161 – Orphan Care in Tanzania with Brandon Stiver

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Dr. Sandra Morgan and Dave Stachowiak talk to Brandon Stiver about how having his own family totally changed his perspective on caring for orphan children and why family-based care is so much better than orphanage-based care.

Key Points

  • Tanzania’s official policy is actually family-first, but that doesn’t always play out in reality.
  • The vast majority of children that end up in alternative care really shouldn’t be there in the first place.
  • 90% of children in orphanages worldwide have at least one living parent.
  • An orphanage should be the last resort — there are many other options for children.
  • Orphans often become a commodity for orphanages because they help raise money.

“It is the belief of Kingdom Families in accordance with Tanzanian policy as well as scripture that family-based care is the highest standard of care for a child. We believe that every child has a right to be raised in a family.”

—Brandon Stiver


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Dave: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 161, Orphan Care in Tanzania with Brandon Stiver.

Production Credits: [00:00:09] Produced by Innovate Learning, maximizing human potential.

Dave: [00:00:29] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie: [00:00:34] And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave: [00:00:37] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, so glad to be back with you here in the new year. And today a conversation I know that will be yet another lens that is so important for us to know about on elements that relate to human trafficking. And I know Brandon is going to really provide a lot of perspective on care for children. And we talk a lot about children on this podcast of course, but Brandon is going to I know bring us a new perspective. He is an alum of Vanguard University, where the Global Center for Women and Justice of course here is based. And Brandon Stiver grew up on the central coast of California and has been working in orphan care in Tanzania since 2010. Originally working at a Christian orphanage for a couple of years, Brandon realized that even the best of institutions fall dramatically short of meeting the child’s deepest and most intimate needs. Brandon’s deepest desire for Kingdom Families is to continue seeing orphaned, vulnerable and abandoned children restored to God’s first construct, the family. Brandon lives in Moshi, Tanzania with his wife Melissa and their three children. Brandon, we’re so glad to welcome you to the show.

Brandon: [00:01:58] Thanks it’s really great to be on.

Sandie: [00:02:00] It was especially exciting for me to have him visit Vanguard this fall, and speak to my commercially sexually exploited class. And I think one of the things I noticed about him first when he turned on his slides and started presenting. And of course, my students are focused on prevention and globally when we look at issues of slavery and human trafficking, children are some of the most marginalized. So when he started his slides the first thing I noticed is that there were no pictures of him surrounded by smiling orphans. And I thought Brandon, I’m so proud you’re a Vanguard alum, thank you for coming on our own human trafficking show.

Brandon: [00:02:44] Thank you, Dr. Morgan.

Sandie: [00:02:46] Now in your bio it talks about how you started and you responded to the passion and the compassion really for children in places where there are not a lot of resources and we all know that following the AIDS crisis in Africa, caring for children became a huge issue. So how did you make the shift from working at an orphanage to developing a family-based solution?

Brandon: [00:03:13] Yeah so it is really interesting kind of looking back at the breadth of what we’ve been engaged in for almost a decade now. When I first moved to Tanzania my focus was, I literally felt God calling me to go run an orphanage in Africa. So, I kind of went with that idea of what things were going to be like and started to pursue that. And I worked with some really great people, and they really love the kids, and there was good funding. But when we started to kind of recognize, you know a couple of years in, that there really wasn’t anything done for the kids to make it into families. That it was kind of like you know the kids are going to come in, and this is where they’re going to remain. So just different things were changing in our own families during that time, my wife Melissa and I got pregnant. We started to walk this parenthood journey which really teaches you a lot as well. And I started to recognize wow this really is God’s plan, it’s for a husband and wife to have kids. And that was kind of the impetus that compelled us toward starting Kingdom Families, which we started in 2014. So, you know the first four years of us being engaged in Tanzania, we were doing institutional care and working with the church in other ways. But it was really that understanding of what family is that compelled us towards pursuing family-based options.

Sandie: [00:04:45] So I love your website because I’m all about personally partnering public-private with our institution Vanguard University and our government. So on your website, one of the statements I copied and pasted because I liked it so much, is “it is the belief of Kingdom Families, in accordance with Tanzanian policy as well as scripture, that family-based care is the highest standard of care for a child. We believe that every child has a right to be raised in a family.” I love that, the highest standard of care. And we want the best possible care for our children. So, what is Tanzanian policy and how do you implement that?

Brandon: [00:05:31] Yes. So, there’s actually this gap, unfortunately, which you see in a lot of the developing countries. You can have it might be UNICEF, or maybe other NGOs, it could be just copying and pasting from other countries, but you can actually get some really good laws concerning alternative care concerning child protection. But unfortunately, there’s this really big gap. So, for us, there are a few documents that are the legislation concerning vulnerable children. We have the Law of the Child Act, which has provisions for stuff like foster care, it does also have provisions for residential care facilities. And that is very much relied upon. But then you get into some of the policies. So, for Tanzania in particular, we have what’s called the National Guidelines for most vulnerable children. And what the National Guidelines talk about, is basically how do you work with children that are vulnerable and that go through all these different service areas, you know psychosocial support the importance of family-based care all these types of things. And when what we noticed, you know we had started Kingdom Families before we even came across this document. And you know we work with people in the government, and they’re not even implementing it, and yet it is the policy of the country itself. And what we noticed is in a developing country, such as Tanzania, there’s really a lack of infrastructure to actually implement the things that they have put into their own policy such as national guidelines. They also have the Plan of Action for Tanzania, which is another policy that also talks about the importance. I mean you can literally go through these types of policies that will say stuff like residential care facilities are to be the last resort. And every attempt to be made to keep the child in their families or to reunify them with their family. So, this is the type of words that they actually use. And we’re saying Great. You know that that’s the call of the churches, to support vulnerable families. We ourselves have been adopted by God according to the Roman faith. So, the language of the legislation really jibes with what we can read in scriptures. And yet, unfortunately, from the NGO standpoint and Tanzania, like a lot of countries, really heavily rely on nonprofits and NGOs to kind of provide the services. So, we just basically said well let’s take those policies and let’s take what we can read from scripture. Let’s unify that with what we’re already doing. And build something that we can use in the communities that are best practice. You know and as a father, I have a standard you know for the type of care that my children are going to receive. And it is really important that if I’m going to create something with an alternative care, that it would meet the standard that for my own children I would be comfortable with this.

Sandie: [00:08:49] Yeah that’s a really encouraging motivator for me if I’m looking at supporting children in Tanzania and other countries where this has become a huge issue. So, when you’re explaining what the guidelines are and what they want, why not orphanage based care? What’s the problem there?

Brandon: [00:09:11] OK before I address that. I’ll kind of backup, alternative care is really what we do. Alternative care basically just means that anything that’s alternative to a kid’s family of origin. So, the natural place for a kid to grow up is in their own families, with their own parents. Now for reasons that you’ve discussed on this show and we’re all aware of, there are reasons why families might break down and that a kid might end up in alternative care. So, the first line and this is even going to the United Nations to release something called the Guidelines for Alternative Care. It’s really great. It talks about two principles when engaging with vulnerable families. One of them is a necessity, so is it even necessary for the kid to enter alternative care. And then the second is suitability. So when we talk about vulnerable families, I really liked the way that they laid it out because is it even necessary for a kid to enter in the first place. And the truth is the vast majority of children that end up in alternative care really shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Sandie: [00:10:19] I think you told us in class that 90 percent, based on the Lumos Foundation, that are in orphanages worldwide have at least one living parent.

Brandon: [00:10:29] Yeah so worldwide, they’re gauging somewhere around 80 to 90 percent. Lumos, in particular, has done a lot of work in Haiti and that’s where that particular stat is coming from where it is upwards of 90. Now Haiti, which is not the context that we serve in, but I’m familiar with it to a degree, kind of gets all the worst of our development and child protection practices from the West. So, you have a lot of kids that are unnecessarily, probably even to a higher degree but better institutionalized for no good reason. So, when we talk about the necessity you know we have to recognize that. If I take five kids and four of them still have a parent, we have to ask the question why is this kid going in in the first place. Within that necessity principle, it’s really important that we prevent kids unnecessarily leaving their families, and then if it is absolutely necessary that a kid enters alternative care you have to have what’s called the Continuum of Care. And basically, a Continuum of Care means that there’s going to be all these different ways that we can help this child and get them into a proper living situation. And in Tanzania the context where we serve, it is very common for a child to enter a residential care facility, which is just one form of alternative care. And as you alluded to, Dr. Morgan, it’s not really an ideal place for a kid to grow up. But it’s not the only alternative that should be provided, there should be foster care, there should be adoption, there should be kinship care which means being cared for by another relative which is very common but not from a formal standpoint. So, there should be all these other alternatives along the continuum. And if a kid has to enter a residential care facility, it ought to be a last resort. And you can actually find that in the policies in Tanzania or international standards. You can find those in the policies, but unfortunately, such as in Tanzania you could say it’s a last resort but we’ll have a kid that can show up at social welfare department and within that same day be placed in an orphanage. So is it really the last resort, it’s hard to say. So that’s one of the things that we address with Kingdom Families, is have kids been wrongfully institutionalized. If so how can we create a pathway for them to get back into the communities? And if it’s possible to intervene before the child is relinquished, you know how can we do that to ensure that that kid has an opportunity to grow up within a family and within their own community.

Sandie: [00:13:13] Well, you know my perspective here in California is that when we take children out of unsafe homes through our child welfare department, and then we don’t have a family to place them with, and so we put them in a group home, and especially if they’re adolescents they just run away. And that makes them much more vulnerable to becoming victims of human trafficking.

Brandon: [00:13:36] Yeah absolutely. The old adage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Sandie: [00:13:45] Yeah, I was trying to figure out how to turn that into grams and kilograms. But there you go, that’s very relevant. OK so then, if they’re almost in the same day put into an institutional residential care, that’s not following the UN guidelines or the Tanzanian, what are the problems that we’ll see later on down the road as a result of that for the child psychosocial development?

Brandon: [00:14:13] Specifically regarding Tanzania, institutional care is sanctioned, there’s a provision for it within the Law of the Child, but then in their policies, they’ll say it’s not an ideal spot and kids ought to be supported in their families. But once a kid has been institutionalized they can run into any number of social disorders, things that go on psychologically, they’ll experience trauma. I know you guys talk about trauma on your show quite a bit, and especially within the victims of human trafficking populace, there’s a significant amount of trauma. I mean the separation itself, even if there wasn’t a death, just the fact that the kid was relinquished and is now separated from their parents, that is traumatic. And then once they are there, that’s not just oh that one traumatic thing happened at one time when my parents had dropped me off at the gate. It’s an everyday type of trauma. It’s something that takes place day after day because you’re not seeing your family, you are disconnected. And most often the case if you’re not receiving adequate emotional support, not receiving adequate spiritual support, often physical support as well. And then you’re having increased vulnerability towards other things, such as trafficking would be one. And there have certainly been cases of that. Basically, what you look at, just kind of the cross-section between you know the communities that we serve and what you guys are doing here through the podcasts and other measures at the Global Center. You know once a kid has been separated from their parents, it’s pretty clear and well understood that having good parental oversight, having a mom or dad or a substitute at least, that’s kind of the first line of child protection. So, when a kid has been institutionalized, they lose that first level of protection.

Brandon: [00:16:15] And that’s not even to get into a lot of the perverse reasons why kids might be institutionalized in the first place, because basically what you can get into is you make a commodity out of a child. And this is one of the things that I discussed with your class, whether it’s for the purposes of international adoption which there’s been an incredible amount of corruption over the last two or three decades, or if it’s just soliciting donations for the orphanage. So, you have not classic orphans but rather social orphans, or poverty orphans, or just kids that are living there. You turn those kids into a commodity, and then those kids can be those kids you can visit at Kilimanjaro and say hey why don’t you come by the orphanage and play with the kids, and then pay when you leave and you leave 100, 200, or 300 dollars. And most of that money might end up in the pocket of an orphanage director. And that definitely happens, that happens in the area that we live and work. I know so many people that run children’s homes that have the best of intentions, and they do love the kids and they don’t exploit them. But even in those situations, the kids are still detached.

Brandon: [00:17:33] So they can run into things like reactive attachment disorder, something that takes place and I’m not a clinician but I have a lot of experience just from the field and from our own family. But reactive attachment disorder starts when a kid is not able to make a secure attachment, normally with the mother first and foremost, if not the mother then hopefully a mother substitute. And we have seen kids, I know kids, know their names, know their faces where they have been institutionalized on day one. Now if a kid is institutionalized from day one and never gets a secure attachment, meaning that multisensory attachment where the child gets to nurse from the mother and see her smiling and all those things those are building attachment. So, we experienced this with our children, when a kid is deprived of that at the earliest, they start to function differently and their brain starts to develop differently. And it’s really crucial for that to take place early on. There are different studies that say you have to have a secure attachment within the first three years, and then there are other studies say no it’s the first 18 months, or no it’s the first seven months. There’s kind of all these different studies that are going around, but the base for reactive attachment disorder starts with a child that never had a secure attachment. So that’s a lot of children that are growing up separated from families in institutional care.

Sandie: [00:19:03] The other consequence of that, is that in an institution you actually have caretakers who come in that are there for 10 hours, 12 hours. And they are three days a week or five days a week. And so, there isn’t that consistent caregiver. And so, one caregiver may respond really well when the child is in distress and the next one doesn’t. So, the child doesn’t learn to trust or to regulate themselves. And as they get older, they develop skills that are based on survival, and that actually makes them more vulnerable to a trafficker who might recruit them. Because they see the trafficker, and you’ve heard us say this many times on this show, that trafficker presents himself as a loving caretaker. And they are so used to having a different loving caretaker over and over again that it isn’t a big stretch for them to accept that. And the idea that you have to teach a child not to trust a stranger. They’ve been taken care of by strangers and so they already know that, and this is about survival.

Brandon: [00:20:15] Exactly. And it is that inconsistency of care is something that exacerbates the fact that the child was already not properly attached to a secure and to a safe adult, normally the mother. So, it’s not only the caregivers but within the institutional care setting. Unfortunately, because it takes a tremendous amount of money to run an orphanage, people will go there on a vacation and they’ll want to go and visit a children’s home. Now if I’m from California, if I were to travel to New York City I would say you know I want to go and I want to see the Statue of Liberty or you know I want to go to Times Square. I wouldn’t say I really want to go visit a group home and they wouldn’t let me in. Of course, they wouldn’t let me in, I’m not credentialed, I’m not a social worker, I’m not a therapist, I’m not going to work there. They wouldn’t let me in. But unfortunately, because these levels of protection have been weakened or just really aren’t there in the first place in the majority world, these children become tourist attractions. And again, it’s making the child a commodity and then it’s to the financial benefit of people that are running that children’s home. Now again, you’re going to find intentions across the spectrum. You’ll find some people that do that, but they have really great intentions and they love the kids. And then you have those that have perverse intentions within that. But the baseline is there needs to be money for the children’s home. So, then they’re encouraged to say hey you’re here for a week or two you’re on a short-term mission’s trip or you’re doing a safari. Hey, why don’t you come and play with the kids, then the kids are encouraged to jump all over strangers and do all the things that we would not expect from our own kids. If I saw you know my 5-year-old daughter jumping all over a stranger, that would be a red flag to me. And yet you know for us and our family, that’s something that we have to walk through because one of our children did grow up for eight years in a children’s home. And we kind of have to temper that and teach you to know not everybody’s safe. Those types of things, so again you get back to what’s the first line of prevention with the first line of child protection, it is having a safe parental figure. And those children are at risk mostly because they don’t have that level of protection.

Sandie: [00:22:54] And they don’t do well when they age out of a residential care institutionalized situation, because they haven’t been members of a community outside of that artificial circumstance. And so, when you bring a child who grew up in an orphanage into your home, you have to teach them about your culture, right?

Brandon: [00:23:20] Sure. Yeah. And you know for us because this has been something that we’ve been walking in for the last two and a half years, that has a very unique flavor. Because our son is Tanzanian, and we’re American, and we knew him. I actually knew my son before I knew my wife because we adopted him from the children’s home we used to work at. So that has a unique flavor. And of course, because we’re Americans and you know we’re a multicultural family, that’s going to happen. But the even more intriguing thing is if you have a Tanzanian couple that adopts or brings a kid in that has been living in an orphanage, and this is something that we focus on. We promote domestic adoption, it has to be something within the continuum of care for kids that don’t have an opportunity to return to their families of origin. So, we do promote adoption and you can have a kid that’s been living you know within their home country and living for years on end within an institution, and then they don’t leave the country, they may not even leave the town or the city. They just enter into a family environment and they have to learn a different culture. Their culture is the culture of their country. So, if I go from Moshi and then I drive an hour and a half to Arusha, or if I drive to the coast and go to Tanaga, you know there’s going to be a lot of elements that are similar because of Tanzanian culture. But if a kid has been spending years on end or the majority of their childhood in a children’s home, they’ve learned an alternative culture that doesn’t actually translate. And that’s part of the issue with aging out, as you mentioned. So, we can be really great about you know getting them education, and education is important. But within education, that’s also an institution. So, the kid isn’t necessarily learning a lot about how normal society works, they’re just continuing to function in an institution. So, you can focus on the education, you can do vocational training, all of those things are great for helping a kid when they do age out. But if they don’t know how to get on public transport, or if they don’t know how to just have a secure social network within their community, they’re going to still be very much at risk. And then they’ve learned how to basically be dependent on this institution. So, there’s a lot of really difficult things that kids do face once they’ve aged out of these residential care facilities.

Sandie: [00:25:49] So let me ask you the really big question if we quit supporting orphanages won’t that leave millions of children in crisis?

Brandon: [00:26:01] So you can’t do it overnight. There has to be a transition that takes place. So, the estimates on a number of kids are actually living in residential care, it’s a bit of a broad range actually. And one of the reasons that it’s hard to gauge is because it’s really hard when so many orphanages open up and you don’t even know that they exist. And yet those kids would still count within whatever that number is. So, when you talk about millions, so with kids that are living worldwide within residential care right now it’s somewhere between two and eight million. And so, like I said it’s a bit of a range. Now I tend to think that it’s higher on the range. So, let’s just say there are eight million kids, if all the funding just stopped, what would happen with those kids? You have to have a very thought out and a very intentional. And there are great resources out there. We call this transition in care. One of my favorite organizations is Faith to Action Initiative, they have a great manual on transitioning. So, if an orphanage or a residential care facility is recognized, there are things that we can do to help these kids. Let’s shut down operations, but let’s start the transition. Then you know you don’t just stop donating, you keep supporting the same organization, but now they are promoting family-based solutions. So, then you can have some of the caregivers maybe you send them to school and they become social workers. Maybe you have some of them that you know are community development or they’re engaged in the community. And maybe some of them you know have to be let go. There are ways that you can actually transition care, and it can’t be an overnight thing. Everything takes time and it is true that the funding is a big thing. So, I used to do the books at a children’s home and if I had, and this is several years ago now I’m sure that a budget is grown, but if I had what they made in one month, it would last us to serve twice as many kids for six months and they would be within families. So, it is true that there are needs for donors to support kids in a way that promotes them to be in family-based services, so there does have to be a big shift in the finances. But a shift in the finances is only one part of it. You also have to have a shift where people say you know what if we look at all the different alternatives within the continuum of care, we can see that OK everybody at least you know in our region or you know we’ve got the residential thing down, there are lots of residential are all these ways that we can support a vulnerable mother, a single mother so she doesn’t give up her kids. Why don’t we focus on prevention?

Sandie: [00:28:59] What you’ve done for us as listeners in our community is you’ve really helped us understand the importance of a family-centered approach. And you’ve also given us several tools, and I just want everybody to know that all the tools you’ve mentioned you’ve already sent the links to me and they’ll be posted in the show notes here. It’s amazing how fast a half an hour goes, and if people have more questions is it alright if we forward those on to you.?

Brandon: [00:29:29] Absolutely. Yeah, we always love to engage.

Sandie: [00:29:32] I’d love to see practitioner communities kind of grow out of how you can connect here on Ending Human Trafficking. But Brandon, we could talk for an hour easily. We already have a couple of times. So, thank you so much for sharing your experience for your journey. I love that I hear that righteous indignation, that sounds like a father. And I also appreciate the fact that you are willing to share that when you started, you were in the same place that many others are. And as my students come to Vanguard, many of them sign up for my classes because they think someday they’re going to go open an orphanage. And I want them to see some different ways that they can do that. And as our listeners, I hope that you will follow up, send this, share it, send it to your church if they support an orphanage to help figure out some of those transitions and ways to improve the lives of now close to eight million children who are living in orphanages instead of families, the way God designed our children to grow up. So, thank you so much for being on the show, Brandon, and we hope that if you have a question you’ll send us an email at gcwj@vanguard.edu.

Dave: [00:30:55] Sandie, I echo what you’ve said here. So much of this episode, I was just absorbing everything not having had any personal experience with the work Brandon’s doing. It’s just fantastic what’s happening, and so much for us to explore. Please do check out the show notes. Also, remember that if you’re wanting to be challenged with new knowledge, a new perspective, and most importantly building new relationships and partnerships a great way to do that is to connect with our Ensure Justice conference coming up March 2nd and 3rd 2018 here in Southern California. If you have not yet looked into that, you can find out more at ensurejustice.com. And we look forward to meeting you in person there at in March 2018. Sandie, I’ll see you again in two weeks.

Sandie: [00:31:46] Can’t wait.

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