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Black, White and the Cornrow In Between

The Under Represented Child

Orphan and Family Aid Adoption Advocacy

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  Written by Teri Bell of AIAA on 01 Jan 2006

Recently through no choice of my own, I had to take a good look at the use of the photolistings. As a social worker who has counted on the children’s faces to help me spread the word about them, it now is clear that many countries do not feel comfortable with this approach. Years before the Internet, I was placing the same type of listings in adoptive parent magazines. I started with OURS Magazine which is now Adoptive Families of America.  I approached these listings with the assurance that the child I was picturing would help me find their “forever” family.


Over the years in paper print, some of the world’s most vulnerable and least represented children found loving homes. Then the Internet caused a flurry of activity that could never have been anticipated back in the days when I was writing for OURS.  Thousands of children who would never have been identified otherwise, are now living in homes all over the world because of internet photolistings.

There is, however, one great negative that also happened. In an effort to take advantage of the Internet listings some children were represented without respect to their privacy and some children were either misrepresented or under represented. As I see it, instead of showing the wonderful face of a child, listing non-identifying information and telling a bit of their story, in some cases  the children’s privacy was violated.

Of course, as much truthful information as possible should be shared; to be misleading is unacceptable. If there is a privacy issue, stating only that, “another issue exists which needs to be discussed,” should be good enough. Labeling a child over the Internet is wrong. So many parents are concerned over labels that may be attached to their child in their school records, yet labeling information has gone out for all to view when a child is waiting for adoption. It is my feeling that background or medical information such as parental alcohol usage, a background of parental or child mental or emotional illness or information on contagious diseases should be shared only when a serious and ready potential family is identified. The right to this information belongs only to the child and their eventual family. The children we represent have so little, the least they can expect from us is our discretion

As a result of several issues, not excluding my previous statement, many of the childrens’ home countries, became displeased with what they were seeing on the Internet. This has brought us back to a situation where many many children go without representation.  The children's birth-countries are now banning photolisting their waiting children.  Where does this leave all of us, the agency, adoptive parents, the sending country and most of all the children? We may adamantly disagree with the choices governments are making for their children, but they are their children. What do we do? I would like to tell you I have the answer, I don’t. I do know that all of us (POTENTIAL ADOPTIVE FAMILIES, AGENCIES AND GOVERNMENTS) must look once again at how we approach the best interests of the children as seek to identify families for them.

All of the above has led me to my recent reexamination of photo listings in general. We all realize that there are more children in need than can ever be placed for adoption. For a multitude of reasons, such as fees, travel requirements, government regulations, etc., many waiting children will not find their forever families through adoption. What can we do to change this for some of these children? Should we continue to find a way to photo list the children when their government has told us not to and hope their governments don’t figure this out? I BELIEVE NOT! This, in the long run can only harm the children’s’ chances at the future we want for them. Irresponsible listings will cause more and more controversy for the adoption community.

Agencies need to provide good photos of their children, however, our responsibility goes beyond the good photos. In the face of the problems we are encountering, the agency’s responsibility is to KNOW our children as much as possible. Before the time of referral, we must obtain reports that provide as much information as possible. All of that information must then be passed onto the potential family. Whenever possible, we need to provide good videos to families. We must make sure that we have explored all our options to provide families with enough information to reach a sensible as well as an emotional decision regarding the child’s future in their new family. We must be sure that when we represent the child in writing, we do it well.

I cannot envision another approach that will be able to find families as effectively as the Internet photo listings. Until, however, we can educate ourselves, as well as, the countries of our children’s birth, we need to do something for the children. I would like families to take a few things into consideration as they near the referral part of their adoption process. Ask yourself, “Have I become too dependent and focused on finding the child who speaks to me?” Yes, a face is an attraction, or detraction, for many families, but remember, you are adopting a whole child. A face can be misleading and the child who was uncomfortable in front of a camera, who had a bad hair day or a bad attitude day should not have their future depend upon how they “come off “ on their one photo listing. Actually, the child who had a “good day” looking adorable and beguiling may well not be the child you are dreaming of. Most of all, I ask families to think beyond the few photos of children which we are able to represent. Be assured that there are thousands of children “out there” who wait without their photos online.

THE PHOTOS IN THIS ARTICLE ARE OF CHILDREN FROM COUNTRIES NOT ALLOWING PHOTO LISTINGS. THESE CHILDREN HAVE NOW JOINED THEIR “FOREVER” FAMILIES.... Their wait is over, though so many more still wait

Given all the restraints now placed upon me, let me tell you about JUST A FEW of the children who wait. These children cannot be represented by the photo listings. These are children who have waited so much longer than they ever would have waited before. They are also children for whom we are actively seeking homes right now. Please understand however that we will need to recheck their availability at time of a serious inquiry. Truthfully, I hope they’ve found their forever families by the time this article comes out. If they have, I assure you, that there are many more children of all ages, with or without siblings and with or without medical issues who are waiting due to under-representation.

These children are waiting all over the world. If one of them touches your heart and you want to know more,  please feel free to contact me at: aiaateri@aol.com :

----A 2y3m old boy waits because his fingers are deformed. From the beginning his development has been better than most children in an institutional setting. He is the “star” and everyone loves him. The extra attention he receives which consists of hugs and overall affection most likely accounts for his wonderful progress. At this time he is described by his “favorite” caretaker and his orphanage director as being like a child from a family and not like a child raised in an institution. He is meeting all the expectations of a child his age with the exceptions of the very few limitations put on him by the fact that he was born with congenital malformations of the fingers on both of this hands. Specialized hand surgery can make a huge difference to this little one’s future. No one seems to have told this child about his limitations as his sunny attitude and his ability to use what he has to play with and manipulated toys and other objects is amazing. On a recent trip I observed him picking up and using very small objects and I was unable to find anything that he couldn’t do with a little extra effort. He doesn’t give up. He is a happy, outgoing little guy and he remains the favorite of his orphanage director and caretakers. He may be slightly over indulged, but he has always known how special he is.

------ This young 12 year old girl has lived in her children’s home for a little over two years. Now that she has adjusted she is a very sociable, easy-going, alert and kind person to know. When questioned by our representatives she answered the questions thoughtfully, seriously and, they report, with dignity. She is a girl who is self-confident, good tempered, cooperative and cheerful. She is a leader who has many friends and the respect of both her peers and adults. Everything said about her is positively glowing. This is not to say that she cannot be determined and strong willed. She never imposes her will on others but when she wants to achieve something, like good grades, she will make every effort to accomplish her goal. She has a special friend among all her friends with whom she shares her secrets with. She is also a girl who enjoys the younger children in her group and sometimes goes to read stories to them. When she can, she will help her friends with their homework and she willingly help her caretakers when asked to. The teacher reports that she is an excellent student getting A’s and B’s in all her subjects with the exception of Math where she gets C’s. Math is a subject that she finds most difficult. This girl has artistic ability, she sings well, dances well and takes part in all her schools performances and concerts. She loves animals. 

------ A 2y6m old little girl waits due to a past illness. This sweet little one has faced some medical challenges and has been doing her very best to overcome them. She was born healthy and unfortunately at five months of age she became ill with meningitis. Since that time she has returned to good health but the effects of her illness can be seen in the diminished muscle tone of her left side. She is now part of a regular physical therapy program and she continues to get stronger. Overall this is a happy little girl who loves her caretakers and her physical therapist. Her therapist says that she works well without complaint during her therapy sessions. This easy going little one needs a family who will encourage her in her therapy and accept her whether or not she regains full use of her left side.

----- These twins (female/male) are now 1y6m and they are just adorable. Born early, these two have faced the challenges of prematurity. While still catching up developmentally the doctor/director of the baby home is very encouraging about their potential and the progress they have made so far. Both of these babies while obviously uncomfortable with strangers snuggled right into the caring arms of their caretakers. They smiled, made great eye contact and interacted well with their physical therapist and caretaker while making sure I stayed at a distance. We are presently waiting for their full medical reports.

------- These siblings 13y(M) and 9y(F) are polite, inquisitive, fun loving children who are curious and willing to try new things. In the last year these two have become closer than ever. She willingly shares all her secrets and troubles with big brother and he has become more of a caretaker. Older brother is in 6th grade and is an average student who takes his studies seriously. He is considered to be calm, well balanced, kind hearted and responsive. He is also very handy and is often asked to fix things by others. A favorite past time for him is working in the garden of his Children’s Home. Participating in sports activities and reading are additional interests of his. We are told that he tends to give in to his little sister and is a bit shyer than she is. Little sister is also described as calm and kind. She has a winning smile. She likes to sing, dance and play. This is a child who is obedient and gets along well with her peers and adults. She has a great sense of humor and is described as funny.

----- This sweet baby is 1y3m and she has the most pinchable cheeks I’ve seen. When her eyes twinkle and her face breaks into a smile (which happens frequently) you can’t help but smile right along with her. This child is living in a wonderful baby home and her development has been right on target since her birth. This is a social child who easily returns the affection shown to her by her caretakers. This little one is ready to be assigned to her “forever” family.

----- This little one's name translates into “God’s Present”. He is a very social, happy little one who is now 1y1m. He loves being held and talked to. The first time I went to visit, he was in his crib and when he saw me smile at him his whole face lit up. When I picked him up we were friends forever……or at least until I put him down again. Once he was back in his crib again he instantly showed me how well his lungs can work. He was then instantly picked up again by his caretaker who said they hate to see him cry and who explained that they probably have over indulged this little one due to his cleft lip and palate. On a more recent trip I was able to see that wonderful smile again and this time I was also able to see the beautiful lip repair that had been performed between my visits. This little guy is a good eater with a regular bottle and nipple and he has gained well since arriving at his baby home when he was four months old. He is one of the happiest and most social babies I have seen in a long time.

-----The first thing you notice upon meeting this special girl is her lovely and expressive eyes. She is already 14years old and her time to find a family is limited. She has watched some of her friends leave to join families and she wants this chance for herself. She has been diagnosed with a mild case of Arthrogroposis and has had a few orthopedic surgeries to aid her with her mobility. She is described as a girl with a good memory, creative thinking abilities and giving the impression of calm and confidence. She is sensitive and is very active in communicating with others. This is a memorable girl who is often seen as a leader by the other children and is considered to be tactful in her dealings with everyone. She actively participates in her school studies but she is skeptical about her future.

In this article I have asked agency’s to be more responsible in their listings. I have asked potential adoptive parents to consider opening their hearts to children who may not be able to be placed on a photo listing. I cannot end this article without addressing the officials of GOVERNMENTS who’s children are waiting for their family to “discover” them. I know that this article will be read by a few of you, PLEASE try to see this from our point of view. 

We know we can do a better job, this is true of all humanity. We, like all people, can learn from the mistakes we may make. Please let us prove this to you. Why? Because, despite your best efforts, many children in your country are waiting far too long to join adoptive families. They are getting older without the advantages of loving families. We know you agree that home life is best for children. Your government has spent years putting adoption laws in place so that this can become reality for your children. Please let us help the children find homes. Your older children do not find homes, if no one knows about them. Your children with handicapping conditions do not find homes, if no one knows about them. Your children need YOU to understand how vital the photo listings can be for their future.

Editor's note:  A new weekly E-mail newsletter has just begun to help children find families.  It's called RKWaitingKids and has 40 participating agencies that will let members know about special kids that cannot be photolisted.  If you wish to join, please click on the link above.

 




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