Weaving a social fabric strong enough to prevent poverty from separating children from their parents
Message from the Director General for the International Day of Families, 15 May 2010
On January 12th, in the first minutes following the earthquake in Haiti, parents raced to look for their children in schools, in orphanages, at neighbors’ homes, hoping to find them alive. At the orphanages, most mothers stayed for many days and nights, helping out, unwilling to leave their children, caring for them. So many parents had already lost one or more children, children they had dreamed of putting all the way through school, children they had hoped to see one day become adults freed from poverty.
Around the world, so many mothers and fathers like those in Haiti are not resigned to their situation and try to maintain bonds with their children, whatever it takes. How many of them have ended up entrusting their children to centers, orphanages or foster families in order to protect them from lives that are too harsh, too marked by deprivation?
Parents weighed down with too much misfortune face a terrible choice: should they offer their child a chance at a future by entrusting them to others? Or should they raise their own child despite the burning guilt of thinking, "We have nothing to offer her. What will she say in a few years?"
Faced with this choice, the parents who entrust their children to others hope that it will be just for a while, until things get better. They ask, "Will I be allowed to visit him soon?" But the answer is, "No, not for a while. He can visit you when he’s 18 or 20." And when the parents start to see light at the end of the tunnel and return to see their children, the children are gone. How many among these children are raised to be able to return one day to their birth family? How many are raised to maintain a meaningful bond with their birth families?
So many parents, already alone in the face of everything they lack, feel powerless when faced with certain international lobbies who call for adoptions with fewer administrative procedures, saying, "This is a crisis, we must save the children." As UNICEF emphasized in speaking about Haiti, these lobbies ignore the challenges faced by uprooted children. Instead, in every part of the world and for many years now, not only during catastrophes but year in and year out, what we hear is, "You can’t do anything with those parents. Let’s at least save the children."
In Europe, families who are smothered by impossible living conditions reacted strongly when they heard that adoptions of Haitian children were being accelerated. One mother asked, "Why will these children be better off far from home? Here too, we lose custody of our children. Why? Are they always better off without us?" Many fathers and mothers have themselves suffered from being separated from their parents years ago because of poverty. They want to encourage Haitian parents to prevent the destruction of their families.
In New Orleans, the floods of Hurricane Katrina caused the separation of many families living in poverty from their teenage children. The parents of these young people say today to Haitian families:
"It might seem that you can’t make it but you can. We have faith in Haiti. All of you are going to be heard. We would like the poor people to be heard as equals. People shouldn’t assume what they might need. Each family and each person should be heard… so you won’t keep struggling like us. Because here in New Orleans four and half years after Katrina, we’re still struggling."
Making a commitment to end poverty, in Haiti and in the world, means striving to preserve the crucial bond between parents and children and to ensure that the importance of these bonds be recognized. By protecting families as “the natural and fundamental”  unit of society, we contribute to weave a social fabric made up of our cultures, our beliefs and our policies, a fabric so strong that it will no longer be torn by natural disasters nor by human catastrophes in times to come.
See How Poverty Separates Parents and Children, by ATD Fourth World with the support of the United Nations, 2004
 "The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State." The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 16, paragraph 3.