I have seen some buzz about this article and most recently in a friends blog (who has adopted 4 from Ethiopia, 2 being older boys). I think it is very important for us to think about what this article deals with and act as Christians. If God is putting an older child on your heart please pursue this. There is a desperate need. You can see my friends blog by going to the ones I follow on the right hand side of this page (The Kinnells). Love Without Boundaries is a great organization and well worth supporting also.
When many people think of an orphanage, I think they often envision babies and toddlers. I used to be one of those people myself. On my many trips to China, however, I began meeting and falling in love with the older children who have grown up in institutions, many who never had any true chance of finding a permanent home. Their faces and stories are in my heart forever now, and sadly many of my memories of these great kids involve tears. Tears from Jenny, who broke down on her 14th birthday when she realized that she had aged out of the adoption system without being chosen. The final realization that she would never know what it meant to have a mom or dad of her own caused her to fall into a deep depression. Tears from Lily, a 17-year-old girl whom I had given my jacket after she admired it. When she refused to accept it initially, I put my hand on her shoulder and said, “But of course you have to take it because you are like family to me.” And it was at that one word, “family,” that this normally stoic young lady broke down and sobbed uncontrollably, as it is the one thing that she longed for.
By far, however, the most emotional moment of my time in China came one night when I was able to meet with a group of older orphaned teens I had watched grow up over a five year period. Every time I would visit their orphanage, I would enjoy getting to know them more. They all seemed so close, such good friends, and they always had smiles for me when I arrived. That night, however, was a night when the kids finally let their guard down. It was a night of real conversation and sharing what it means to grow up as an orphan. Toward the end of the evening we were all in tears. Afterwards, one of the older boys stayed to talk with me privately. I am hesitant to even write of it now as it was such a deeply personal and emotionally raw conversation. I will share, however, that he told me that growing up without a mother or father “hurts more than death.” Children aren’t supposed to raise themselves. They are not supposed to grow up alone, which I know sounds impossible when you are growing up in a crowded orphanage. The reality, though, is that hundreds of thousands of orphaned children feel utterly and completely ALONE. I held this incredible and wonderful teen in my arms as he sobbed about how much he wanted a mom, and I can’t think of it now without great pain.
Why was I given the opportunity to be born into a family who could take care of me, while millions of children are born into situations so sad and filled with hurt that many people don’t even want to hear their stories? I have struggled with that question for years with no answers. But I do know that all of us who have been blessed to know what a family really is should make every effort possible to help those who are orphaned. If not us, then who?
The theme song for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games was a song called “You and Me.” It has been sung to me by children in orphanages many times, and it always makes me cry. The words haunt me… especially for the older children who have grown up feeling so alone: “Put your hand in mine. You and me, from one world. We are family.”
How I wish those words were true in every person’s heart. How I wish everyone believed that we need to treat people as family and share our ever shrinking world. What a wonderful place this would be if every adult took the hand of a child in need and didn’t let go. To all of the older orphaned children who have aged out of the possibility of ever finding a family, I send my heartfelt prayers. You are not forgotten. And we will continue doing our very best to help in every way possible.
Amy Eldridge is the Executive Director of Love Without Boundaries.
Love Without Boundaries proudly advocates for adoption but is not an adoption agency. We invite you to contact email@example.com with questions about a child we have featured and encourage you to contact your local adoption agency for more information about China’s Waiting Child Program.
And here is more from Amy Eldridge:
Amy Eldridge of LWB shares her insights
December 01,2010 / Amy Eldridge
Editor's Note: Although Amy addressed the concept of adopting an older child from China, the reality for these children is true across all countries. As the adoptive mom of two older children, I can share that the rewards are well worth it! -Martha Osborne
I've been asked a lot recently how I feel about the growing number of adoption pleas we see for kids who are almost turning 14 and aging out of the international adoption process. Some people have written me that they feel it is wrong to make a child start over at age 13 or 14, having to learn a new language and not really understanding what it means to live in a family. Many have expressed concern that the kids will be leaving the friends they have had their whole lives, while of course others spread the news far and wide that a child is about ready to age out, wanting to help them find a permanent home.
After working with teens in China for the last 7 years, I advocate for older child adoption for many reasons. While it is impossible to make sweeping generalizations since every orphanage is different, here are some of my reasons for
believing every child, regardless of age, deserves a chance at a family to love them:
1) Many people do not realize the deep and ingrained stigma that an orphaned child often faces in Chinese
society (and many other cultures). Orphans are often felt to be unlucky or even "cursed," and so they often have many
strikes against them when it comes time to go to school or find a job.
There are many different levels of schools in China; many orphaned children are only able to attend the lowest level schools, as parents who are paying higher fees for the better schools don't want their children to have to attend
with "unlucky orphans". Education is so important in Chinese society, and parents often push their children to try harder and work longer on their homework. Orphaned children rarely have anyone pushing them or encouraging them, and so we frequently work with young teens who only have rudimentary educations and who have trouble believing their lives will ever be better. The few dozen children in orphanages whom we have been honored to sponsor for college are the exception. To actually make it to university as an orphaned child is a true achievement. And even after graduating, jobs are often very difficult to come by due to businesses again not wanting to employ people who might bring bad luck to the company. Many of you might remember the young lady we helped earn an accounting degree in college a few years ago. She was unable to find a job in her hometown because of her orphan status. She was finally hired by the local government when no private company would agree to hire her.
2) Some people might ask how anyone would know you were an orphan after you left the institution. Couldn't you just keep it quiet? There are several factors that make it hard to ever lose your "orphan" status. The first is your hukou, the formal registration status that every individual in China has. Your hukou is family-based in your home city, and orphaned children often have a "group" hukou that clearly identifies them as not having a family. In addition, in the past it was very common for orphanages to use "created" surnames for the children in their care. For example, many orphanages used the last name of "Fu," which directly implies an orphan, or else they used the first syllable of the town or district, such as Shan or Mei. These "created" surnames often immediately identify a child as not having a real family. Because of this, and knowing the trouble that orphaned children often have assimilating into Chinese society, the government has recently been giving children more common last names, such as Li or Chang.
3) Almost everything in Chinese society revolves around the family, and great reverence is giving to one's ancestors and lineage. During major holidays, if at all possible, you return to your family. For orphaned children who age out of the social welfare system, they often find life very difficult with no family ties, and they frequently live on the margins
4) Many people worry that the older children being adopted don't really want to leave their home country. At least in the orphanages where we work, the children are always asked, and in many cases, they have to pass a provincial interview before they can be registered for adoption. Many provinces require the child to sign papers that they want to be adopted. As a mom of teens myself, I really admire the kids who find the courage to overcome their fears in order to have a chance at a family, a real education, and a fresh start, but it does raise the question of whether a 12 or 13 year old should be left on their own to make such a life-impacting decision.
I wouldn't allow my 13 year old to decide their entire future on their own, and so adoptive parents need to understand
the great fear and cold feet that can come on adoption day. We need to remember that there are often cases where
the older kids in orphanages who have already aged out of adoption will tell the younger children scary stories about
foreign parents, since they were unable to have the same opportunity. Aunties will often tell a child that they can never do anything wrong or they will be returned. There is indeed deep pressure put on children who agree to adoption at an older age to be good, and it is understandable why there is so much anxiety, fear, and tears on adoption day since very few aunties or children really have a clear understanding of what life will be like for a child outside of China.
One mom told me how incredibly hard it was to see her new daughter crying on the phone to her orphanage a few days post-adoption. She said it was easy to think, "Am I really doing the right thing taking her away from all she has known?" Many older kids have told me how scared they were to even consider adoption, but the desire for a family is something that many of them carry deeply in their hearts.
5) Another question that is frequently asked is why are we hearing about so many kids about ready to age out
now when there were so few over the last ten years? After speaking with dozens of orphanage directors, it is clear
that the majority of them truly believed that Westerners only wanted babies to adopt, and I think for many years that was a fair assumption, since many families put as young as possible on their home studies. Many of us know people who even requested that they wanted a 3-5 year old child and yet were referred a baby. Even in 2007 and 2008, when LWB was conducting provincial trainings on special needs adoptions, the audience, filled with aunties and directors, would shake their heads as if they couldn't believe us when we said people were willing to adopt children who were 11, 12, and 13. Many orphanages would start out by agreeing to submit paperwork on one or two older orphaned children, and then as they saw those children be adopted, they would agree to send more files. The CCAA also started new initiatives, matching agencies with orphanages to see if families could be found for the older children. It has been a slow and steady process for orphanages to realize that older children most definitely can find families through the adoption process. It has been wonderful for us at LWB to see the older children in the orphanages where we have worked for five years or longer finally get a chance at a permanent home.
How do you feel about older child adoption? Have you ever considered it or have you personally adopted a child older
than 10? LWB has several volunteers who have adopted teens who are more than willing to discuss both pre- and post-adoption issues with families. You can always contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information!
Amy Eldridge is the Executive Director of Love Without Boundaries and the mom to seven wonderful kids (2 from
China). LWB has launched a new blog this month, located at: http://www.lwbcommunity.org/