Last night I had the privilege of traveling to Kansas City with several friends and seeing the STUCK documentary. The film shows children living in orphanages around the world – stuck there, languishing without access to clean water, sufficient food, adequate medical care, and the love and care of a family. It also follows families who are in the midst of the adoption process, working to get their children home. In the juxtaposition, you see some of the failures of the system that we as a world have created for our most vulnerable children. Even after children are matched with families, they can spend years in orphanages until their parents receive the final approvals to bring them home. And while there are approximately 13 million orphans in our world today, in 2011, we in the United States adopted a total of about 50,500 children from the US foster care system and about 9,300 children from around the world. What do we think is happening to the rest of those children?
Many are living in institutional care – orphanages, adult mental institutions, and the like. This is not a solution. As we prepared to adopt from China, one statistic we heard over and over again was that for every 3 months our child spent in an institution, we should expect a 1 month delay in her development across the board – physical growth, motor skills, language, social skills, etc. Over time, those delays are huge and can have significant long-term ramifications.
Do you know that there is actually a medical term used to capture some of these effects? It’s called failure to thrive. Brandon Hatmaker, a pastor who has visited orphanages and adopted children from overseas, writes, “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.” We see this in the STUCK documentary, as one of the opening scenes shows an adorable little boy kicking a ball around and talking with an interviewer about his hopes and dreams for his life. When asked his age, he responds that he is 13; he looks like he is about 7. He says that he would like to study mathematics and be a doctor when he gets older. Six months after his last interview, he disappeared from his orphanage. Where do you think he went? How likely do you think it is that he is on his path to becoming a doctor? Even in the United States, with our various social welfare programs, over half of the children who aged out of our foster care system in 2008 have subsequently experienced at least one episode of homelessness. What do you think happens in other countries? Prostitution, crime and imprisonment, and suicide are all likely outcomes. How is it okay that we have consigned millions of children to live out their lives in a place that systematically strips them of any possibility of a life of hope?
The producers of STUCK are urging the United States government to take the lead in reforming adoption procedures and asking other countries to do the same. According to the film, the average international adoption process takes 896 days (almost 2.5 years) and costs $28,000. The amount of money required is a major reason that many families do not consider adopting. The long timeframe is incredibly hard for prospective parents and leaves children sitting in orphanages – often failing to thrive – for months or years after they are matched with families. It is not acceptable that in today’s world, millions of children live out their days in institutions.
I encourage you to check out the trailer, take the time to watch this film and think about the ideas it presents. Consider signing the petition. If you’re in the Washington D.C. area, consider attending the march on Friday, May 17. Consider adopting a child or contributing financially to someone else who is doing so.