Today, my busy home resonates with the sound of guitars, piano, Nerf wars and singing, and the foyer is lined with the increasingly large running shoes and backpacks of my children.
We are family, like any other. But not so many years ago, three of our six children could have been counted in statistics — three of the millions upon millions of children living in orphanages or other institutions, without family. Since our three youngest children joined us through adoption from South Korea between 2002 and 2006, we’ve seen the fairly miraculous changes in their lives and the lives of their internationally adopted friends.
While we’re so thankful to have our boys home, we’re increasingly concerned for the heartbreaking plight of the many children left behind throughout the world, without families, and without hope. In this light, we’re particularly excited about the award-winning documentary “STUCK” that will be showing in Albany at the Spectrum Theatres Monday, as part of a media event designed to spur a movement and change the world.
LOVE AND CARE
Our children were born in a country that provides good orphan care, but even so, we’ve seen changes that wouldn’t have been possible without the love and care of a family. One of our boys was kept in a wheelchair at his orphanage because he was missing bones in his lower legs, despite the fact that he could run on his knees. When he arrived home at 3, we expected a withdrawn child who wouldn’t participate without encouragement, but instead received a dynamo who hasn’t heard the word “can’t” since leaving a culture that isn’t as tolerant of differences. Since his surgery at age 4, he runs on his prosthetic legs, has wrestled in numerous tournaments, swims, rows and has an uncanny knack with electronics.
Another of our children required extensive treatment for abcessed baby teeth since his homecoming at age 2, and a hearing aid for an undiagnosed hearing loss. I asked the dentist what would have happened if this child had stayed in an institution and he predicted that our son would have been in unbearable pain, and that all of his adult teeth would have been destroyed by the continued infections. I shudder to think of my child, parentless, in terrible pain and unable to hear, and without anyone to comfort him. Amazingly, he is now a talented musician.
A third child arrived home at age 3 the size of a tiny 1-year-old, with failure to thrive physically, developmentally and emotionally; he had just shut down. In the love of a family and with attachment parenting, the encouragement of brothers and sister, and speech therapy, we watched him begin to blossom as he learned what it meant to belong. The growth was actually measurable — he grew an astonishing six inches his first year home, four inches above the two that would be normal for a child his age.
Statistics show that our children’s situations are only unusual in how well they were cared for before joining our family. In many cases, the care and living situations of children in orphanages are drastically worse, with children living in situations most American adults wouldn’t consider sleeping in. Statistics also show that the fi rst three years of a child’s life are critical to brain development, with drastically measurable differences in brain size in children who’ve suffered profound neglect or abuse — a difference that is crucial to a child’s future development, education and potential to be a contributing member of society.
Unfortunately, for many children in international institutions, this is a reality rather than an exception. When these children “age out” of institutions at age 16 or 17, they are cast into the world at a severe disadvantage, often with little education, no job skills, decreased potential and no family to support them as they find their way.
Figures show that in Russia and Ukraine alone, 10 percent to 15 percent of children who age out of an orphanage commit suicide before age 18; 60 percent of girls are lured into prostitution; 70 percent of boys become hardened criminals; and thousands are unemployed, homeless or in prison within a few years. The picture is similar for orphans around the world, and some become victims of child traffi cking even before they age out.
Children need families, and as we watch our boys play with their Ethiopian- and Russianborn friends who also joined their families through adoption, we are humbled by the privilege of raising them, and horrified by what their futures could have been.
Unfortunately, international adoption has plummeted by 60 percent since 2004, in large part because of the red tape and agendas that keep children from the many families wishing to adopt.
That’s why we’re so excited about “STUCK”, the movie, playing at a special screening at the Spectrum Theatres in Albany at 7 p.m. Monday. “STUCK,” which has won numerous Audience Choice awards at film festivals, follows the stories of three families adopting from Ethiopia, Vietnam and Haiti, as they struggle to bring their children home. It offers insight into the emotional and physical impact of institutional life, and highlights the roadblocks and bureaucracy that can keep children from the arms of loving families.
Craig Juntenen, the fi lm’s producer and founder of the nonprofi t Both Ends Burning (bothendsburning.org), is a former professional football player and entrepreneur turned orphan advocate. He’s traveling with the movie in a crosscountry tour that hits Albany on its way to Washington, D.C., where a petition supporting reform in international adoption laws will be delivered to legislators.
In Albany Monday night, there will be free family portraits taken with the “STUCK” tour bus for those who come early to the movie. We’re looking forward to watching the movie and to meeting Juntenen, who will be taking questions after the film. Most of all, we’re thankful that millions of children are being given a voice and, through our attendance, we will be listening.
Aimee French lives in Glenville.