Monday, March 28, 2011

In the Field: Understanding the Extreme Vulnerability of Youth Leaving Orphanages in Cambodia

In their words: Youth describe their transition from orphanage care

IOFA determined last summer that youth still in orphanage care in and around Phnom Penh, Cambodia presented “risk factors” that suggested they would be vulnerable to exploitation, violence, drug use, and other dangerous trajectories upon their exit from care. This March, we returned to Cambodia to find youth and young adults who had already left orphanage care. We aimed to learn about their experiences and begin to understand general trajectories for care leavers, to determine whether they are indeed vulnerable, and if so, what kinds of services might support them.
The following series of blog entries will describe trends we observed among youth who leave care, based on focus groups and individual interviews held with 27 care leavers, aged 14 to 29. Each of the most prominent trends will be detailed in future entries:
Severed family connections
Exploitation and trafficking
Extreme poverty and homelessness
The cycle of dependency
Severe emotional distress
Drug addiction
The impact of institutionalization and options for change

It has been a very busy, emotionally draining trip. We are honored that so many youth were willing to share their experiences with us, and feel confident that as we build awareness about the dangerous outcomes of institutionalizing children, that those working in child welfare may begin to assess their practices and consider ways in which they may protect children and youth from such trajectories.

In the meantime, we are collaborating with youth and partner agencies in Cambodia to design the desperately needed transitional services, and are diligently fund raising to ensure we can implement these emergency services as soon as possible.

Youth who leave orphanage care are forgotten. They have been told by foreign volunteers that they will be doctors if they work hard enough, sponsors from afar don’t know that 72%* of institutionalized children and youth in Cambodia have living parents who were simply too poor to care for them. We promised them better lives, and we have merely delayed and exacerbated their vulnerability.
Please stay tuned and share our future blogs. With your help, we can bring this tragic problem to light – change is feasible, and IOFA is motivated to initiate it.

- Susan Rosas, Program Development Intern

*Worley, Mark. “In Orphanages, Only 28% Are Parentless.” The Cambodia Daily. March 21, 2011.

Direct youth participation in program design

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Improving the Wyden Bill – Proactive Protection of Vulnerable Youth

On March 16, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) reintroduced an important bill that aims to provide resources to combat sex trafficking of minors. The Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking and Victims Support Act (S.596) would provide funding for law enforcement training and for services for victims. The proposed legislation is the 2011 version of a bill that passed both houses of Congress with strong bipartisan support in December 2010, but did not become law because it was not passed in time to reconcile differences in the House and Senate versions before the end of the 111th Congress.

The legislation, if passed, would support and reinforce IOFA’s work in several critical ways. As the actress Mira Sorvino pointed out in a speech that she gave in support of the bill,
it recognizes that minors involved in commercial sexual exploitation are, by definition, victims of trafficking, not criminals.
IOFA has taken a leadership role in the implementation of the Illinois Safe Children Act, which was signed into law in August 2010 and mirrors the proposed federal legislation in removing the criminal status of juvenile prostitution. As part of this effort, IOFA is advocating for the development of a coordinated service referral network that would link service providers and trafficking victims. IOFA also provides training to Illinois law enforcement on how to identify trafficking victims and handle cases of suspected trafficking. The legislation would tackle these issues on a national level by providing grants to fund similar efforts, as well as creating shelters for trafficking victims, at six sites across the country.

Despite these valuable provisions, however, more work is needed to draft policies that address the causes, not just the outcomes, of trafficking. In a statement introducing the bill, Sen. Wyden said of trafficking in the U.S.: “The reason that this crime has reached epidemic proportions is simple: the resources are not in place to help innocent victims escape from trafficking, nor to punish the violent, ruthless pimps who are trafficking them.” This assessment of the problem reflects the bill’s approach to trafficking, which is to focus on issues associated with existing trafficking cases. Service provision is of critical importance for current victims, but it does not prevent the creation of new victims. And while law enforcement training is essential, Wyden framed its primary purpose as enabling officers to work with victims to build strong criminal cases against traffickers. Wyden suggested that doing so would have a deterrent effect on traffickers who, he said, “have figured out that trafficking a person is a lot less risky, and just as profitable, as trafficking drugs.” The bill’s approach to the issue is thus to focus on existing instances of trafficking, rather than directly seeking to protect minors from becoming victims in the first place.

IOFA believes that it is necessary to go a step beyond this, taking a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to the problem of trafficking. We argue that trafficking can be effectively reduced by identifying youth who are vulnerable to exploitation and working to minimize those vulnerabilities. We’re in the midst of researching and writing a report, “The State of the World’s Vulnerable Youth,” that will have much more information on the factors that contribute to vulnerability as well as suggestions on possible policy responses that take a preventative approach to trafficking.

So if you’re interested in learning more about these issues, please check back in and read the report to be released in Summer 2011!

Charlotte Cahill
IOFA Resource Development & Policy Intern

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What do Maria Sharapova, Emmanuel Adebayor, and the Princess of Belgium Have in Common with IOFA's Leadership?

All are highlighted in UNICEF's 2011 State of the World's Children Report online Perspectives feature!

IOFA Co-Founder and President, Alison Boak and Executive Director, Shelby French co-wrote an article entitled Navigating the Road to Adulthood: The Experiences of Parentless Youth. IOFA was honored to be invited by UNICEF to contribute to this project and will be advocating and developing critical support systems for youth leaving or aging out of alternative care over the coming years.

Currently, IOFA ED, Shelby French is in Cambodia meeting with dozens of organizations and young people who are affected by this issue. IOFA is leading two half day summits with potential partners about IOFA's Transitions Initiative and the experiences of youth leaving care in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Additionally, IOFA's Program Development Intern, Susan Rosas will be organizing focus groups with young adults who have already left care to hear their experiences and to determine how we can help future groups of young people going through this treacherous process.

Please visit IOFA Talk for updates from Susan in our "In the Field" series to be posted in the coming weeks. IOFA strongly believes that the issue of youth leaving care is a critical one that needs more attention. We are dedicated to this issue and we welcome your support!