Hello MLJ Adoption families! My name is Katelyn Smith and I recently began an internship with MLJ this past January. I will be helping the program director for Bulgaria and Ukraine, Lydia Tarr. I am excited to get to know and work with the families that are interested in these programs.
Though advocating for adoption and orphans has always been a passion of mine, there is so much I’m learning about the journey that families go through to bring their children home. A common avenue families choose to adopt through is our hosting program for children from Ukraine in our partnership with an outside agency called Host Ukraine. Orphan hosting is a great opportunity for the older children to experience life outside of an orphanage, living with a loving family, experiencing a family dynamic and the chance to travel and experience U.S. culture.
Some families partake in hosting with no intention to adopt, while others are seeking adoption after hosting. This gives families a great experience of what it would be like to adopt an older child and gives them the opportunity to get to know the child personally. For older orphans in Ukraine, there are limited options after they age out of the welfare system at just 16 years old. This program provides opportunities for them that otherwise wouldn’t exist and most importantly, the possibility of a forever family. Even if that child’s future does not include adoption, hosting can still be life changing for them and offer hope as they seek a family of their own in the future.
Two of our MLJ families, Mark and Julie McGuire and Eric and Kathy Oliver, have been gracious enough to share their insight through their personal experiences with orphan hosting and adopting an older child.
How did you hear about orphan hosting?
McGuires: We have been involved with following MLJ for international adoption since 2012. We were in the process of switching country programs and Lydia mentioned to us about Ukrainian hosting. At the time neither of us felt a draw to that country and certainly not the long stay in the country. But we know some people from our church who hosted and then adopted, so we knew about that option for older children. At the time however, we thought we only wanted to adopt a child under the age of 8 or 9.
Olivers: We hosted for the first time through MLJ in 2008. We found out about it when our church had a display about the program. We hosted again in December of 2018. This time we saw the photo listing on Lydia Tarr’s Facebook page and decided to host again.
Why did you decide to host a child? What interested you?
McGuires: We had a submitted dossier in the Mexico pilot program but things were not going smoothly in Mexico and we felt pulled away from the program. We just decided to take a break from thinking about adoption. We had biological children who were starting to struggle with the idea. However, after several months, and notices about the hosting program through social media, we took a chance and just called Lydia to inquire about Vitya. Basically, we just did it. We knew it would be a good exposure for us and our biological children who were maybe struggling with the idea of having another child in our family.
Olivers: Adoption has always been a part of our family “plan.” Even when Eric and I were dating we had discussions about adopting children through international adoption. When our church talked about hosting in 2008 it was like God was speaking to us and telling us that it was time to take the first step towards adoption. Hosting seemed like a good way to “get our feet wet” and so we signed up. Our 2017 experience was different. We were pretty confident our family was complete but then we saw the photo listing for Christmas hosting and felt God again pressing us to move forward and host a pair of sisters. They are amazing girls and we feel so blessed to have gotten to know them.
Did you have any reservations about hosting an older child?
McGuires: Absolutely! I was very concerned that this would have a negative impact to our family cohesion. How would he behave? Would he mesh well with our children? Would he understand how to behave in a family setting? Would we be good for him? We wanted him to have a great experience and we wanted to make sure that we could offer that to him.
Olivers: Not necessarily reservations. I think we have more of an understanding now than we did a decade ago about what kind of trauma the kids could have faced and how that could manifest itself in their behaviors. We knew the hosting team had met and interviewed each child and we ultimately put our trust in their judgment. We also were aware that there were safeguards in place on the chance that a hosting situation was difficult.
How was your experience during the visit? Did it change your mind to wanting to adopt an older child versus a younger child?
McGuires: After hosting Vitya we would find out that not only was he a perfect match for Julie and I as parents but also for our children as a new sibling. That is not to stay there weren’t some challenging times during the 3 1/2 weeks he spent with us. It did take time for us to process the experience after he returned to Ukraine. It most definitely opened up the idea of adoption of an older child. We would not have considered a 10 year old without the hosting experience.
Olivers: We had a great hosting experience! The girls we hosted were kind and fun. They enjoyed spending time with our family and were willing to share a little of themselves with us. We have adopted 5 children over the past decade – all of them would be considered “older child” placements as they were 4years old and 7 years old for our Ukrainian boys and 3,4, and 5 years old for our Bulgarian girls at the time of adoption.
What would you tell families that have concerns or are hesitant to hosting or adopting older children?
McGuires: I understand their hesitation, I was there too. But, I think there are many amazing aspects about adopting older children. They can actually kind of comprehend what is happening and be able to process the changes a little more easily. They are a little more ready to jump in with an older family and have fun and enjoy their hosting experience, whether or not it may lead to an adoption. We are an active family and it has been wonderful for us to add another child in to join us for adventure! I don’t want it to seem like there aren’t challenges but the rewards have certainly outweighed those! I would say that this is a perfect opportunity to really test the waters of adopting an older child. This program helps parents to make a complete and educated decision based on real first-hand experience of having the child live and mingle within their family.
Olivers: Don’t necessarily dismiss your concerns but try to get someone with real-life experience to help walk you through them. As someone who has been through this, our family would tell you that, while it isn’t always EASY, hosting and/or adopting older children IS rewarding. It will change who you are and who your family is. There are challenges and risks but we feel like these kids are worth the risk and deserve to have someone fighting for them.
Families interested in adopting an older child or adopting from Ukraine may decide to a hosting program is a great way to test out of it could be a good fit for your family. For more information about hosting, contact Host Ukraine. For more information about adopting from Ukraine, contact us.