Frank's Freedom

Meet Frank. He’s 13 years old, and is curious, busy, fun happy and bright. He has a mental delay, but that doesn’t stop him from being friendly, engaging and kind. He’s also an orphan in Eastern Europe. This means he is in an institution. If he is not adopted by age 16, he will be thrown out on the street with nothing but the clothes on his back and his “disabled orphan” status. Let me tell you more about Frank.

He’s little, about the size of a 7 year old. And he’s smart. He is in a group with teenage boys ages 16-24. He does puzzles and he does his chores diligently. He is very kind to the younger children. Frank is friendly and engaging. He likes being with the boys, but is happy being alone too. He plays appropriately with toys and is “all boy”. He could very easily function in a family. Frank is curious, smart, fun and sweet. He likes to play in the dirt and jump on the trampoline. Frank is independent, a good eater, is happy and content. Frank is physically healthy. He walks, runs, feeds himself, speaks, does puzzles and interacts with others well. He's a sweet boy who seems rather unaffected by his surroundings. He has no future where he's at, and without help, he's never getting out. Institutions are a one way ticket to nowhere. And this little boy deserves a future. This little boy will be a blessing to any family.

The Baker family has committed to adopt Frank and another boy, Emmitt. But international adoption is pretty expensive. The adoption would cost about $30,000. Reece’s Rainbow is an organization that helps with this cost. They set up grants for children in 25 countries around the world, and any money that is donated to these funds is given to the families to help with adoption fees. With Reece's Rainbow's help, the Baker family only needs about $10,000 to bring home both boys!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Brick Walls

"We had been there for a couple of weeks before we were given basically free access to the orphanage.  We had been tiptoeing around, hesitant to interact much with the other kids except those in Emma's groupa.  Thankfully, the other kids had no such hesitation.  They approached us like we were creatures at the zoo- staring, waving, talking to us to see if we would respond.

That's how we met most of them.  Alexis is not shy.  Tyler is like the total opposite of shy lol.  Erin was outgoing.  So many others who aren't available for adoption were equally as friendly. 

But one boy watched us from afar.  He rarely approached, but we knew he was talking about us with his friends because he wasn't subtle about it.  But he watched us from a distance, communicating only with our facilitator if she spoke first.

He was normally in a group of other kids, hanging towards the back.  He reminded me so much of a stray dog sometimes.  You know what I mean- the dog you see lurking around the edge of your yard, clearly starving for affection, his thin ragged body frozen in fear if you made direct eye contact.  You can picture that bit of dangling rope still affixed around his neck from where he had been tied up, the end frayed from where he had chewed loose.  He was the dog you wanted so much to love- to rub between his ears, to scratch down his spine so his leg would thump.  But he never would let you get close enough.  Someone had mistreated him- made him fear human touch and contact.  You had to settle for putting food out on the porch, hoping it was him eating it at night and not the raccoons.

That was Marcus.  I knew a bit of his story- our facilitator was the one who photographed him the year before.  The director and psychologist really wanted him to have a family.  Some kids do alright in an orphanage/institution setting.  Some seem to enjoy the camaraderie and communal approach to living but others clearly need more.  Marcus needs more.  Marcus wants more.

To refresh your memory, or if you're a new reader, to fill you in, Marcus is 9 years old.  He'll be ten at the end of the year.  He has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair.  He's quite smart, and attends school in the orphanage and from what I understand, does quite well.  He's quiet a lot of the time, but can definitely be "all boy" when he's with his buddies, as we saw when we were there.

He doesn't smile much.  Honestly, I don't think he has much to smile about.  I don't know all of his history, and to be quite honest, I'm not going to share the private details I do know about because I believe that's something that only his family will need to know, not the internet as a whole.  I just know he needs a family that is willing to help love him through his hurts and losses, and that he has a lot of potential, and that his future in EE is not encouraging, since he is stuck in a wheelchair in a country that has little or no accommodations for such.


 When we became therapeutic foster parents, we did a lot of training.  When I say a lot, I mean a LOT.  Think two months of classes, twice a week at least, for 3+ hours a night, plus Saturday classes.  Some of the training was specific- like CPR, bloodborne pathogens, non-violent restraint holds and verbal de-escalation techniques. But much of the training dealt with the big picture- how to love and rehabilitate a child who had suffered extreme loss, maltreatment, rejection, exposure to substance use, and neglect in their birth families, along with how to therapeutically parent children who had been through multiple placements due to placement disruption, rejection, and behavioral issues.

Children are meant to be loved and nurtured.  They are meant to be held and comforted.  They are meant to know that a parent's love is unconditional.

Sadly, for hundreds of thousands of children around the world, that doesn't work out.  Sometimes, loving parents die- as we have seen in the AIDS crisis in Africa and Eastern Europe.  Sometimes, parents just don't care enough about the right things, and so Child Protective Services gets involved and removes the child for their own safety.  Sometimes, parents make the choices not to parent because of issues in their own lives.

And sometimes, an entire country holds to a culture of hostility and misinformation about illegitimacy or disability that results in large amounts of children being placed into orphanages.  Sometimes a country has such a high level of poverty that parents feel they have no choice but to place their children into government run orphanages so they have access to food, medical care, shelter and school.

But regardless of the reason for the separation, it still creates a loss for the child.

When I work with clients in a clinical setting, they normally come to me with either a full psych assessment in their chart, or I would conduct one.  Before we could get started in addressing the issues, we had to have an idea of what the issues were that were contributing to the client's problems and situation.  
We would look at everything- past substance use, past criminal history, what type of family they grew up in, what type of family they have now, what supports and strengths they had, what medical conditions they had, what other diagnoses they had, what education and work history they had, if they had religious beliefs, and what their social life was like.  Each one of those things either contributed a "strength" of sorts, or gave insight into the issues they were experiencing.  
So many clients would come in with similar statements:  "I feel so alone"   "I feel like no one understands me"   "I feel like no one cares".  
Sadly, many had other similar statements:  "My dad left when he and my mom divorced when I was five, and I haven't heard from him since"   "My mom didn't want to be bothered with a kid, and she left me at my grandma's when I was seven"   "My parents did drugs and I was in and out of foster care most of my life"   "After my dad left, my mom got sick of looking at me.  When she hooked up with my stepdad, they had their own kids, and then no one wanted me around".  
What it amounted to was that each person had put up walls.  It wasn't an overnight thing.  Each rejection, each loss, each event or person that affected their life, resulted in a brick that added to their wall.  With every brick, the wall got a little taller and a little stronger.  It kept out a little more love- love that could have helped to heal them. 
The taller the brick wall got, the more shut off the person became from life.  It increased their isolation.  It blocked out the sunshine, the joy from coming into their life.  The wall that they built to protect their heart blocked them from seeing the ones who wanted to love them. The wall that they built to shelter them from rejection and loss left them alone and hurting, and no one could see in to help. 
A child who has experienced loss and rejection often has a very big wall up.  A child craves security and acceptance and without that, they struggle. Each brick represents a loss, or a rejection.  Sometimes, people don't look past the walls, or they don't even recognize the wall for what it is.  Sometimes a child can appear aloof, standoffish, shy, or even stuck up, when in truth, they're just trying to protect their fragile, wounded heart.  
Marcus was quiet.  When we spoke to him, we could see the pain in his face, the fear of rejection.  We know from our facilitator, the psychologist (who I count as a Christian friend and still talk to), the director, and the other kids that Marcus wants a family.  
But we saw the fear in his face- that he would be rejected.
It took six solid weeks of us being there every day, of us publicly cherishing Emma, for Marcus to gain hope that there really might be parents in America that actually want a kid with legs that don't work.  The very last week, he smiled just a bit when we spoke to him, just a tiny bit.  
I don't know all the details of the bricks in Marcus' wall.  I know that he told our facilitator last year that he wanted his legs covered in the photo that would be shown to potential parents, because he believed if they saw his useless legs that they would not want him.  I know he's ashamed of his inability to walk and that it makes him feel badly.  I know he's in an orphanage for kids with special needs and that his availability for international adoption is confirmed, which means either his family died or they put him there because they didn't want him or didn't feel like they could take care of him.  
His tender, little boy heart has been wounded.  
I know he goes to sleep at night and wakes up in the morning in a room full of other boys his age and is greeted by the nannies on staff for that shift, instead of a mommy and daddy of his own.  I know that he has friends, instead of brothers and sisters.  He eats off communal plates and drinks out of communal cups and wears communal clothes, instead of having things to call his own.  
His desire for a family has gone unanswered.
I know he goes to school and participates in musicals with his friends.  I know he plays and jokes with the boys in his groupa.  I know he rolls himself up and down the hallway for classes and therapy.  I know he is alone in his emotions and thoughts often and that he has been trained to be independent and self-sufficient. 
His need to be loved and nurtured has been neglected.
My heart is sad this week.  Last week, I was ecstatic- both Erin and Carter were moved to MFFM.  But then I realized a scary thing:  This meant that Marcus would be the only cognitively-typical kid who was photographed and who requested a family, who wasn't getting one.  
The children with Down Syndrome are kept in a separate groupa, away from the other kids.  They may have minimal if any understanding of what's going on downstairs, as the other children are adopted.  
But Marcus will know, because he will see it.  He and Tyler and Carter share a groupa.  He sees Sam and Duncan regularly because their classrooms are next to each other.  His groupa eats lunch with the girls groupa where Alexis, Patti and Erin live.  
For a boy who feared rejection because of his disability, every nightmare he dreamed is coming true.  
Part of me is dreading going back this summer to see the kids of 39.  Emma is so excited- and truthfully I am too.  It's going to be very cool to be there, to see these precious kids we left a few short months ago, and to know some of their families will already be there when we get there, and that the other are en route pending their paperwork completion.  Sam and Duncan, Alexis and Tyler, Patti and Erin and Carter and Pryce- each one of them are going to be over the moon happy!

But Marcus, dear little solemn-eyed Marcus, has no one coming for him. 

Did I not shout loudly enough for him?  
Should I have tried to get more pictures?
Did I fail him?

I know in my heart the answer is no.  It has to be no, because I know with all my heart that I'm not responsible in any way for the other kids getting families.  It doesn't have anything to do with me at all.  GOD- our Almighty Father- places the lonely in families.  I'm privileged to be sitting on the bleachers to watch it all happen, but it has nothing to do with me or what I've done or not done. 

I'm trusting that God has not left this little boy on my heart and the hearts of so many others without reason.  I'm trusting that he DOES have a family, somewhere out there.  Maybe they're praying about it.  Maybe they have more questions.  Maybe they're just not sure.  

If you are his family and you are reading this, I'm praying for you today.  There's a bunch of us praying.  We love Marcus- and although many of us would love to have him in our families, we've each felt that God was saying no to us.  We're praying and trusting that somewhere out there, God is telling the family for Marcus "Yes, go get him, he's your son."  

If you have questions, please email me, or join us on Facebook in the RR room.  


Later this summer, we will carry our beautiful daughter back through the door of the orphanage that had been her home.  This time, she will have parents with her and it will just be for a visit.  We will get to hug the sweet children we grew to love this past winter and tell them how special they are.  I'm pretty sure many will ask if we found their families yet. 
Part of me hopes that I don't see Marcus, because I don't think I can face him.  
I'm a terrible poker player.  With the ones that have families coming, even though I cannot tell them anything, I can smile.  I know my eyes will give away my happiness and I hope that comforts their hearts.  
If Marcus asks, I don't know what I will do.  How can I smile with joy if I know in my heart no one has committed to him?  Will he see me avoiding his eyes?  Will he know?
Another brick on the wall.  
I believe firmly in waiting on God's timing.  When I was in EE this winter, I had hoped so much that I could tell Sam and Duncan before I left that they had families coming. Alexis and Tyler too- because they were so heartbroken.  But that wasn't God's plan.  

But I think it would be so incredibly amazing to leave here this summer headed back to Orphanage 39 knowing that ALL of the kids we met had families.  Especially Marcus- the one who believed most of all that no one would want him.  What a victory that would be for love!"
Written by Renee

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