News & CommentaryArchive
Feb 24, 2010
Helping Haiti’s Children, Part II
In my post from last week I highlighted the attention given in the press to adoptions of Haitian children in the wake of the January earthquake, and pointed out why adoption for most children in need in the country is not currently an option—and won’t be for at least a year. So what should people do who want to help Haiti’s children?
Address basic needs for children and caregivers
Profiles like the one by Jon Lee Anderson that appeared in the New Yorker and the video blog by the New York Times give a glimpse into the every day reality for survivors on the ground. The injured and uninjured alike struggle to find basics such as water, food and health services. Given that children are particularly vulnerable, the instinct at this time might be to donate to child-centered organizations—orphanages or child protection agencies. Just don’t forget the caregivers. Desperate adults who struggle to find food every day may be more likely to abandon their children to an on-the-ground aid agency in the belief that their kids will be better cared for. Observe how more than 20 of the 33 children detained with the 10 missionaries from Idaho were sent willingly by their parents. Such choices can only increase feelings of fear and trauma and put additional pressure on aid workers.
Send money, not stuff
The Haitian health minister put it politely a few weeks ago when he asked Americans to stop sending shipments of baby formula, as it was encouraging Haitian mothers to stop breast-feeding their babies. The women believed that their trauma was polluting the milk and the babies would be better off with formula—but what happens with the formula runs out? Or they can’t get clean water to mix it with. Even innocuous-seeming contributions can be wrong for the context. Unless you are sure, send money to an organization you trust.
Support reunification efforts
Organizations such as Unicef, Save the Children and others have been actively building child-friendly spaces and shelters and working to find any unaccompanied children still in the streets. These are short term solutions, however. The best case for most of these children is to find surviving parents or relatives and reunite the families. These organizations are creating registries for the purpose so that the children in their care are registered and the adults have a place to go to look for them.
Plan for ongoing psychological support
As relief efforts focus on providing food, clothing and shelter, it might be easy to overlook the ongoing psychological needs, especially of the country’s children. Yet post-traumatic stress can linger for a long time and have negative implications on a child’s physical and cognitive development. The Peter C. Alderman Foundation is working with Partners in Health and the Haitian government to identify a long-term plan for offering psychological services to Haiti’s victims.