The value of foster care in China

Foster families provide a loving home environment that even the most caring orphanage workers cannot provide. Their selfless love nurtures homeless children while Holt completes the adoption processing for permanent families. Holt’s dedicated temporary families are often the only hope for infants suffering from malnutrition, children recovering from surgery, and others who need extra care.

The Chinese government is asking Holt to step up our foster care programs in China immediately.  Every effort must be made to get orphaned children out of institutional care. 

Before coming home to the United States, Lilah Ruud lived with one of Holt’s loving and attentive foster families. Lilah’s older sister, Danica, had this to say about her visit to China to meet her little sister:

“We visited an orphanage where babies were lined up in beds, in rows. These babies didn’t have the one-on-one attention of a loving family. I also saw babies – like my sister – who had been cared for by foster families. Love does great things for people. Foster care for orphans can change a child’s life!”

The Following is Joan Ruud’s account of meeting Lilah for the first time, and her thoughts on the importance of foster care:

In September 2004, my husband and I decided we wanted to grow our family through adoption. Because we had an 8-year-old daughter, we chose the country based on how quickly we could bring our second child home. As fate would have it, we chose China! As the wheels of foreign adoption churned, we ended up waiting for Lilah for 4 years.

We received our first picture and official match on November 2007, and that Christmas Eve, we received an e-mail informing us that Lilah was not in an orphanage – as we had anticipated – but with a foster parent. Holt had no additional information and we inferred that our daughter had recently been placed in foster care.

During our wait for Lilah, I had read a bit about orphanages.  I just assumed that our child would be placed in an orphanage, and we would bring her home almost directly from that institution. I was prepared for potential developmental delays and perhaps some attachment issues. The news of Lilah’s foster care placement didn’t mean so much to me, because I assumed it had been a recent development in her young life.

We arrived in China on January 8th, 2008 and held Lilah in our arms for the first time on January 13th. We had traveled in a group of 13 families to Jiangxi Province. About half of the children had been in orphanages and the other half had the good fortune to be placed in foster care. We also learned at this time that Lilah had been placed in foster care, thanks to donations to Holt, within a few weeks of birth.

As Lilah was placed in my arms, her inevitable tears began. Poor child had to deal with strange smells, strange sights and sounds, and strange people who were all so ecstatic to finally meet her. After an hour or so, she settled in and we began our bonding. She wasn’t so interested in big sister, she didn’t care for dad at all, but she wanted me. Lilah clearly assessed her situation and gravitated to the most familiar person; I attribute this to her relationship with her foster mother. She had experienced a home and recognized a family and, in particular, a mother. Her eye contact with me was constant. Read More

Holt’s Family Preservation program in Ethiopia

“The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”–Matthew 7:25

By Ashli Keyser, managing editor

In the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses a parable to speak about faith and trusting in Him. He discusses two builders, a man who built his house on an unsteady foundation of sand, and the other who built his house on a rock – a firm foundation of faith and trust.

While the two houses in Jesus’ sermon serve as metaphors for obeying the word of God, I couldn’t help but ponder this parable as I observed two very different houses set atop a small piece of land in southern Ethiopia. Standing in front of one structure was *Ejamo, his wife, *Almaz, and their five children, waiting for our team, including Holt President and CEO Kim Brown, to arrive.

I had seen this family in a photograph, just over a year ago, and was taken aback by how different each of them looked today. The parents no longer had gloomy expressions of hunger on their faces. The children no longer wore tattered rags of clothes. They each stood, happily, in front of their new house, a strongly built hut, made of durable wood and thickly packed mud. Flowerpots lined the windowsills – a mother’s special touch to a home that she could be proud of.

To the right of the family stood another house – a weak and dilapidated hut made of eucalyptus leaves, straw, and misshapen pieces of wood and branches – a house that looked to be more of a nest than a home suitable for two parents and five children. Today that nest-like shack serves only as a devastating reminder of what this family’s life once looked like and what it will hopefully never be again.

What an amazing moment for Ejamo, I thought. Showing off his family’s new and improved house to Kim Brown and the rest of our team. “Look what I’ve accomplished, look what you’ve helped me to accomplish.” The smile on Ejamo’s face matched his equally large 7-foot frame. This family, no longer weak and wanting – like the broken-down house they once occupied – has made a fresh start and stands strong beside their house, a new beginning and a renewed hope.

“We are going to help this family,” said Phil Littleton, Holt’s senior vice president, standing with Ejamo in 2009, in the beginning stages of Holt’s intervention. “We are going to give them what they need to build a better life for themselves.” Read More

A mother’s perspective

When my nine-year-old declared there was “no way” he would go to Holt Adoptee camp for a whole week, I was disappointed. I was sure it would be a good experience, but he didn’t want to sleep away from home. I considered the usual parental options: persuasion, bribery and coercion! Fortunately, I soon discovered Holt’s day camp. Not only was this one-day camp much more acceptable to my eldest, but because the age range was from 5-16, his younger siblings could participate too. And parents were welcome!

The kids and I arrived at Camp Angelos promptly at 9 am, and Harry immediately spotted a friend from home on the basketball court. Before I could even apply sunscreen, he was off, disappearing into a crowd of black-haired, rough and tumble boys. Five-year-old Betty darted across the lawn to the playground. Theo, who is 8 and quite shy in new situations, walked with me to the registration table. Camp leaders Michael and Steve greeted us with friendly smiles and gathered the parents and kids into a big circle for some icebreakers. It was refreshing to be in a group of families similar to our own: kids of all complexions, with parents who resembled them very little, performing motherly and fatherly duties – encouraging, cuddling, slipping away for potty breaks as needed. Many of the kids were reserved at first, but the staff’s enthusiasm was contagious.

Steve invited the younger day campers to team up with a group of older, week-long campers – veterans now, with three days of Holt camp under their belts!  And all the day campers, except one, followed their new teenage mentors onto the lawn for games and icebreakers. Theo stuck to me like Velcro, and I was grateful that the staff and other parents were totally accepting. He participated gamely in the adoptive parent workshop, writing a list of words that described his parents and another that described him (“Mom? How do you spell ‘good climber’?”).  But when one of the camp counselors invited him personally to join in a game of freeze tag, this was too tempting, and I didn’t see him again until lunch!

While the kids played and participated in age-appropriate workshops about race and adoption, the parents were invited to consider adoption from our children’s point of view. We heard from teen and adult adoptees and had the chance to listen, ask questions, and share our own experiences with race and racism. I took home an uncomfortable truth: all of our minority kids, regardless of country of origin, experience racism on a regular basis. Both positive and negative stereotypes, as well as nosy and inappropriate questions about where our kids are from or “what” exactly they are, are upsetting to our children. Adoptive parents often want to minimize these encounters, but we need to acknowledge them. Read More

The deadline to submit a graduate photo for the summer issue of Holt International magazine is July 1st.   If you are a Holt adoptee and graduated from high school, college or vocational school in 2012, fill out a graduate form and submit your photo, here.

Short stories (250-700 words) from graduating adoptees, or their parents, are also welcome!  Contact Ashli Keyser for more information.

by Robin Munro, senior writer

Meihekou, China – At the end of a winding dirt road in Meihekou – a city in Northern China’s Jilin Province – behind a green door decorated in red for luck, a teenage girl spends her days engaged in the usual teenage activities. She text messages her friends on her cell phone. Chats online. Listens to music. Paints her long, manicured fingernails in sparkly purple polish. And dreams of her future.

At 19, she should be preparing to leave her childhood home – to pursue her goals, and explore the world. But for Jie Lin (name changed), dreams remain just dreams. And independence a fantasy. Born with a condition that causes severe muscle atrophy, Jie Lin is, essentially, paralyzed in her arms and legs – they are thin as reeds, skin to bone, and folded beneath her like marionette sticks. As her body grew, it became too heavy for her to move from laying to sitting on her own. Her foster mother carries her to the bathroom. To leave the house, she must be pushed in a stroller.

“Sometimes I feel like I have no future,” she tells Sue Liu, who has known Jie Lin since 2000, shortly after Sue joined the Holt China staff in Meihekou.

Jie Lin has soulful, sad eyes, but her expression is often overtaken by laughter. Her hair is short and shag-cut, her face lovely and wise.

Holt has sponsored Jie Lin’s care since 1999, when she was 8-years-old. That year, as the Meihekou Ministry of Civil Affairs struggled to meet rising expenses, Holt took over funding for the local foster care program. To date, Holt and sponsors have invested more than 3 million Chinese Renminbi, or nearly a half million dollars, into local foster care, which has provided for as many as 60 children at once. At present, Holt sponsors care for 38 children in Meihekou and 22 in neighboring Tonghua. Sponsorship covers basic necessities, including food, shelter and clothing, and is often the only source of income for foster families.

When children turn 18, sponsorship ends. But special needs are common, and many children continue to depend on their foster families – and Holt – for care and support beyond the age of 18.

“What can we do?” Sue asks, worried about what will become of the children who “age out” of sponsorship. Read More