The End of the One Child Policy
Today China announced it would be ending its formal one-child policy, which has been in place for decades and is estimated to have prevented over 400 million births. Two years ago, China began to relax the policy, allowing certain couples who met specific criteria to have a second child. The news from the government today however, will allow ALL couples in China to have a second baby if they desire. This is wonderful news for everyone in China who has wished their only child could have a sibling to share life with.
My inbox began filling as soon as the news hit, with people asking me if this would mean big changes for China’s orphanage system as well. Quite honestly, however, I don’t feel it will have much if any impact.
There is still a widely held (and mistaken) belief that orphanages in China are filled with healthy children, given up due to the one-child policy, but as I have explained in several blogs in the past, orphanage populations have shifted completely since I first began working in China over a decade ago. It is extremely rare for a “healthy” child to even enter orphanage care these days, and those that do are quickly adopted domestically.
There are long waiting lists of Chinese families hoping to adopt a healthy child, and many travel often very long distances in search of an orphanage who can make their dream possible. You only have to do a quick internet search to find article after article in Chinese newspapers about healthy babies and children being trafficked to feed the demand of those desperate for a child. China has even set up a new database to help trafficked children be reunited with birthparents, as well as a DNA registration system for kids entering orphanage care. Both are clear signs the government is acknowledging the high demand for healthy kids which has sadly had some terrible consequences. The main takeaway about orphanages which everyone should realize, however, is this: the days of healthy infant girls being abandoned due to the one-child policy and ending up in orphanage care are long over.
The reality of abandonment today in China is that it’s almost entirely children with medical needs who are left in hospitals, on sidewalks, and in front of orphanage gates. Again, a quick news search on this topic will lead you to multiple articles about the rash of abandonments which occurred when China set up “safe houses,” a good intention to make sure kids were kept safe when left by their parents. Many of the drop-off facilities were forced to close within months of their opening, such as this one in Sichuan province, when the local orphanages became overwhelmed with the number of children with medical needs being dropped off.
We have relationships with over 100 orphanages in China, and they all tell us the same story. Almost every child they now take in has medical needs, which brings a very new challenge to providing quality care to each of them.
As the orphan population has shifted, we have shifted our programs as well to keep up. Of course our healing program is often the first contact we have with a new child. Many of the children need emergency medical care right away after abandonment, as some parents keep their kids until they become gravely ill, before panicking and leaving them in desperation. I give thanks every day that we have programs in place to provide top quality hospital care and then a safe place for them to recover in our healing homes.
But our other programs are just as essential with this changing population as well. Many orphanages are filled with children who will never qualify to attend the local public schools due to their special needs. In the last few years, we have seen a strong desire on the part of orphanages to set up in-orphanage schools for the children, so that everyone has at least some chance at an education. Our Believe in Me school program model (run in partnership with local orphanages) has been in place since 2004, and we can’t keep up with the number of orphanages who have asked for help with such a program in their own facilities. We are working on a very exciting new project to get inclusive curriculum into the hands of as many orphanages as possible, because for at least the next decade, this is going to be a critical need for orphanage staff. How do you keep a population of children who have varied and multiple special needs engaged and give every child some opportunity at schooling?
I remain firmly committed to our foster care program as well, even though the recent building of enormous orphanages in China has caused many localities to do away with home-based care. And while it has indeed become harder to find foster families open to caring for kids with often complex needs, I celebrate each and every time we’re able to move a child from institutional care out into the local community. There is still a pervading stigma and fear surrounding so many special needs in China, and so each time we’re able to successfully place a child with special needs (such as cleft or albinism) into a neighborhood or village, the ripple effect on everyone who falls in love with that child can’t even be measured. When I visit our foster care programs and see entire communities embracing kids with cerebral palsy and missing limbs and Down Syndrome, I know that hearts are being impacted in a beautiful and long-lasting way.
I know so many people were overjoyed at the news today that the one-child policy is officially being retired, but I honestly don’t anticipate any change in the often overwhelming needs of Chinese orphanages. Nannies and caregivers face growing challenges as they care for increasingly sick children, many of whom will remain institutionalized long-term. I am very encouraged by all of the steps I see the government taking to fund programs for physical therapy, special education, and healthcare, but of course charities have an important role to play as well, since there are hundreds of thousands of orphaned children needing help.
~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer