A New Chapter with Our Neighbors in the Americas

Categories: Child Welfare, FMGW News

“I strongly believe that the best way for America to support our values is through engagement. That’s why we’ve already taken steps to allow for greater travel, people-to-people and commercial ties between the United States and Cuba.  And we will continue to do so going forward.”
President Barack Obama – July 1, 2015
Statement by the President on the Re-Establishment of Diplomatic Relations with Cuba

This year has been one marked by a rise in global tensions, so it was a welcomed surprise this summer to read about the President’s decision to re-establish ties with a nation state less than 100 miles from our borders – one which we have not had a working diplomatic relationship with for over 53 years. With the above statement in July of 2015, President Barack Obama put into action a series of diplomatic actions that have begun the long and arduous process of normalizing relations with Cuba. Long a point of contention on both sides of the political spectrum, Cuba not only offers the US a chance to connect with our closest non-border neighbor, but also gives each nation an opportunity to re-engage its people on a human level.

I am very proud to report that Family Matters of Greater Washington wasted no time in taking part in this détente, and on September 27th, 2015 two key staff members and I set foot for the first time in our lives on Cuban soil. The trip was organized by the Child Welfare League of America, a premier network of advocates, practitioners, and concerned individuals working to improve the lives of children worldwide.

The focus of the trip was exploring the similarities and the differences between the social support systems that affect children at every level in their development – the legal, medical, educational, and even the nascent social work systems. To call this trip an eye opener would be to greatly understate what we saw, heard, touched, and experienced.

I almost don’t know where to begin. I could talk for hours about the maternal health clinic that we toured on our first day and describe the deeply passionate doctors, nurses, and scientists working to keep Cuba one of the best places for mothers to give birth. Their infant mortality rates are better than many developed nations and the spirit of these clinicians illustrate why.

A visit to the UNJC (The National Union of Jurists of Cuba) introduced us to a system of checks and balances designed to prevent any systematic abuse of children, holding not only the families, but also the communities responsible for reporting suspected abuse. Spending one morning at the Community Project El Nino y La Nina (for boys and girls) further illustrated how they believe the entire community (and nation) can come together to foster better learning outcomes for all children.

These are but a few of the stories my staff and I brought back from Cuba. The sights, sounds, and experiences will not leave our memory and we are working to create a place to aggregate all of the information we gathered. Until then, I am pleased to share a number of pictures captured during this memorable trip on our Instagram.

We went knowing we had much to teach the developing social welfare system in Cuba, but returned understanding a lot more about a system of community approaches to child welfare – a system that has shown great promise as we look for new, innovative methods to taking the best care possible of our children here in the US.

This was not an easy trip. Conditions in Cuba following years of a US led blockade are barely above third world and there was a lack of basic resources at every turn. However, the joy and hope in the people cannot be overstated. We too left hoping for a better future – for Cuba and for our relationship with our southern neighbor.