Keeping Up with the Huainan Kids

While in Huainan last month, we split our time between visiting the children in the orphanage and then those who are in our foster care program out in the community. We had brought lots of little treats to the kids in our orphanage school program: hair bows and flowers for the girls and planes for the boys.

Well, we quickly threw that plan out the window as ALL the kids wanted to look glamorous with hair decorations. They would come back again and again to get another flower or bow until they felt they looked just right. Don’t they look beautiful?

The current Huainan orphanage will be moving to a new, modern facility hopefully in the coming year. Part of our work on this trip was going over every child in our school to best decide what our classrooms will look like in the new complex. They expect to have 200-250 children at the new facility, so our education program here could expand in significant ways. While the orphanage staff and I discussed business, the rest of our team had a wonderful time playing with the kids.

Before our final visits to foster care, I went up to the baby rooms. We help so many children with medical needs from Huainan each year, and we have celebrated so much this year seeing many of those children finally find permanent homes. As I stood in the baby room, however, it struck me once more on just how emotional this work is. Because for every child that we celebrate – when they find healing or a family – there is always, always, always a new baby in need of help to take their place. On the day I was there, two brand new babies had just come in. One had medicine and a hospital discharge note with him, a clear indication that the birthparents had at least tried to get their baby the help he needed. There are so many children needing assistance that it can be quite overwhelming, and I had to remind myself yet again that we have to concentrate on changing lives, one precious child at a time.

The foster care visits were of course absolutely wonderful. Some of the kids have been in our programs for years, first in medical and then healing homes, and many of the kids here I have known since they were tiny babies. It was wonderful to see Charmion and Marshall, both children helped through our Heartbridge Healing Home, walking back from school hand-in-hand with their foster mom.

One of the most emotional moments of the day was when we visited the former foster family of Jon and Ben. These two little boys were so loved in this home, and in every photo we have of them, they were inseparable. The foster mom is so outgoing and kind, and we had heard she was grieving deeply for the boys after their recent adoption. She did her very best to stay cheerful during our visit, and she answered all of our questions about the new children in her care. But then….on the way back to our van, while we were walking on the small dirt path from her home, her sorrow over missing those two beautiful boys finally consumed her. She fell to the ground sobbing, and the love and grief that she had been holding in poured out of her. She kept saying, “It is so hard….I miss them so much,” and her pain was absolutely raw.

What a terribly hard job it is to be a GOOD foster parent. We ask them to love the kids in their homes as their own – and then the kids are adopted usually far, far away. Most foster parents rarely hear ever again how the children are doing. As we all sat in the van crying over this beautiful mom’s anguish, I just kept thinking that without a doubt in my mind, good foster care is the best possible option for any orphaned child. We know that the kids usually transition well to their new homes because they have known what it means to live in a family and be loved. But when it is done “right,” it also means that there is another family in China, besides the birth family, who will forever wonder what happened to the child they cared for. Who will always have a little hole in their hearts that the child they helped raise is now gone. As I said earlier in this post…..there is no getting around that working with orphaned children is emotional. There are intense joys and deep sorrows. We all want every child to ultimately have a permanent family, but this trip certainly reminded me that adoption is filled with complexities.

Regularly, we hear from people about the kids who were in our programs. Some new parents want contact with the orphanage or foster families in China more than anything. Some don’t want any tie to their child’s former life. I hear from foster families and orphanage staff who ask me earnestly, “Is there any news about ________?” or from orphanages who say it is best not to send updates because they can upset those children still not chosen. There is no one answer on how this is handled.

As an adoptive parent, do you take the time to keep the orphanage or foster parents updated on your child? Were you able to make contact with your child’s foster family? I know this is often a very sensitive topic, but I would love to hear your experiences in keeping a relationship with your child’s former caregivers.

~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer

9 Comments to “Keeping Up with the Huainan Kids”

  1. Leslie 15 May 2013 at 8:24 pm #

    Yes and No. As you know, Amy, we send updates to one of our daughter’s foster family. They loved her well. No doubt about it. B/c of her medical condition, it means the world to me to be able to update them on how well she is doing now, especially after her recent heart surgery. I wish so badly I could have met them, but our agency wasn’t hip on it and it was just too far with her health as it was. When we go back to China again, you can bet we’ll have a trip to see them and the place our daughter lived on our itinerary.

    Then our older son, who was in a wonderful foster family–still don’t know how it was funded–keeps contact with them via email and a monthly phone call. I sort of have to make him call. He is a teen now and just not a big phone talker, and he gets nervous about his Chinese, but once he gets on the phone with them he gets the biggest smile!

    We went to see them in 2012 when we went back to China to bring home baby sister. It had been 20 months since they had seen each other, and he and his Mama literally ran across the hotel lobby in to each other’s arms. He recently asked me, home almost 3 years and at age 13 currently, if it would be OK if he called his foster Momma just “Mama” instead of “China Mama.” I said of course she will always be your Mama. He smiled and said, “And you will always be my Mommy!” Yes, he is a sensitive soul, but to him, she was not a stand-in, she was Mama. And I will always be grateful for her love for him.

    I think it is vitally important to maintain any channels of contact in China that you can for your child. I have two more from China for which we have very little info. I see how damaging this can be. I know foster family isn’t always a great experience, but for our two who were in FC it was wonderful.

  2. Tamara 5 May 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    I send a photo album to my children’s orphanages every year. In fact, I put them together weeks ago and need to get them in the mail. I used to send letters, but the translations were so expensive that I decided to let the pictures tell the stories. I am careful to choose pictures that do not have them holding a toy or anything that might spark jealousy if other kids see the pictures. However, they are happy pictures of the kids playing on the beach or participating in sports which I realize could be just as painful. My hope is that they encourage the adults while allowing them to keep their eyes on the little ones they once loved as they grow up. I never hear back. However, I did send an album with a family traveling to adopt from my daughter’s orphanage one year. They reported that the director told them that I send the albums every year, and they are always glad to get them. My son was in foster care which was on site at the orphanage, and the parents rotated in and out. My daughter was never in foster care, but her nanny bawled and bawled on gotcha day. It is only fair that I do everything I can to let them see how these kids blossom in a family. If only I could afford a trip back for a live visit…

  3. Gwenaëlle DUBOST-BERNARD 4 May 2013 at 4:25 am #

    Dear Amy,
    I’m very moved to read your message about foster families and their sadness when children are adopted. We are french and we adopted recently little Millie (Jing Cui). We have a great regret : we didn’t meet her foster mom, just to thank her. Our daughter lived for 4 years in her foster family, and what she is now, it’s thanks to that mom.
    Could you tell us if it’s possible to thank her now, to give her pictures of Millie, and what we have to do for that ?
    Thank you for your help,
    Gwenaëlle

  4. Sarah Elizabeth Neville 3 May 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    When I was studying abroad in Hangzhou last fall, one of my main personal goals was to make contact with my little brother’s foster family (he’s 7 now).

    Tip to anyone who wants to do this: CONTACT YOUR ADOPTION AGENCY FIRST! 🙂 (At least for Guangdong province.) I went through this bizzarre chase of trying to phone the orphanage directly and speak Chinese with them and in the end I had to contact our agency and get them to send some paperwork to the provincial adoption department.

    The foster parents were THRILLED that I made contact. I flew down to Shantou to meet them, the orphanage director brought me to their home, and we just talked about my brother and they told me all sorts of things about his life with them. I had no idea the foster parents had 4 biological children. They told me that they’d had no word of my brother since he left their home. They were devastated when he left, their other children all cried, my brother originally said that he didn’t want to be adopted…it was heartbreaking.

    I haven’t sent photos since Christmastime but I have the foster family’s bio daughter’s Chinese cell phone number (I have a mobile app that I can contact her through). When I was home over break she, my brother and I sent voice messages back and forth to each other.

    I don’t know if all orphanages will allow you to send information, but I encourage you to do whatever you can to contact them, because they probably have no idea where their child is or how he or she is doing.

    Think about that anxiety you felt after you got your kid’s referral and then had to wait for a few months with no new photos and updates before you could go and meet him or her in China–and now imagine how difficult the opposite situation would be, to care for a child and then never see photos or hear about their well-being again for years afterwards.


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