Considering Orphan Hosting Programs

At the end of May, I sat down to write a blog post on either foster care in China or orphan hosting programs. Realizing that May was national foster care month, I went that direction. The next day, I saw that Red Thread Advocates had written a post about orphan hosting programs. It’s always good to read other perspectives, and I picked up this post on My Overthinking which was written in response to the Red Thread post. Now that a month has gone by and the dust has settled, I thought I would give my opinion and advice on the subject for those of you who might be considering this method of finding your child.

So what is the deal with orphan hosting?

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Orphan programs have been used in other countries for many years and now China has begun to participate. A variety of agencies have programs and they are set up in many different ways. Usually, the children will travel to the United States for a few weeks during summer or Christmas break. Often, the children are hosted in private homes by families who have a completed home study, but being open to adopting is not a requirement for all agencies. There is a fee for to a family to host the child. Sometimes the host families must be within a certain geographic location, usually within close proximity to the sponsoring agency while other agencies have the children stay at a central location and families participate in organized activities to meet the children. The children who participate in the programs can be as young as three up to thirteen years of age.

Pros: It is undeniable that hosting programs are a great way to find homes for children at ages which are typically harder to place. Many families have adopted a child they never would have considered prior to the hosting experience. Families feel much more comfortable interacting with a child in person rather than reading a brief description in a file. Even if the family who hosts does not adopt the child, they can advocate for the child. Having a person who has met and interacted with the child can ease a family’s fears about the child’s special need or personality. If the child is adopted by the host family, it will make their transition after the adoption much easier. Children who are not adopted will benefit from the chance to experience family life and have the fun and excitement of a trip to America which they will remember for years to come.  

Cons: Many people have serious reservations about orphan hosting programs. Some argue that hosting programs place enormous pressure on the children.  While they are supposed to be told that they are going to America for a trip to learn about another culture, the reality is that many of these children will be told by orphanage personnel before they leave that if they are good and behave, they will get a family. Usually, the children will all come from the same orphanage, and it can be hard for children if they aren’t selected for hosting while their friends are. Just as in adoption, the younger children and girls are everyone’s first choice for hosting, while the boys get left behind. Certainly, for children in the younger ranges of three to five years, it is unlikely that they are able to have any understanding of what they are participating in. If they are adopted, will the child have the understanding that they are now a permanent part of family or will it take longer for them to feel secure since they were “sent away” back to the orphanage the first time they lived with the family?

Host parents can sometimes get a false impression of the child’s personality if they are on their best behavior during the trip. They might be caught off guard if attachment or behavioral issues show up after adoption because they had a false idea that their adoption would be easier because they already had a trial run at parenting the child. For example, I recently saw a couple asking why their older child adopted after hosting might suddenly be asking to sleep in their room with them. When people suggested the child was uncomfortable sleeping alone after many years of roommates in an orphanage, the parent said that couldn’t possibly be the case since the child didn’t complain while they were being hosted. Did the child not want to chance something going wrong by speaking up about their fears during the hosting time? Was the child wanting reassurance that their time in the family is now permanent rather than temporary?

20130906-102741.jpgFurthermore, it could be difficult if the child gets attached to the host family and the host family does not end up adopting the child. One woman who participated in a program told me that the child she hosted was crying at the airport, begging to be allowed to stay. Although they had already started the process to adopt the child, she was bound by the program rules to not tell him that. It was very difficult for her to see him upset and not be able to reassure him that he would be in their family forever in a few more months.

In the fall of 2015, a different type of hosting program began. Four different agencies sent volunteers to visit children from a particular orphanage. This is sometimes called “reverse hosting.” While groups taking trips to orphanages is nothing new, the purpose of this trip was advocacy specifically. The volunteers who participated were matched with a buddy to advocate for. They participated in a variety of activities with the kids during the week and then returned home to advocate for the kids they met through online avenues. If this program continues, it could possibly be a venue for meeting a potential child to adopt in a way similar to the blind referral system used by some countries. For a family open to a wide range of ages or special needs, spending a week getting to meet children already available for adoption could be a good way to find their child. However, this would have the same negative aspects as mentioned above. It is incredibly hard for children to be in competition for parents. Imagine the rejection they must feel as potential parents show up and always leave after choosing a different child.

It is important that the in-China hosting or camp program you choose to become involved in is focused on providing a fun experience for the child and not a parent-centered trip to an orphanage to “shop” for a child, thinly disguised as a humanitarian trip. These kids are smart. They know what is going on. Try to carefully evaluate the ethics of the organization, as well as how the program is run, to protect these children from heartbreak. Also, keep in mind that it is difficult to evaluate a child’s behavior in a realistic way in such a short amount of time. These kids want to please so much. If you take some time to watch videos of older kids available for adoption you will see that they are often shown cleaning the orphanage, playing an instrument, caring for younger children, or other activities designed to show off how much they deserve a family. They feel an enormous amount of pressure to prove that they are worthy of a family. All of these children are worthy of a family! Make your goal be to provide a fun experience for a great group of kids rather than auditioning potential children. If you happen to meet one who you believe is the child for your family then that’s wonderful, but it shouldn’t be the focus of the trip.

20130906-103543.jpgIf you are interested in hosting, you can get more information on programs through the Orphan Hosting From China facebook group. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions about how the program is run. I feel that it is very important to consider all of these programs from the child’s point of view. I would not personally choose to host a child who is young or whom I felt would not be developmentally able to understand the hosting program. I feel that hosting programs where the child travels to the US should be reserved for older kids who have been waiting for several years for a family. If you know that you cannot adopt the host child, do you think that it is very likely you would be in a position to find a potential family while the child is here? If not, I think that participating in a reverse hosting program would be a better fit if your main purpose is advocacy.

I have seen that some less ethical agencies are using orphan hosting programs as a way to find new clients. Several agencies are choosing the youngest children with the most minor needs for their programs. These are kids who don’t need to be hosted because they could easily be matched with a family through the normal adoption program. I find it telling that the most child-centered agencies do not have orphan hosting programs at all. They prefer to advocate for these children through other avenues. Please give serious consideration to the issues I have raised in this blog post concerning the negatives to orphan hosting programs as well as carefully choosing the agency and program which you wish to become involved with.

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