U.S. Foster Care for Syrian Children: One Family’s Blessing, Another Family’s Loss 

I am reminded from time to time about how responsive and compassionate the American people can be by reading stories like the one recently published by The Chronicle of Social Change about the opening of the American foster care system to Syrian children.

The heartbreaking stories of parents, family members and children fleeing Syria’s civil and sectarian violence is a call to action for people all over the world. If a family could open their home to a frightened and threatened child, what could be a more appropriate response to this need?

But we must be extremely careful here. The world has faced many such crises since World War I, and organizations like the International Red Cross and others have developed highly effective approaches to help children separated by war, civil conflict and disaster.

These organizations have very strong evidence of effectiveness in reconnecting separated and even orphaned children to surviving parents, siblings and extended family members using family tracing techniques in accordance with Article 26 of the Geneva Convention of 1949 and other international agreements since that time.

If you want to help separated Syrian children, support this work through volunteering or donating to an NGO that provides care, protection and family tracing to separated and displaced children and families.

If you have room in your heart and home to foster or adopt a child, contact your local child welfare agency, or adoptuskids.org to inquire about starting pre-service classes and start the home study process. At the very time of the Syrian crisis, the United States is experiencing surging numbers of children entering America’s child welfare system. Additionally, we have more than 113,000 children available for adoption in the United States today, a doubling of homeless parents with children since 2009 to 1.9 million and untold numbers of abandoned teens on the streets in cities across the United States who are hungry, scared and threatened by exploitation every day.

Americans are blessed with so many gifts. Of course we have a moral responsibility to respond along with the world to this crisis.

But I urge you to put yourself in the shoes of the child. Would you want a family who is a stranger to you or would you first want a chance to be reunited with a safe family member who in all likelihood is beside themselves with worry about the fate of the very child you are considering rescuing?  We have learned over decades in these hard moments that one family’s blessing can be another family’s loss.

Before opening your home to an internationally separated child, be certain that tracing has been completed and that the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children has been complied with.

Our first best effort for these children is immediate care and protection followed by worldwide family tracing efforts. America’s foster care system may in some cases be able to do the first but is in no way equipped for the second.

This would leave Syrian children with only one choice, to become permanently separated from their remaining family members and on a track to be taken in by strangers in a unfamiliar country.  For the majority of these children, especially the older ones, this would ultimately lead to aging out of foster care with little or no support. In truth, a second experience of abandonment.

International Family Tracing works for most displaced and unaccompanied children in reconnecting to family members.  American foster care systems don’t provide this nor do they have the resources or expertise to support these vulnerable children.

To read more about Family Tracing, go to ICRC.org or call your local American Red Cross office and ask about International Tracing and how to help.

To learn more about ethical and legal international adoption, contact Susan Jacobs, Special Advisor for Children’s Issues at the United States Department of State.

Kevin A. Campbell is the co- founder of the National Institute for Permanent Family Connectedness at the Seneca Family of Agencies. 

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