Permanency for Orphaned Children
On my most recent trip to China, I visited multiple orphanages, both large and small. When my plane touched down I realized that it will soon be 15 years that I’ve been working with orphaned children, so obviously I’ve seen a lot of changes in that time. Despite multi-million dollar facilities being built in even the most rural areas, there’s still no getting around the fact that children aren’t supposed to be raised in institutions.
A recent report from China stated once again that almost 1 million babies are born with birth defects there each year, which means that many more children will be facing the realities of abandonment and institutional care since almost all children entering Chinese orphanages today are born with special needs.
On my trip, I made a special visit to a ten-year-old boy whom I first met when he was just a baby. Ifan was born with bilateral clubfeet, and nine years ago his orphanage agreed that he could become part of our foster care program.
I’ve watched Ifan grow from a baby to a preschooler to the kind and polite young boy he is today. I’ve also watched as his adoption file made the rounds at multiple agencies and the shared list without a family committing to bring him home. I think I know why that is: Ifan has an unknown learning disability, and the local public school unenrolled him after a few weeks saying he wasn’t catching on to the lessons. We stepped in to support him at a private kindergarten program, but the local public school has remained firmly closed to him.
Ifan has a very special place in my heart as my 13-year-old son from China has severe dyslexia. From the time my son TJ was a preschooler, I knew something was up, as learning the letters of the alphabet was an enormous struggle for him. I vividly remember sitting in public school IEP meetings with administrators who didn’t take the time to know my child trying to convince me that I should consider full-time special education for my son. What I knew as his mom, however, was that my son was very bright and insightful. His brain just didn’t want to learn to read in the same way as others. Now that he’s enrolled in a special program for children with dyslexia, he’s excelling in all of his coursework. He just learns differently.
I have no way of knowing if Ifan has something like dyslexia or one of the many other learning disabilities which impact millions of school-aged children in the US alone. But I know that without a permanent family and education support, his future is extremely uncertain.
When I stopped by Ifan’s foster home this summer, he was still the kind and cheerful boy I remembered from previous visits. He helped us carry the snacks we’d brought into his home, and immediately asked if we wanted a chair.
He offered the treats to his foster sister and mom and dad first, before taking one for himself. I watched him laughing and talking with his foster parents, and I sadly realized yet again just how many orphaned children’s lives are so completely beyond their control. Ifan loves his foster family deeply; they are all he has ever known. But his foster father has heart issues and told us on the visit that they will not be able to foster him much longer. I sadly believe when that happens, Ifan will be moved back to institutional care.
The foster father took me aside and told me how much he wants Ifan to be adopted. He believes Ifan has enormous potential if he can get an education, but the father knows it won’t happen in his current situation. His dad is teaching him Chinese characters at home, but he desperately wants Ifan to go to school.
When Ifan heard his foster father talking about adoption, he immediately ran over and grabbed his baba’s hand, saying, “This is my dad; I want to stay with my dad,” and my heart grew heavy as I wished for Ifan’s sake that things could be that simple. We’ve employed this family as foster parents for over 10 years, and they have cared for dozens of children for us during that time. As much as I know they love and truly care for Ifan, I also know the father was being very honest with us when he said they will not foster forever.
This is where our work really hurts. When it comes to adoption, we can gather metrics and analyze domestic trends and discuss what new regulations mean for international adoption on the whole, but the reality is that all the statistics and numbers we see in reports are ACTUAL LITTLE KIDS. They are living, breathing children who depend wholly on adults to act in their best interest, and we all know that doesn’t always happen.
As I listened to Ifan sing with an embarrassed smile that any ten-year-old boy would have when asked to perform for strangers, I prayed that just like my own son TJ, one day he too will get the opportunity to discover how he learns best, with a permanent family cheering him on the whole way.
There are thousands of orphaned children in China alone, just like Ifan, who are so much more than a one line sterile listing in an adoption database. Ifan’s summary states: Boy, 10 years old, multiple special needs. How incomplete is that? I wish I could edit those listings to include lots of personal notes like, “Loves building with Legos, cheerful and polite, kind to his foster sister, helpful to his parents, responsible with chores, respectful to seniors in his neighborhood.”
Ifan’s an all-around nice kid, and it weighs on my heart now knowing that someday he will go through the trauma of losing the foster parents he loves. His grief and sadness when that day arrives will either be faced with an adoptive family by his side or else on his own back at an orphanage he left as a baby. I sure know which one of those I’m praying for.
Last week we got the very sad news that one of the orphanages where we have a foster care program has decided to stop filing children for foreign adoptions. For many of the children here with more moderate special needs, that means their chance of finding a forever family is now almost non-existent.
The new director is also considering whether or not he even wants foster care to continue, so there’s a very real chance that all of those kids will return to the institution. It hurts my heart to even consider that possibility. Just like Ifan, they only want to feel safe and loved, and they have no idea that their current world might come crashing down around them in an instant.
That is why PERMANENCY for orphaned children must always be the primary goal. Every child needs a permanent, legal family to be his or her advocate in life. While government officials, policies, and adoption regulations can change frequently, the love of a devoted adoptive family endures. It’s a love which can move mountains, and the love every child deserves.
All of us at LWB are so grateful to those who continue to spread the news that adoption can be a wonderful way to build a family. For all the Ifans out there in the world, we must never stop raising our voices that every child deserves a permanent home.
~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer