement but who do not have a parent or a relative in the US. Due to their age (under 18), these children are placed into the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors program and receive refugee foster care services and benefits.
One of these benefits is placement in a compatible home with matching ethnicity, language, and religion where possible. The placing agencies are always seeking families to volunteer to help these teens by providing a home as they are receiving schooling (which may have been interrupted in their country of origin or while they were living in a camp) and be involved with their case-specific programs with an aim to helping them achieve eventual independence by their early 20s.
The two leading placement organizations, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, are especially keen to work with the Muslim community in our area since it is likely they could find matches for many of the children enrolled in the program. Specialized training in helping these children adjust to their new life and situation is a part of becoming involved as is a background check. Financial support for participation is provided.
Since 1980, around 13,500 minors have entered the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors program. While down from its peak years when it was first begun, there are about 1500 children in care at any given time from numerous countries needing sponsors to help parent them.
ASMA Society, a New-York based nonprofit whose mission is to elevate the discourse on Islam, recently published a paper available on their website focused entirely on Islam and Adoption. When speaking with them, a discussion ensued about the need for bringing not just more attention but more action to children affected by natural disasters and conflict and our religious obligation to help whether it be through temporary care as in the refugee program or permanent care through kafala to orphaned children in need of homes. The Joint Council on International Children’s Services along with other partners, just successfully helped to reauthorize the Adoption Tax Credit to make this easier for families.