And it’s a particular privilege for me to welcome here to the State Department three women who have led efforts in Congress on behalf of adoption. Mary Landrieu, senator from Louisiana, has been an absolute stalwart advocate. Senator Amy Klobuchar, as well, has been standing up for children and fighting for children’s welfare, and Representative Karen Bass, who in the House has carried the torch high. These women are real champions for children. And I think every child needs at least one champion, and hopefully that champion is in his or her family or someone who they know, but if not, they have great champions in Mary and Amy and Karen. They’ve led the way in Congress to pass laws that support funding permanent homes for children in the United States and in countries around the world. And they are leaders in the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, of which I was also proud to be a member.
Now, we meet today because we all believe that every child deserves a safe, loving, permanent family of his or her own. That’s a basic human need. So this is an area where we can truly work together – our government, the non-profit sector, faith communities, the development community, state and local leaders, judges, businesses, and so much else.
As Susan said, I’ve worked on behalf of children’s issues for my entire adult life, dating back to my years in law school exploring legal protections for abused children, working for the Children’s Defense Fund to gather data to make the case that children with disabilities deserve to have an education, as the first lady of Arkansas, then the first lady of the United States, working to improve care, the foster care system, the adoption system. And as I was fortunate enough to travel around the world, I went to one of Mother Teresa’s orphanages in India – actually, I went to two, one in Delhi, one in Calcutta – and saw beautiful children reaching out their arms to be lifted up. I visited a state orphanage in Romania where a number of the children were visibly dying because they had contracted pediatric AIDS from blood transfusions, covered in tumors, malnourished, unable to get the care that they deserve to have as human beings.
And we know, not only from our own personal experience, how we feel when we see a child being abused or neglected or in some way denied the rights that children should have, but that is backed up by scientific and sociological studies going back more than 50 years. Consistently, the studies prove that children in residential institutions too often experience developmental delays, attachment disorders that obviously impact their ability to mature and their success later in life. One recent study showed that, on average, children reared in orphanages had IQs 20 points lower than those raised in foster care.
Now, over the past several years, many countries have taken steps to get children out of orphanages, off the streets, into kinship and community care situations. But UNICEF still estimates that there are at least 2 million children in orphanages around the world, and that is likely a vast underassessment. So there’s clearly more work for us to do.
What you’re doing today with The Way Forward Project is bringing policymakers, investors, and implementers together. And we are so proud to be partnering with Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, and Uganda, and we applaud the leadership of those countries for putting your children first. We’re seeking ways to improve the full continuum of care for vulnerable children. For example, in Ethiopia, USAID is helping return 400 children from institutions to family care or foster care. We’re working with the Ethiopian Government to improve the oversight of all children in care. And the ideas discussed today, we hope, will turn these good ideas into policies. And I’m pleased that next month, USAID’s Secretariat for Orphans and Vulnerable Children will follow up on this event by hosting the first-ever Evidence Summit on Children Outside of Family Care.
Let’s improve coordination between different government programs. Let’s try to provide more support to families to be able to take in children who need kinship care. When separation is unavoidable, let’s promote early childhood development with local adoption foster care and, when desirable, inter-country adoption.
So let’s work together on this, because for me, there’s no higher priority. The work that I do every day as Secretary to try to make the world a more peaceful, stable, free place is really aimed at helping the next generation realize their God-given potential, and this is a big part of that.
So thank you for being here. I look forward to hearing the results of your work. And now, it’s my great pleasure to invite one of the co-chairs of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption here to the podium, Senator Mary Landrieu. (Applause.)