There is a new documentary touring the country right now called STUCK. The film explores the many reasons that orphans in developing countries get stuck living in orphanages. Of course, ideally all children in impoverished countries would be able to grow up with their biological parents. But for some children, this is not an option, and a lifetime in an institution becomes a likely future for them. International adoption is a solution for children who have no other option. It seems like an obvious solution: there are children who need families . . . there are families who want to give a child a home. Yet a myriad of political, cultural, and bureaucratic forces make international adoption difficult, if not impossible. I will be seeing the movie this week, but in a post called Failure to Thrive, Brandon Hatmaker describes on of the most disturbing parts of the film: the developmental difficulties that institutionalized children face:
One segment of the film highlighted my new least favorite phrase: “Failure to Thrive”. While there are significant and often lifelong emotional and mental impacts of a child being orphaned and institutionalized, the thing that most miss is the measurable physical impact it has on a child. The longer a child is institutionalized and away from a healthy family environment, the greater the impact. This is very telling. Failure to thrive indicates insufficient growth, weight gain, or inappropriate weight loss. It covers poor physical growth of any cause and can subsequently be a cause of abnormal intellectual, social, and emotional development.
It’s nearly impossible to tell the age of many orphaned children at most international orphanages. Evaluating height, weight, emotional maturity, or even thought development all lead to inaccurate conclusions. All can be impacted negatively. This is often most noticeable post adoption… and once the child is in a healthy family environment. As an adoptive dad, I’ve seen this first hand. After spending nearly three years in one of the best orphanages in Ethiopia, our adopted son grew more than two inches in under three months after coming into our home. He began to thrive in his new environment. I heard just yesterday a report of an adoptive child who grew three inches in two months and was able to move from below zero-percentile on weight to just above average. In TWO MONTHS.
This documentary is deeply personal to me because we were a family that was “stuck”. We turned in our application to adopt a little boy when he was 6 months old. We were approved by both the US and Haiti within that year, and yet a number of factors led to it taking THREE WHOLE YEARS for our son to come home. Our son was orphaned – his dad died before he was born, and his mother died shortly after. He had no other option. We were approved and ready for him. And yet he had to spend three of his formative years in an orphanage, with no mother or father looking after his emotional needs. This was a GOOD orphanage – and yet he still deals with the effects of growing up without a primary caretaker. When I look at my son, I think about how different his life would be if he had been able to join our family at a younger age. So many attachment-related and behavioral issues could have been avoided. And again, he was at a good orphanage. I’m afraid good orphanages are rare in some developing countries. I hope that instead of clicking away, you will watch this documentary. It’s painful, but it’s real. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: this is not an issue just for adoptive families to take up. I met a gal this weekend who told me she was interested in advocating for orphans, but she felt she couldn’t because she hadn’t adopted herself. If there is one message I wish I could impart to everyone who reads here, it’s this: kids without family need advocates. ALL OF US should be advocating for them. Yes, even you. Whatever your situation. A child without a family, growing up in an institution, is the most vulnerable human in our society. We should all be working to change that. We should be seeing what we need to do to get children out of orphanages and back into their families. We should be wary of building more orphanages and dumping more kids into them. An orphanage should be a triage situation, not a lifetime sentence. We should figure out how to reunited them with their families, and if that’s not possible, place them in a new family. If you are in Orange County, there is a showing of this documentary WEDNESDAY NIGHT at 7pm in Rancho Laguna Niguel. You can buy tickets here. Tomorrow night, it will be showing in San Diego at Gas Lamp Cinema at 7pm. The movie is playing nationwide. You can see when it is coming to your area here. If this is a cause that you care about, please sign the PETITION and share this with others.