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Opinions of Monday, 29 January 2018

Columnist: Asantewaa Sackey

‘Don’t send food items to orphanages’

I read with great interest the article with the heading above on page 26 of the Daily Graphic published on the 17th of January 2018 by Jeffery Amo-Asare on orphanages. His article touches on the best and most progressive way of caring for children who may have been abandoned or who do not have parents or family, amongst other related issues. This article is also available at

https://www.modernghana.com/news/827504/dont-just-send-food-items-to-orphanages.html

Having gone through the official process of an adoption and now being the adoptive mother of a little girl, I have been exposed to several aspects of the arduous adoption process and the Department that oversees it, which has me agreeing with Jeffery on the crux of his article.

I spent quite a bit of time at the Osu Children’s Home and was amazed to see the amount of food and clothes people donated to the Home every Sunday. Enough to practically fill half a room from floor to ceiling. And I remember wondering to myself if any of these items were able to be converted in cash for other vital resources for the home such as education, sympathetic care givers, health etc. I also thought to myself that not a lot of thought seemed to go into these donations even though the givers gestures were coming from a good place. The majority of people who decided to donate to an orphanage end up going to Osu Children’s home and yet it is questionable as to whether the children there are getting a playful and cognitively stimulating environment and stability in child-caregiver relationships and general care. When I eventually picked up my daughter from the home, she had ringworm, a bacterial rash and a severe nappy rash.

I also visited quite a few orphanages in and around Accra and some of the conditions were absolutely appalling with children being kept as a means of getting monies from donors and benefactors.

What many people also do not seem to realize is that the Department of Social Welfare now known as the Department of Social Development, is totally under resourced and unable to carry out its mandate to:

- Develop and coordinate community-based rehabilitation programme for persons with disabilities

- Promote access to social welfare services for the disadvantaged, vulnerable and excluded groups and individuals

- Facilitate opportunities for NGOs to develop social services in collaboration with the communities

- Carry out DSW statutory functions in the field of Children’s Right promotion and protection

- Secure minimum standards of operation of Day Care centers through registration, training and regular inspection under Children’s Act (560) of 1998.

- Provide homes for the homeless, orphaned and abandoned children, and assisting in finding fit persons and foster parents to care for children whose mothers are seriously ill, hospitalized, in severe state of depression, incarcerated in prisons.

- Create awareness on prevention, and provide care and support to OVC and PLWHA in 138 districts.

- Ensure income security among the disadvantaged, vulnerable and excluded through the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty programme (LEAP).

- Facilitate the adoption of children.

- Promote social, economic and emotional stability in families.

The well-meaning staff do not have the tools and equipment such as transportation, computers, printers etc., to comfortably carry out their day to day responsibilities, how much more implement the above. As Amo-Asare states, strengthening the Department is the first step to making sure that the structures are put in place to review the systems and regulations around Child protection as well as the care for abandoned children and orphans.

Research has shown that children lose one month of physical growth for every three months spent in an orphanage. Each month spent in an orphanage in early life reduces IQ and increases risk of behavioral and psychological problems. Volunteers at orphanages make matters worse when children form bonds with them for short periods, resulting in children end up cauterizing themselves form love and hope. Even Plato (Laws, 927) says: "Orphans should be placed under the care of public guardians…” The first and best option is for children to be re-united with their families. When kinship care is not possible, temporary or permanent fostering is a healthy option and finally should the possibility of a family reunion or fostering be exhausted, a loving adoptive home may be the final option.

What I have also observed is a worrying trend being undertaken by prospective parents who have been put off by the difficult route of adoption, and who opt to go through a much quicker yet informal and maybe illegal route of paying young ladies, who are pregnant and who do not want to keep their baby, for these babies once they are born. The fee can go as high up as GHC24,000 as they also receive a birth certificate in their names on as soon as the child is born. The problems with this option is that the child still has living family and there is no legal backing for this exchange.

Then there is issue of surrogacy in Ghana which has been called unregulated “womb renting” by a myjoyonline article;

https://www.myjoyonline.com/news/2015/January-16th/ghana-connect-unregulated-womb-renting.php

There have been several calls asking for a legislation to be put in place to back the safe practice of surrogacy in Ghana which will also make sure that both the surrogate mother and the family wanting the baby are protected;

http://ghanahealthnest.com/moh-seeks-legislation-surrogacy-ghana-health-segbefia/

These two options are being resorted to by people who want or need to explore alternative options of having children and they are more attractive and more popular because of how slow, insensitive and sometimes corrupt the legal route can be all the way from the Ministry right down to the Birth and Death Register where you cannot get clarity about the procedure and where you will be approached by “contractors” to pay between a GHC150 – GHC250 for a certificate. I believe more people would want to foster or adopt if it were not such a long laborious and often draining and emotional journey.

I recently found out from a friend and on the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection Facebook page that this month there was a 2 day workshop “on the approach for foster care and adoption in Ghana for Directors, Officials of UNICEF, USAID, Anti Human Trafficking Unit of the Ghana Police Service, Registry of Births and Deaths, Department of Social Welfare at the Head Office, Regional Directors and Programme Heads.

The two-day meeting is aimed at acquainting participants with the new direction in service delivery for foster care and adoption, based on The Hague Convention, Children’s Act, 1998 and as amendment Act 937, and the Regulations on Adoption and Foster care. It is also to learn what the new requirements, procedures, roles, responsibilities and relationships are with respect to foster care and adoption service delivery. Speaking at the opening session of the two-day meeting, Hon. Otiko Afisah Djaba was optimistic that the workshop will enable stake parties perform better and responsibly all roles in the delivery of adoption and foster care services devoid of infractions that tarnish the image of the social welfare department”.

I think it would have been useful to the participants if prior to the workshop they had invited a cross section of people who have adopted to give feedback on the bottlenecks and “infractions” that we have been through and that the Minister talks about.

That said, if you want to help an orphan or displaced child, you may think about not just send food and tick a box, think about how you can make a long term impact on a life whether it be supporting an organization like Orphan Aid whose goal is to ensure that orphans and vulnerable children grow up in safe and permanent family settings with appropriate care and protection, supporting the Department of Social Development with tools to help them work on improving the welfare of children or even perhaps temporarily fostering a child.

By: Asantewaa Sackey