Imagine Missions has been working since 2011 to provide a family and home for over 100 children and young adults in Despinos, Haiti. Through nutrition, education, a trade program, and spiritual and emotional mentoring Imagine Missions seeks to prepare our children and youth for significant and successful adult lives invested in their community. We are currently transitioning our model and have a list of FAQs to clear up any confusion.
What is the purpose of these changes?
Eight years ago when Imagine Missions formed to support our pre-existing children’s home, it was presumed that the best and safest thing is to keep children in the orphanage. However, we now can see the global changes in orphan care, and have been researching best practices in childcare.
Research demonstrates the many ways institutional group care harms children in their development and their future chances of success. Studies have shown children in orphanages demonstrate lower cognitive functions (like learning capacity), unhealthy attachment patterns, depression, and anxiety. Because they are contained within orphanage walls, youth growing up in orphanages are and are more prone to abuse and develop fewer social and survival skills within their culture.
Heartbreakingly, we have noted that behaviors in our children match the research.* This has prompted us to pursue both social-emotional care through counseling and improved care and supervision for our children in the form of ‘family units’ within our orphanage in the short-term. Looking at the longer term, we believe reunification will be the best way to connect the children with what they need to thrive and experience the love of Jesus.
*To protect the rights and dignity of our children we need to keep personal details protected at this time, however, know that we are pursuing counseling, medical examinations, and coordinating with other organizations to ensure their safety, and ultimately a successful transition to the care they will need within their families.
Have you seen some of these behaviors?
Yes. To protect the rights and dignity of our children we need to keep that protected at this time, however, know that we are pursuing counseling, medical examinations, and coordinating with other organizations to ensure their safety, and ultimately a successful transition to the care they will need within their families.
What is this going to cost?
Right now we do have some higher costs because we still have to maintain our current care system while we also invest in services that will allow us to transition to this new model of family-based care in the appropriate way. However, the research on orphanages in Haiti as well as around the globe shows that our operating costs can decrease in the long term. In fact, switching to a family empowerment model will allow us to do more for more children. Lumos estimates that the annual funding towards (all) Haitian orphanages is $100 million. Rather than simply supporting 30,000 children, this money, if redirected, could support 770,000 children to go to school. The economics make strong business and social sense given the fact that a primary reason children are given to orphanages is that they might attend school!
Another example: Georgette Mulheir, CEO of Lumos, calculates that given the 30,000 children in orphanages in Haiti and $100 million given, more than $3,300 is spent per child per year. The sad irony, Mulheir says is that if parents in Haiti just had an extra $200 per year to feed, clothe and educate their child, “that child would never go into an orphanage.”
Enlightening fact: In Haiti, Lumos has found that it costs $680 to reunite a child with his or her family and provide that child with support to care for their children.203 That is comparable to the cost of one mission trip participant's week-long visit to Haiti.
When will we know more information?
Right now we are currently being mentored and finding resources from multiple organizations on the ground in Haiti and across the world that specialize in reunification and family support best practices. In this time we ask that the dignity of our children and their families is respected and that you exercise patience with us- we won’t be able to share every personal detail of our children’s situations, but know that as we take more steps forward we will update our donor base at the progress that is being made. We will also be making many resources available so that you can become an educated family empowerment champion and partner with us in cheering families on.
Do these families have the capacity to care for the children? Will the kids be safe? How do we know they won’t go into abusive/poor conditions? What if families do not want their kids back?
According to several experts in reunification, the most critical component to successful reunification is strong social work follow-up. Social workers will be assessing and preparing both children and families for this process and then completing regular weekly visitations that can be tapered up per the needs of the child and family. With social work assessment, we will be able to identify the primary reasons a child was placed in our care and be able to address those through employment opportunities, housing and medical assistance, disability services, parental training and support groups, legal advice, and continued education and vocational training (at Imagine Missions School and Professional School as able). Haitian social workers are mandatory reporters and will be able to intervene if they note a child is in an unsafe situation.
We cannot know exactly what it will look like for children whose immediate families are not yet ready to accept their children back. We will look to the mentorship of other organizations experienced in these situations to assist us in determining alternate solutions for those children, though it may include an extended stay in Imagine Missions care within family-like units.
Can we still visit the kids? Can mission trips continue with these changes?
The scheduling of all trips to Imagine Missions is paused until the spring of 2020 as we need to give our children the time and space to go through changes and get settled into new situations. However, we don’t believe this is goodbye! The relationships you built with the children can still be fostered going forward. However, as we move towards honoring, respecting, and partnering with entire families, your relationships might extend to include that child’s whole family. While trips to Imagine Missions have yet to be determined, we are excited by the future possibilities.
What will you do about the building investment?
Imagine Missions’ grounds will be utilized by our school! We have 480 children attending our K-13 school this year. We hope to eventually include school lunch to aid in food security for our students, again keeping at-risk families together. Our students’ many family members in our community may attend Professional School, and enriching training on our grounds so they themselves and their families can flourish.
The new buildings being constructed on the new land will still include Imagine Missions Hope Center and housing for young adults over 18 years old who do not choose to live with family and require housing to be able to attend and complete secondary school and Professional School at Imagine Missions (we will call this Hope Home or Lakay Espwa). We are excited that Cara and Venelson Ernest will be stepping in as Youth Empowerment Counselors to mentor and equip these youth for adulthood in this transitional program.
How will the staff handle the change? Will they lose their jobs?
We love and appreciate the staff that has worked to foster good relationships with the children. While we might not have their specific positions available anymore with this change, we will be providing them with severance packages and assisting their specific situations as needed.
If kids are in families, what will the program do?
School + Professional School and family strengthening programs connected to these!
Have we been funding work that harms children?
We are finding that we are not unique- we fall in the same category as other orphanages in Haiti and unfortunately, the research shows that no matter how loving an environment we attempt to create, an institution is an institution and a family is better. Your contributions have allowed us to improve our children’s lives through stronger and stronger education at Imagine Missions School, drastically improved nutrition, experiences like beach trips, movie nights, sports, music, dance, and camps, and church and Bible study attendance. Unfortunately, our environment still cannot protect our children from the risks of institutionalization and those things, while wonderful, still cannot replace family. We are grateful to have discovered this together as a leadership team so that we can do better for our children and truly instill the love and hope of Jesus in their lives.