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Thursday, August 21, 2014
I can't do this.

That's what you're thinking, right?

Their faces are so sweet, their need for love and a family so great- but the obstacles are just as enormous and the path looks like a maze.

The cost.
The time.
The unknowns.
The stigma.
The stress.
The paperwork.
A complete stranger in your house, calling you mom and dad.

But yet....there's this one particular face.  Those eyes just keep pulling you in.  And you do know someone who adopted, or at least you've heard of it.

But to travel overseas????

To Ukraine????

No.  No.  No.

It's just ridiculous to even contemplate!  I mean, that whole area is at war!  And we don't speak Russian or Ukrainian or anything other than really just regular ole American English and a smidgeon of Spanish we learned in high school (que pasa?).  And planes.  Oh let's not even talk about the plane rides!!! Over an ocean?  I'd need a sedative!

But there's this face.  With those eyes.  And that pleading, half smile, half grimace- the face of a child who still has hope that someone will love him or her, but who knows the clock is ticking and the chances are slim that he or she will ever call anyone "Mom" or "Dad" or be called "Son" or "Daughter."

And so here you are, and I'd like to welcome you.  My name is Renee, and my husband and I are the very blessed parents of nine beautiful, amazing, wonderful children adopted from Ukraine using Hand of Help in Adoption's facilitation team, as you see here:

While our children were adopted through the special needs program, and each has at least one qualifying diagnosis, that's just a very small part of who they are.  They are curious, loving, affectionate, determined, resilient, musical, strong, funny, and downright incredible.  Before I became a stay at home, homeschooling mom to our children, I practiced clinical social work, with a focus on children, teens, young adults and families in mental health and/or substance abuse crisis, and I have a strong interest in neurodevelopmental research.  We have seen our children make tremendous gains, and I'm eager to share with you some of my favorite books, websites, blogs, and tips that may help you on your adoption journey.  I've had the privilege of spending around six months in Ukraine in the past couple of years, during our adoptions, and have met quite a few of the listed children available for adoption.  I believe strongly that the best adoptive parents are the ones who enter the process educated and aware of the culture, traditions, needs and issues of their potential child/ren, and who have resources available to help them navigate the adoption process and the transition period after adoption.  And that is why I am here- because we have had superb experiences with the HHA facilitation team, are blessed beyond words with our amazing children, and I'd like to offer what I can to help you make an informed, prepared decision about adoption for your family!

So let's get started...

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If you're here, reading this, chances are you're considering adoption.  Maybe you followed a link on Facebook to check out a profile of a waiting child, or maybe you're researching facilitation teams that work in Ukraine.  Ukraine's adoption program is a unique one, and there are many benefits to choosing to adopt from Ukraine, especially using the HHA team.  Maybe your heart has always longed to adopt, or maybe you're brand new to the concept.  Maybe your church has started talking about "orphan ministry" or someone you know has plunged off into the world of international adoption.  

Perhaps you're looking at an older child- a child who has no visible special needs, a child who simply needs a family.  Older children in orphanages are very common all over the world, and Ukraine is no exception.  Sadly, there are many older children who are part of siblings groups, who linger in the orphanage setting because no one is willing to take on more than one.  Other "solo" children, who have no siblings, are doomed to a life without relatives, as they pass through the orphanage, waiting to age out.  Orphans age out of the orphanage system in Ukraine at 16, if they do not have special needs.  Now, in the USA, 16 is a milestone birthday, one that usually involves a trip to the DMV to get a driver's license, followed by a nice party and candles on a cake.  In Ukraine, typically when the school year ends, the kids receive the clothes on their back, a very small stipend that has been accumulating in a bank account for their short lives,and not much else.  Some of the teens who were particularly skilled in academics might be able to apply for college, but it is not the norm.  Some of the children who were there in the orphanages in a boarding situation (and not available for adoption) might return home to their families.  But the vast majority of the teens find themselves thrust out upon the street, unsure of where they will even stay when night comes.  

It is not uncommon to find street children and older teens and young adults trying to exist in small packs in Ukraine- a country with severe winter weather, and few shelters.  While there have been surges in recent years of American-based charities who have tried to help fill the gap for these too-young adults, the need is too great.  Unfortunately, the statistics are grim- "Within the first five years, almost 90% of these orphans end up in crime, prostitution, drug and alcohol addiction, or commit suicide.  In Ukraine and Russia 10%-15% of children who age out of an orphanage commit suicide before age 18, 60% of the girls are lured into prostitution, 70% of the boys become hardened criminals.  Another Russian study reported that of the 15,000 orphans aging out of state-run institutions every year, 10% committed suicide, 5,000 were unemployed, 6,000 were homeless and 3,000 were in prison within three years." (http://www.howtohelporphans.org/bythenumbers.html)

Grim.  Morbid.  

Reality. 

Do you have room in your home for one more lanky-legged teen boy eager to snag a donut and laugh at a silly sitcom?  Do you have room in your backseat for a hopeful young lady who likes to sing and wants to learn to cook? Is there room in your heart for siblings who love to laugh and play and who might be split up, who by the time the younger ones get out of the orphanage, the older ones may already be in prostitution, on drugs, or dead?  

And if you're interested in younger children, especially as part of a sibling group, they exist as well- waiting.  Waiting for someone to claim them.  Most are between the ages of 8 and 12, but sometimes, especially with sibling groups, there may be younger ones.  The one thing they all have in common is their need for a family.

In addition, there are a large amount of children with varying special needs who wait.  Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Hydrocephalus, Apert Syndrome, Crouzon Syndrome, dwarfism, blindness, deafness, heart defects, kidney defects, Hepatitis, HIV, Larsen's Syndrome, Spina Bifida, Arthrogryposis, missing limbs, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome- there is a huge variety, but they all share one thing:  there is next to no chance that they will be adopted within their own country, and typically their only chance for a life outside an institution walls is to be adopted by foreigners. 

Unlike the typical teens without special needs who age out and face grim statistics, the children with special needs often never reach the age to even have the opportunity to age out.  At age 4, children are transferred out of a babyhouse and into an older child institution.  The babyhouses are governed under the Ministry of Health- and each one is headed by a medical doctor.  Typically, infants and toddlers get decent medical care, although it is rare for them to receive continual care of a specialist, regardless of the need.  Disorders that would be addressed during pregnancy or the first year of life in the USA (leaving the child developing near normal milestones) are often neglected due to lack of access, lack of funds, or lack of ability of the medical staff.  For instance, many babies born with hydrocephaly die from it being untreated, or improperly treated.  The pressure increases on their brain, and their heads grow very large.  Eventually the pressure kills parts of the brain, and leads to blindness, and then, brain death.  You rarely see children over age 12 with untreated hydrocephalus in the orphanages, because their lives are gone.  Instead, they exist in the orphanage graveyard, with the bodies of others forgotten and alone. 

Children with orthopedic issues, like Cerebral Palsy, Arthrogryposis, missing limbs, spina bifida or dwarfism, are often placed in a deadly cycle.  Sadly, misinformation exists in Eastern Europe, and it is typically believed that children with serious physical impairments must have corresponding low IQ's.  They are given very little chance, or often no chance at all, to study, to learn, to live a normal life with minor accommodations.  Instead, they are institutionalized at age 4, sent to places where they will do nothing but exist in rooms with occasional craft projects, tv's blaring soap operas or cartoons, or worse, lying in cribs staring at blank cement block walls.  Sometimes they are sent straight to the adult mental institutions, written off before their American peers have even learned to write their own names.  Sometimes they coast in juvenile facilities that strongly resemble the tragic nursing homes of the 1950's, before being transferred to the adult institutions as older teens.  They have no chance at college, at trade school, at a family- unless someone adopts them.
That is their only chance at love, at being cared for tenderly, at having their needs met and having an opportunity to learn and grow and thrive. 

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So the children exist, waiting.  

Waiting on families, maybe yours. 

Their biological families are long gone.  Their country has passed them over.  It is common practice for children with disabilities to be left at the hospital, abandoned.  Sometimes, the biological parents known they cannot care for them, and leave them in the hope that the government will provide the medical care they need. Sometimes, they have addiction issues or illnesses of their own that make them unable to parent.  But sometimes, they simply don't want the perceived "shame" of having a child with a disability to fall on their house, and they abandon that child, and never come to visit, never follow up, never acknowledge that they exist.  And so children wait, wait for someone to find them. 

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I got involved in orphan advocacy accidentally. 

We were in country, at the orphanage, to meet our oldest daughter.  Almost immediately, within days of arriving, other children started coming in.  Each and every one had the same request- can you take me too?  

They called us Mama and Papa- not because we asked them to, or even encouraged it (in fact, we didn't encourage it, because we didn't want to give them false hope, and instead, had them call us by our names, or as the Mama and Papa of Moxie, our new daughter).  When they realized we weren't there for them, they began asking if we knew their parents.  To them, America was a land of freedom, of opportunity, of families just waiting to adopt.  They had hope in a land they had never seen, in a group of people they never met.  One boy in particular begged our facilitator to find his family, to let them know where he was and how to find him- because he knew they must be looking. 

Thankfully, God answered prayers, and many of those children found families.  Not every story has a happy ending, though, and of all the children we have met since, many still wait, although many have already come home.  We've seen waiting children pass away, gone to heaven before they ever knew the love of a Mommy and Daddy.  

If you're reading this, then now you know.  No matter where you are in life, or what your religious convictions may be, or how old you are, or how anything else you are- you have a part in what happens to the orphans in this world.  Perhaps this is your cue to email Nancy for more information on how you can get started in growing your family and helping at least one orphan find a permanent, forever home and family.  Maybe you're not at a place to adopt yet, but you can find $10 a week or more, to help defray the costs of other adopting families, so you'll just click on the waiting child link that draws your heart the most, to donate to their grant (I recommend Reece's Rainbow grant foundation, we have used them for several years and found them to be very efficient, ethical and excellent in advocating for children with special needs worldwide, but there are other options as well).  It could be that you feel led to share a child's profile with someone you know, or on your blog or facebook page.  Maybe you can pray for that child, or help an adopting family with fundraising.  For as many people as there are on the earth, there are ways to help change the lives of the orphans.  

Orphans Matter. 

You Matter.

They have no voice, no resources, no hope
- unless something changes in their lives- 
and that something could be you, giving them a family. 

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Please, continue to join us here at the Hand of Help in Adoption blog, for more information about waiting children, specific special needs and a practical guide of what to expect, what it's like to actually adopt, information on Ukrainian culture and much more!  

(and for those of you who are new to blogs, here's a few tips:  directly below this post are 5 options:  the little envelope is to email this blog post to someone, then the "B" is to share it on your own blogger blog, the "t" is to tweet it on Twitter, and the "FB" is to share it on Facebook as a status update.  You can also recommend it using the G+ option.  Below that, at the very bottom of the page, you'll see a few other options, including my favorite for blogs I really like- to "subscribe."  Simply enter your full email address and click subscribe, and anytime we update, you'll receive it in your inbox.  Very convenient!)

Talk to you soon!



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