Children At Risk

There can be few challenges to society's future more important than the millions of children at risk. The coming generations will determine the future of our world, its families, its social structure and even the possibility of maintaining and improving our way of life. ROTARIANS IN ACTION FOR CHILDREN AT RISK is a Rotarian Action Group presently in formation (application submitted to Rotary International). It has been established at the recommendation of Past R.I. President Frank Devlyn. DGN Loren Harper of our District 5170 is the proposed founding chair. Lloyd Young (District 4580) is the Project Coordinator. Since 1992 Co-founders Loren Harper and Lloyd Young have worked together to establish and maintain SISTER FAMILIES, a Brazilian Rotary project, providing substitute families for young abandoned children, as described below. The past SISTER FAMILIES program successes in Brazil will be a model for what the new Action Group can do worldwide.
It is not often that a movement, even as large as Rotary, can contribute to the transformation of social policy on a national level, but this is taking place in Brazil. Over many years thousands of abandoned Brazilian children have been warehoused in institutions, with consequent permanent emotional damage, especially to young children who lack a vital maternal presence during their formative years.
Ten years ago, Brazilian Rotary District 4580, in cooperation with California District 5170, launched the Sister Families Project, to provide substitute Brazilian families for young children who had been separated from their original families. Rotary Clubs from various countries have participated as sponsors of children, through Rotary International's World Community Service Projects Exchange program (Project #W02675).
Under the leadership of the Honorable Rodrigo Lobato Junqueira Enout, president of the Brazilian Association of Juvenile Court Magistrates, the guardianship substitute families program is gaining wide acceptance.Children within five Brazilian states are now with families instead of living in institutions. Recently the municipality of Sao Paulo, with about 18 million population, announced a new policy of substitute guardianship families instead of institutionalizing children. An official invitation has been extended to Rotary District 4580 to collaborate in developing such a "foster care" program.

The first step in this cooperation occurred August 16, 2002 with a live video conference with simultaneous translation linking a group of top Brazilian social service executives, juvenile court judges and other officials meeting in a studio of the American Chamber of Commerce in Sao Paulo linked with two locations in California: San Jose, California with the Honorable Leonard Edwards, President of the US National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and Dr. David Arredondo, psychiatrist and specialist in early child development and Los Angeles, Marjorie Kelly, Interim Director of the Los Angeles Child Care Department. During the video conference, ideas and experiences were exchanged between Brazilian and California specialists regarding how Sao Paulo could best mount the first major foster care system in Latin America.

As part of the new foster care project, Rotarians are including Court Appointed Special Advocates, volunteers who are trained and officially appointed as "A Voice For The Child" by juvenile court judges. Each of these volunteers are authorized to visit a child selected by the court each month and provide a written report to the court every ninety days regarding the well being of the child.