Orphanage Partnerships in China Bolster Special Needs Adoption
Holt’s social work manager for the China program, Marissa Leuallen, explains how Holt helped to develop China’s “one-to-one” program — unique agency-orphanage partnerships designed to find families for the many older children and children with special needs living in China’s social welfare system.
Over the past decade, those of us who have worked in international adoption from China— or adopted a child from China — have meandered through an ever-changing environment. A program once known for placing healthy infant girls now places almost as many boys as girls, more toddlers and school-aged children than babies and — perhaps most significantly — nearly every child now joining families through the China program has at least some minor medical or development needs. Adoption professionals have evolved our methods for training, preparing and supporting adoptive families to build confidence and bolster resources so they can best meet the needs of their child. What you may not know is that we do this same work on the other side of the world — with government officials, caregivers and orphanage staff in China.
Holt actually, quite naturally, pioneered the idea of one-to-one partnerships in China.
Holt’s work with Chinese welfare institutions started in the early 1990s and has grown and broadened tremendously throughout the country. Over the past two decades, our presence and reputation in China has paved the way for new programs and services like group homes, foster care, medical and educational support, nutritional and feeding training and support, and adoption partnerships with many child welfare institutions.
These partnerships emerged in response to a need that became apparent during the international adoption surge of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
During this time period, healthy infants from China joined adoptive families across the globe in unprecedented numbers. A new crisis subsequently developed in China’s social welfare system as children with special needs, and older children, remained behind in orphanages. Despite the tremendous growth in adoption placements, their numbers were not dropping. This was an unintended outcome and one that seemed unfair to the thousands being left behind. Why was this happening? In large part, it was a matter of misunderstanding and lack of resources. Many institutions didn’t think that foreign adoptive families would be open to children with special needs. Additionally, the legal and administrative process of preparing a child’s file for international adoption is costly. Children with medical conditions require more medical evaluation and detailed reporting, which takes time and money not to mention a high skill level. The most underserved institutions simply did not have the capacity to prepare files for children they did not believe could be adopted.
Since the 1950s, Holt has found families for children with special needs from many countries. From our perspective, the situation in China was far from insurmountable.
We knew there were adoptive families out there as we had been placing children with special needs from China since 2005. We knew how to find them. Most importantly, we believed these children deserved a chance at joining one of them. With 25 field staff working in China, Holt was already providing a number of services to children with special needs — putting us in an ideal position to address the problem. Soon after, Jian Chen, Holt’s vice president of China programs, offered the Chinese government a plan designed to help the struggling, often rural and sometimes impoverished social welfare institutions develop the capacity to help children with special needs find adoptive families. The idea was simple. If an adoption agency could provide support to an institution, that agency would, in turn, have an opportunity to find families for a group of children from that care center. It worked! The program now involves nearly all U.S. agencies participating in adoption from China — reaching thousands of children who would at one time have been completely overlooked for adoption.
Today, Holt maintains partnerships with over a dozen orphanages at any given time. Half of the children we place with families are from institutions we partner with. This means Holt staff members in China often meet the children before we match them with families. They have provided technical and hands-on support to caregivers and officials, and established an ongoing relationship based on trust and collaboration. The relationship allows us to offer first-hand information to families about each institution and gives us better access to updated child information. Holt remains committed to our initial vision — providing resources and training to the most underserved welfare institutions so they can help find families for the many children with special needs in their care. The process of improvement is gradual, but we have seen incredible transformations from one year to the next as institutions gain the skills to join children with special needs with the loving families they deserve!
At Holt’s headquarters in Eugene, Oregon, our China child and family matching team bubbles with excitement when we open the first set of child photos or videos from a new partner we will be working with. We know that these are faces of children who will likely have families soon. These are the faces of children who have a chance at a future that spans outside the four walls of an institution. Holt is proud to be part of history and agents of change for the future of adoption and child welfare in China. We hope you will continue to walk alongside us and share our vision — one of a world where every child has a loving and secure home.
Marissa Leuallen | Social Work Manager, China Program