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Six Literacy Myths We Hear Too Often

Six Literacy Myths We Hear Too Often.

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The Last 21 Days of Human History Begin Today

You’ve probably heard by now according to the Mayan calendar, the world ends on December 21, 2012.

How could that be wrong? The Mayan’s got everything else right didn’t they.

Since the party is about to end, I thought it was time to reflect on all the fun we’ve had here on planet Earth, warring with each other and destroying every ecosystem we could find. My last wish is that this blog…or the next 21 blogs…are all that survive the apocalypse so that whoever comes to replace us can get an honest view of what we were really like.

Today’s topic: The Birth of Humanity!

Human history began over a million years ago on the plains of Africa…or about 5,000 years ago on the banks of the Tigris River. Which story you believe in depends on whether you went to college or you watch Fox News.

Problems began the day God came home from a hard day of creating and found two of his kids had broken into the knowledge cabinet. He freaked and banished them to the worst place known to man….

…Pitman, NJ

Within a few years the world was completely populated and extraordinarily inbred. Seeing how that didn’t work, God decided to wipe the slate clean and start again. He called Irwin Allen and together they planned the first disaster epic staring Lorne Greene as Noah.

Noah convinced his family and about a million different species of animals to get on a boat for a three hour tour. Then, then weather started getting rough. Forty days later they washed up in Turkey because Noah refused to ask for directions.

A few years later, the Earth was populated again, proving that even God can make the same mistake twice — or inbreeding is human nature. Either it worked out better this time, or He decided to live with it. We may never know.

Lost Confidence, Lost Hope

This is the sort of story that sends waves of discomfort through the international adoption community.

When the San Antonio-based Adoption Services Associates, Inc., filed for chapter 11 and closed it’s doors on April 9, it also seemingly closed the door on the adoption prospects of many prospective parents from all over the United States and in other countries.

The Texas attorney general’s office is currently conducting an investigation into whether ASA took money from clients without ever intending to connect them with an adoption. That would constitute deception, false advertising and fraud.

According to reports, ASA left hundreds of adoptions incomplete and many prospective parents short of the $20,000 to $30,000 worth of fees they had already paid.

The investigation, creditor meetings and court procedures are just beginning for ASA and it clients. When, or if, the prospective parents get their money back, receive any satisfaction or find hopes in another agency all remain murky right now.

A news story like this puts another smudge on surface of international adopting during a very difficult time. The total number of international adoptions to the United States each year has fallen every year for more than half a decade. In 2005, there were over 22,000 adoptions of foreign-born children by parents in the US. Last year that number fell to under 10,000.

There are many reasons for the decline. Some of it can be attributed to the economic climate. Adoptions are expensive. For most Americans, money is tight. Credit and consumer loans are hard to come by. Unemployment has been high for the last four years.

Many countries have tightened up their international adoption policies in hopes of finding more homes for orphans in their native country. South Korea, which has one of the longest running international adoption programs, passed new laws last year designed to limit the number of adoptable children who leave the country each year. At the same time, Korean culture has become more accepting of unwed mothers raising children and of families adopting orphans.

Meanwhile, US investigations into corruption and fraud have caused this country to shut down programs with Vietnam, Cambodia and Guatemala. Shutdowns like that not only cause numbers to fall, but they also cause confidence to fall.

And confidence is a vital to the adoption process.

Stop Bullying at the Source: The Bully

The talk about bullying tends to center on the victims: how to recognize them, how to help them.

We’ve got to help the victims, of course.

But to stop bullying completely, we need to understand what makes bullies—and then figure out how fix them and how to stop making more of them.

Here’s a list of what bullies have in common:

  • They are victims of bullying and other forms of abuse themselves.
  • They haven’t learned to empathize with other people.
  • They see other people as threats.
  • They have a need for dominance and control.
  • They feel powerless at home and at school.
  • They have low self-esteem.
  • They have undiagnosed learning and attention deficit problems.
  • They see other people as the cause of their problems.
  • They believe it’s acceptable to use violence and aggression for personal gain.
  • They suffer from depression.
  • They abuse drugs and alcohol and come from homes were those substances are abused.
  • They cannot cope with stress.
  • They lack anger management skills.

Seldom do those conditions exist by themselves. Bullies are created by a complex web woven with many of the strands listed above. Therefore, it’s unlikely that routine discipline measures at school will change a bully’s behavior.

A single trip the guidance counselor, a talk with the principle, detention and suspension…the normal course of action most schools automatically follow aren’t likely to turn a bully around.

Bullies do not fear consequences. They are never likely to think, “I can’t do this because I might get in trouble.” That filter doesn’t work in the bully’s mind. In fact, they might enjoy the attention that comes with getting in trouble. Bullies, like other children with discipline and behavior issues, do not distinguish between positive attention—rewards, compliments and praise—and negative attention—threats, lectures and punishment. Both kinds of attention fill the bully’s need for attention.

The fix for a bullying is much the same as the fix for bullying victims: sustained, professional counseling with a therapist trained to untangle the web. Stress and anger management take time, as treatments for depression, low-self esteem and substance abuse. The child has to unlearn when pattern of social behavior and learn another.

Fixing a bully requires a patient investment of time and attention. But the investment will be well worth it for both the bully and his victims.

The Eagles’ Best Move

So, signing free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha—the consensus best player on the 2011 free agency market—had to be the smartest move the Philadelphia Eagles  made this summer.

Nope.

Nnamdi Asomugha

Signing Asomugha, and trading quarterback Kevin Kolb to Arizona for defensive back Dominique Rogers-Cromartie were no brainers for a team that gave up a record 31 touch down passes last season.

Sure, when the season ends, if the Eagles win the Lombardi Trophy, those defensive backfield additions are going to get a lot of the credit…along with Michael Vick, of course.

However, I’m betting that the key to season might be a far less publicized addition: Cullen Jenkins, the 30-year-old defensive tackle who played his first four NFL seasons in Green Bay accumulating 29 sacks and 132 solo tackles.

Jenkins is a beast up the middle. A strong interior pass rush will help collapse the pocket and expose opposing quarterbacks to outside rushers Jason Babin and Trent Cole. Asomugha, Rogers-Cromartie and Asante Samuels (provide he doesn’t get traded) are going to have plenty of chances to grab balls out of the air.

A 300-pounder pushing up the middle will help the run defense as well, but most importantly, Jenkins will help conceal the Birds biggest weakness…a corps of questionable linebackers.

Cullen Jenkins

Right now the Eagle’s look awfully vulnerable up the middle and over the middle. Rookie Casey Matthews has been penciled in as the starting middle linebacker. Matthews could turn out to be an amazing middle linebacker. He’s got the DNA for it. (brother Clay is a standout in Green Bay and his dad played 19 years in the league).  But his next tackle will be his first as pro. Big running backs and tight ends could have career days unless Jenkins can close gaps on running plays and knocks down some of those passes over the middle.

Fortunately, Jenkins is good enough to do that.

Shine a Light on Bullying

Pop quiz.

Which of these statements sounds like something a bully would say?

a) “Hey, nerd, get over here!”

b) “You’re such a fag.”

c) “Say that again and I’m going to knock your teeth down your throat.”

d) “Wait till we get off the bus.”

The answer, of course, isn’t up there. If you said, “e) all the above” give yourself a pat on the pack. These days we need to know bullying when we see it and hear it.  Bullying is about threats and violence. It’s insult and it’s intimidation. Victims can be younger or older, bigger or smaller, male or female, gay or straight.

A comment made in jest between two friends becomes a threat just by changing the context or altering the tone of voice. If a comment is made repeatedly, if it is made anonymously, if it is made online, if it is targeted at somebody smaller, weaker, different, if it is a group attacking one person, if it is made racially or sexually, if a comment is made to hurt someone—then it’s bullying.

Bullying is not just a bloody nose or a black eye. It’s much more than a scuffle on the playground, and it is not, as so many have suggested, just a part of growing up. For those who say we’ve gotten too sensitive, too politically correct, that we’re raising a nation of wimps, think about this:

A child comes home from school, normal, happy, content, tosses a book bag casually onto the living room couch, gives mom a hug, grabs a snack from the frig and heads upstairs to the Playstation and the flat screen and the computer and everything else a kid could want.

But then dinnertime comes and the kid doesn’t come when called.  Mom climbs the stairs, knocks on the bedroom door as something churns in the pit of her stomach. She pushes on in calling her baby’s name.

Her baby doesn’t answer.

We don’t have to graphically describe what mom finds. You’ve probably guessed it. Suicide.

Turns out this normal, happy, content kid took a lot of teasing on the bus. Doesn’t matter what the teasing was about. Hair. Clothes. Grades. Kickball. Turns out this normal, happy, content kid was getting nasty messages on Facebook every night. Turns out this normal, happy, content kid never wanted to go to the cafeteria in school or the locker room before gym.

Because of the teasing. Because of the torment. Because of the bullying.

An exaggerated example? Hardly. Actually it’s a typical example. Google bullying and suicide. Read the stories or just read the headlines.

You’ll read about high school kids, middle school kids, college kids, grade school kids. The point is, you’ll read about too many kids.

The ones that take their lives are the extreme examples. But think about this: for every bullying victim we hear about, how many cases go unnoticed? How many kids out there are just miserable, depressed and dysfunctional?

160,000 kids stay home from school everyday to avoid bullying. That’s an approximate number, an educated guess by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control. The real number might be higher.

The Centers for Disease Control, by the way, specialize in epidemics. That’s what we’re calling this now: the bullying epidemic.

What happens during epidemics of disease? People die.

For a long time, we thought the only way to treat the disease was inoculation. Teach kids to be tough. Teach to have a thick skin. Spar with them in the basement.

Could be we were wrong there. Just like take a million grams of vitamin C doesn’t necessarily make you immune from a cold. Just like eating a health diet doesn’t mean you won’t have a heart attack some day. Self-defense is no defense against all forms of bullying.

Kids have a basic need to be accepted by their peers. That’s particularly true with pre-teens and teens. When a kid feels rejected, tossed aside, made fun of, excluded, shunned, ridiculed, abused or neglected, it doesn’t matter how well they spar with dad in the basement or how many chin-ups they can do.

Emotional toughness is not gained as easily as physical toughness and often comes with its own negative repercussions.

Bullying is a scourge that needs to be cleansed from our society. The key to cleansing? Shine a bright light on it. Keep the light on it. Show everybody—this  is bullying…this is a bully…this is what it looks like…this is what it sounds like.

Now stop it.

Phillies Mid-Summer’s Night Dream

Phillies fans: stop pinching yourselves.

The Phillies offense came alive in July and the motor is still running in August. Raul Ibanez hit all those balls over the fence. That guy in the Chase Utley mask hitting .284…that is Chase Utley. And, yes, those red knee socks in right field belong to Hunter Pence.

You didn’t dream it all.

So, if it is all for real, then what’s causing that nagging feeling in the back of your head? Maybe you’re wondering the same thing I am: has the hitting finally caught up to the pitching or are the bats peaking in mid-summer.

When Jimmy Rollins hits, the Phils win

As a team, Philadelphia has not hit well since 2009. Actually, Charlie Manuel will tell you they haven’t hit well since mid-2008. There have been a few great performances over that stretch: Ryan Howard in the 2009 NLCS, comes to mind.  Utley threatened Reggie Jackson’s World Series homerun record that same year. Jason Werth’s bat carried them deep into 2010’s postseason.

Mostly, this team has won and lost on its pitching. GM Rueben Amaro put together quite a staff… a group of pitchers good enough to win regardless of the hitting.

Now the team is firing on all cylinders. But how long will it continue?

The Peak

You can make a strong case for the idea that the Phillies bats are peaking early, that they’ve been a hot streak and are doomed to cool off before the leaves start turning brown.

First, this team tends to score runs in bunches. It’s not unusual to see them go five or six innings only putting one run on the board. Then, in late innings they’ll score a bunch. The other night in Colorado was a perfect example of that trailing 3-1 in the ninth, Philadelphia tied the game with on an Ibanez two-run homer, then won they game on a Shane Victorino homerun in the tenth.

Down the stretch, the race against Atlanta is likely to tighten. The current eight-game gap will close up a little. When they’re trying to clinch the division, three and four late-game runs are going to be more difficult to come by. The Phils need steady production in September

Let’s look at who has been delivering these runs lately. Michael Martinez has put up 19 RBIs, 16 while subbing for Placido Palanco. John Mayberry Jr. has hit game winners. Dominic Brown’s bat has shown some life as well.

But the 39-year-old Ibanez has been the most impressive. Going into Aug. 3, he is hitting .248, which doesn’t seem that impressive unless you consider he had been languishing around .200 until late June. He has 16 homeruns for the season and 60 RBI’s.

To win over a 162-game season, a team needs clutch performance from all kinds of players, including guys off the bench. The Phillies offense has improved even as key players like Utley, Palanco and Victorino have spent time on the disabled list. But how deep into the season do you want to depend on Martinez, Mayberry, Brown and Ibanez?

The most disturbing event in July has to be the San Francisco Giants series. Giants’ pitchers Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum effectively shut down Phillies hitting and the Phillies lost back-to-back games for the first time since June 4. This was pre-Hunter Pence, of course. However, that series is a major concern. The 2011 NLCS will probably come down to a Giants-Phillies match-up again. The Giants’ pitching staff lines up well against both Phillies’ hitting and pitching.

To convince you and me that they can do this for the rest of the season, this is what we need to see:

  • Consistent run production over the course of entire games. That includes manufactured runs as well as big homerun performances. Nobody can count on crooked numbers in the eighth and ninth innings time and time again.
  • Production in the middle of the lineup. Utley, Howard and Pence need to be formidable against right- and left-handed pitching.
  • Jimmy Rollins. That’s it. Jimmy Rollins. When Jimmy Rollins gets on base and scores runs, the Phillies seldom lose.

Will Hunter Pence prove to be the missing piece to a return to 2008 glory?

For Real

The other side of the argument goes like this: Phillies fans don’t have a thing to worry about. The team can ride this offense—and great pitching—all the way to a World Series parade around Halloween.

There are plenty of valid reasons why fans can expect the hits to keep on coming. Leading the list are the aforementioned Rollins and Utley. They’re the team’s catalysts. When they hit and score runs, the Phillies win. Neither has been particularly healthy the last two seasons. This year’s different. Rollins, who seemed destined for a demotion to the sixth or seventh spot in the lineup after last year, is hitting .268 from the leadoff spot with 13 homers. After an extended stay on the DL with a knee problem, Utley is back and anybody who saw his inside the park homerun last week could see that his wheels are healthy.

Utley's return has sparked the Phillies Scoring

While Utley isn’t quite the .300-hitting slugger he was, his approach at the plate remains his strong suit. He knows how to work a count, when to shorten up his swing, how to get the most out of an at bat. When he returned to the regular line up, the team got a lot of its 2008 swagger back. He’s tallied up eight round trippers and 33 RBIs in 60 games.

Hunter Pence, acquired from Houston in a trade, is a bit like Utley. His presence makes the players around him better, especially Ryan Howard. The slugger is always a better second half player, but the addition of a good right-handed hitter in the fifth spot appears to be the lift Howard needed. Opposing pitchers now have to risk throwing Howard a fastball or two, and he’s been punishing them for it. In the first week with Pence hitting behind him, Howard went nine for 21 with four homeruns and four doubles.  We shouldn’t discount Pence’s own production either. He’s gotten a hit in every game since joining the Phillies.

If this is more than just an offensive spurt, the 2011 season is effectively over. No team in the major leagues can compete with that kind of hitting and that kind of pitching. True, the Giants and Braves got better at the trade deadline by adding Carlos Beltran and Michael Bourne respectively. But those two teams can’t match up with Philadelphia from the first spot to eighth spot. Heck, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels are more than fair hitting pitchers as well.

Philadelphia opens a four-game series in San Francisco this weekend. These are likely to be the four most telling games of the season. It won’t be a high scoring series, but should the Phils can get the best of Giants’ pitching now, October will be a whole lot easier.

From Broad and Pattison to Disney: Bullies Are Nothing to Laugh At

When I was a kid, the Philadelphia Flyers earned the nickname “The Broad Street Bullies” for their brutally physical style of play. Their bloody knuckles and toothless grins won hearts of championship-starved Philadelphians who had watched all their teams get bullied around for years.

Playing street hockey in those days, I felt first hand how the Broad Street Bullies inspired my friends.  We didn’t have too many fistfights playing, but our games were as much about checks and bruises as they were about passes and shots. Our goalie was the only one who wore any kinds of pads, so I didn’t finish many games without black and blue marks covering my arms and legs.

I wonder how many pro teams would be comfortable with a bully nickname today? Sure, the players and coaches might not mind it—they might even revel in it. Bullying, when it comes to sports, conjures images of hard-hitting play. The marketing and advertising departments, on the other hand, would scramble away from that image.

A bully label is the kind of thing most people ought to shy away from these days. When we take the word bully lightly, we minimize a crisis that effect millions of children every day. Accurate bullying statistics are hard to obtain because victims are often reticent to report it. However, stats from the Centers for Disease Control show about 25 percent of American kids have been bullied. That’s one in four. Watch the kids in your neighborhood get off the school bus. Pick out four kids. One of them got bullied in school that day.

For years, we told kids to suck it up when they complained about getting bullied. We considered bullying a natural part of growing up, a right of passage. Dealing with bullies was supposed to teach kids courage and inner toughness.

Problem is, it didn’t exactly work out that way.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among American teenagers and bully victims are two to nine times more likely to commit suicide than other teens. Here’s another frightening statistic: 160,000 kids stay home from school everyday so they don’t have to confront a bully. Over a hundred thousand kids…kids living on every street, every block…your neighbor’s kid…your friend’s kid…maybe even your kid…afraid to go to school.

Bullying is not just “getting picked on.” It’s not having a little fun at another kid’s expense. Bullying is violence and intimidation. It’s physical and psychological torture. It’s assault.

So, how much bullying should we accept? Bullying on the ice in a pro hockey game? Bullying on the neighborhood soccer pitch? Bullying on the playground? Bullying on the bus? Bullying on TV?

Those are questions worth thinking about. The easy answer is, of course, none. We shouldn’t accept any bullying. Unfortunately, reality isn’t that simple.

Here’s what I mean:

Buford Von Stomm is a character on the popular Disney cartoon Phineas and Ferb. Buford is a bully who routinely targets a nerdy smart kid named Baljeet. Buford, who wears a black T-shirt with a skull, comes off as bully with a heart of gold. He’s got his own fears—like little Suzy Johnson. He’s got a soft spot for his teddy bear, his gold fish and even his nerd Baljeet. But Buford is a bully. He makes no secret of it. He even lives by The Bully Code.

We can get crazy with political correctness in this country. Criticizing an otherwise charming and intelligent cartoon like Phineas and Ferb because of one character is a bit obsessive. Disney walks a fine line with Buford, but walks it well. We can laugh at a cartoonish bully…

But we can’t laugh at bullying itself.

Which brings us back to Flyers. I’ve met a number of the guys from team that won two Stanley Cups in the 1970s. Off the ice they were good guys, pleasant with fans and fun to be around on the golf course or in a sports bar. They could get a little crazy off the ice, but they weren’t bullies. They didn’t need to be. They were champs.

Real bullying is what people resort to when they can’t win any other way.

Captain America Takes A Swing At Bullies

Slipping an anti-bullying message into a summer blockbuster film is an easy way to score points with socially conscious movie critics.

Captain America: The First Avenger goes well beyond that. The Marvel Comic movie has picked up its share of three and four star reviews and it has been a hero at the box office. The film also delivers a stinging jab at bullying.

When you are a scrawny asthmatic growing up in the 1930s and ’40s, you’re going to be a target for bullies.  If you’re a scrawny asthmatic with the courage to stand up for yourself, you had better know how to take a beating. That’s the life Steve Rogers  (Chris Evans) lives prior his transformation into Cap.

Steve Rogers hates a bully, whether he is loudmouth in a movie theater or a dictator in Germany. We first see Steve stand up to a bully when he calls out a movie heckler and gets smacked around an alley for the effort. Even as he is taking a punishing beating, Steve displays his internal heroic qualities, telling the bully, “I can take this all day,” a line he’ll repeat later in the pic.

Rogers wants nothing better than to take on the ultimate bully, Adolf Hitler, but the army won’t have him. He’s too small and sickly. But his determination to fight catches the attention of brilliant scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who has a formula for creating a super soldier.

What Erskine sees in 4-F Steve Rogers is critical to the story. Erskine’s potion not only adds muscles, it enhances every quality of a person. Steve Rogers is so characterized by his basic decency and courage that he will make the perfect subject for Erskine’s experiment.

Unfortunately, the doctor has been here before, but not by his choice. Back in Nazi Germany he was forced to create an untested, imperfect batch of the formula. Young Nazi Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) tested the formula personally and became the inherently evil Red Skull. The Skull is so monstrous, so ambitious—so much the ultimate bully—that even Hitler’s schemes aren’t wicked enough.

The battle between Captain America and the Red Skull becomes symbolic of the struggle between inner decency vs. overt evil. The Skull is a sadist who feels obliged to wield his strength for his own benefit. Captain America stands for every kid who was ever knocked around by a bully and wished for the inner courage and physical strength not to get knocked down again.

Of course, we should be careful not to reduce bullying to a comic book issue. That would minimize an issue that drives children every day to dark places: depression, drug abuse, violence and suicide. Too many of the programs used in schools to deal with bullying do reduce it to comic book status. Corny and canned, lacking authenticity and effectiveness, these programs do little to stop the problem.

Chris Evans as Captain America--a hero whose strength goes deeper than this costume, muscles and shield.

Captain America: The First Avenger won’t end bullying either. However, the movie will be inspirational for anyone who has ever felt the shame and weakness that comes with being a bully’s victim. It also teaches us that inner strength and inner decency are more important the muscles, a uniform and shield. And finally, it keeps the subject foremost and in our minds and depicts the cruelty that motivates bullying.

The New Deal with US-Russian International Adoptions

The world’s two biggest bureaucracies have become more involved in the international adoption process.

For once this is good news.

Russia and the United States recently signed a treaty that requires greater oversight of what had once been a somewhat loosely supervised trans-national adoption process. Americans have been adopting Russian children since 1991, just after the follow of the Iron Curtain. During that twenty-year period, the Russian government has alleged 17 adoptees have died of abuse or neglect after placement in the United States.

On the other hand, because Russian health screenings were often inaccurate or falsified, American families often had to deal with Russian children suffering with previously undiagnosed health issues including cases of hepatitis, HIV/AIDS and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Last year, the Russian government threatened to suspend all adoptions to the United States after a Tennessee woman sent her son unescorted back to Russia with a note stating the child had mental problems. While Moscow never followed through on the treat, the highly publicized incident forced a new agreement.

The new agreement includes the following changes:

  • All adoptions must be completed through agencies certified by the Russian and American governments, ending private international adoptions from Russia.
  • American families looking to adopt a Russian child must complete a psychological screening.
  • Adoption agencies must gather more information about the child’s history and medical background during the pre-adoption case study.
  • Adoption agencies will complete regular home study visits after the placement.

International adoptions began declining since 2004 for a number of reasons. First, the world economy has struggled for much of that period, while the cost of adoptions has swelled well-above $25,000.  A number of highly publicized celebrity adoptions cast international adoptions in a bad light and called attention to abuses in the systems many nations use to place orphans with parents. The spotlight on international adoptions revealed horror stories about kidnapping and child selling rings profiting off vulnerable families. In many countries where domestic adoptions were previously stigmatized, the culture has begun to change. A new emphasis on placing orphans within their birth culture has arisen in parts of the world where single mothers and orphans once had no social standing. Therefore, international adoptions have declined as domestic adoption has increased in those countries.

The new US-Russian adoption regulations would seem to be another step toward the demise of international adoption. Currently, 10 percent of the international adoptees coming to the US are from Russia. There have been 60,000 US-Russian adoptions in the last twenty years. The new adoption treaty will likely reduce the number of international adoptions each year and slow down the process considerably.

However, the international adoption process needs to be cleaned up. Celebrities can’t wave their checkbooks and jump to the front of the line. Babies and orphans in impoverished countries can’t be a commodity bought and sold on the black market. Adoptive parents need better health information about children before the placement is completed.

The only important consideration in any adoption is what is best of the child. Adoptions are about finding loving, nurturing homes for children who might otherwise be condemned to orphanages, revolving foster homes, even child labor.

If a child is going to be transported thousands of miles from its place of birth, raised in a different culture, taught a different language, then everyone, governments and families, need to be assured that the adoptive home offers a physically and emotionally healthy environment.

There is no room for mistakes and failure in the adoption process.