Start With the Family, Not Orphanages

"Modern orphanages are no longer institutional warehouses," Ted Rueter says in "Modern Orphanages for Troubled Kids" (May 15). "More likely they are small, warm, and caring."

But did the author read he Los Angeles Times report on a group of homes in California which use another charming euphemism, "residential academies," that orphanage backers are so fond of? Despite their names, it seems that these homes don't have enough staff to deal with the youths, so they drug them. Children are routinely forced to take large doses of psychiatric medications without permission from their parents or a court, as required by law. And these practices were not found only in a few cases - they were found to be widespread.

Of course there are a few "luxury orphan resorts" like Boys Town and the Milton Hershey School, which have huge endowments. But the norm is that orphanages are institutions for the poor, and institutions for the poor are always poor institutions.

There is a far better alternative: Keeping troubled families together in the first place. Most parents who lose their children are not the brutally abusive or hopelessly addicted people who make the news. Far more common are cases in which a family's poverty is confused with child "neglect." But instead of fixing the housing or providing the food, child protective services rush in and tear apart the bonds of love between parent and child.

Other cases fall on a broad continuum in between; the birth parents are neither all victim nor all villain. In such cases, intensive family preservation efforts have kept tens of thousands of families together. People debate the merits of foster care versus orphanages without considering the option proved to be the safest and most effective: family preservation. That is a tragedy for children.

Carolyn A. Kubitschek

New York

President, National Coalition for Child Protection Reform

Move beyond 'guided' democracy

The article entitled "Indonesia Faces Unsettling Prospect of Real Democracy" (June 1) does an excellent job of highlighting democracy's struggle in Indonesia. As an American student studying political and economic systems in Indonesia last spring, I experienced first-hand "Pancasila democracy" and "guided democracy," as well as a collective aversion to "Western democracy."

Clearly, Indonesia is at a watershed point in its history.

I would encourage Indonesians to move beyond their concept of Pancasila and Western democracy to a concept of global democracy that values freedom as a human right, constructive debate and discourse, accountability and responsibility, and diversity. These are not just Western values - they are inherent human values. Indonesia shudders at the diversity of voices in its archipelago as a divisive factor. But the country's motto has long been "Unity in Diversity." Global democracy embraces diversity in recognition that a uni-vocal agenda is not sustainable in a society that values choice and encourages pluralism.

Indonesia's successful transition toward a sustainable economic and political system lies in its ability to move beyond Western or dictatorial agendas to a concept of global democracy. This concept of democracy doesn't support one nation's political formula but favors a humanitarian agenda, embracing all voices and peoples in their desire for self-determination. Encouraging expression, valuing the individual and the greater society, and embracing diversity will be Indonesia's mortar in creating a sustainable, unified democracy.

Traci Fenton

Iowa City, Iowa

Founder and CEO, World Dynamics

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