China's Orphans: Making a Difference through Advocacy and Fostering

In recent years, China has begun to open its hearts and minds about adopting their own orphaned children as well as more often keeping children with disabilities. Increased education and higher disposable income have provided these positive changes.


In China, there are currently more than 100,000 orphans in state- and private-run orphanages. Most of these children have some kind of disability or medical condition and are considered unadoptable because of those (often treatable) conditions. Conditions in orphanages have improved in recent years, though they vary from more wealthy city orphanages with pristine conditions, education centers and nutritional balance, and smaller "country" orphanage with less funding.


In deciding to move to China, I was excited about my job, but only as a means to provide a lifestyle I was looking for - exceptional income and lots of free time. With all that free time, I had a list on things I wanted to accomplish: have lots of fun adventures with my son, finish my Master's degree, practice the saxophone, and practice calligraphy were a few things on that to-do list. But on the top of that list, my highest priority was to become a volunteer for a local orphanage as soon as possible.


children in China


Within three weeks of my arrival, I had made contact with friends of friends and landed myself in a local orphanage with about 30 kids. Getting to the orphanage such a short time after my arrival with no "China" experience and no language skills was quite a feat in itself! You can read the details about that first exciting day here. For the next couple of months, I visited two local orphanages on an almost-weekly basis. While my visits were special, it didn't take long for God to lay a greater burden on my heart. Even from that first day, I had a special connection with one precious little girl, but it wasn't until later that it turned into a burden to make a greater difference in her life.


We have had an amazing, special, and rare opportunity to foster the little girl that we hope to adopt. Now, I have several friends who are fostering with hopes to adopt just like us. While there are risks involved in this approach and there were no guarantees early on that we would be able to adopt our foster daughter, having her in our home as early as possible has made such a huge difference.


There have been many studies done throughout Europe and all unanimously promote that no child should be placed in institutionalized care, especially within the first three years. Foster families make a huge difference in orphans' early development, cognitively and emotionally. It has been amazing to see the transformation in our little girl and the other foster children in whose lives we take part.


children in China


Over the last year, the number of children has gone from 30 down to 19! While the orphanage seems to regularly (unfortunately) receive new children, it has been incredible to see the overall number decrease so significantly over the last year. This is thanks in large part to the orphanage's progressive attitude and willingness to work with one woman who has made it her "life's work" to advocate for these orphans. She shares current news and events about the orphans here. Currently, eleven children who would otherwise be living in the orphanage are in foster homes. All of these children now have families in various stages of paperwork to adopt them!


The world adoption system needs major reform, and I think the local orphanage here is making a difference and setting a precedent for model changes needed. By allowing families to know these children, to individually advocate for them, and to allow parents to connect with a child, stereotypes are being overcome and disabled children are being pursued by families who have fallen in love with them. As far as China is concerned, most of the children currently being fostered (including my daughter) are "unadoptable" and would have never even had their paperwork submitted for consideration for adoption. It has only been through this orphanage's willingness to open its arms and welcome advocacy and through the work of the special Pearl River Diaries advocate mentioned above that all of these children now have a fair chance at life and the love of a family.


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Joslynn is the China Editor for Wandering Educators. Her husband has dubbed her "former Marine and roller derby queen" - two descriptors that represent her hardcore nature and adventurous spirit. Joslynn currently lives in China with her 13-year old son and 2-year old foster daughter on what started as a year's adventure while her husband is working in Afghanistan. She is an English teacher at a college in Guangdong Province and spends her free time traveling, writing, and visiting a special group of local orphans.

Joslynn recently completed her Master's degree in Community Economic
Development and hopes to return to the United States this fall to begin her PhD. 


Photos courtesy and copyright Joslynn J. McLaughlin