Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Making a Difference in a Child's Life

Sometimes late, late night TV provides a different breed of “info-mercial.” The Oprah Winfrey Show does a rebroadcast in our area during the overnight hours, and a few days ago, disgruntled that I couldn’t sleep, I tuned in to the second half of a show filled with “info”-rmation which has undeniably impacted my heart.

The show’s topic was the effects of child neglect. The part I watched focused on a couple who adopted a child after seeing her at a Heart Gallery event. An adoptive mother myself, I was drawn to watch the unfolding of the story of how then eight-year old Danielle had been found living in deplorable conditions with her biological mother. The child was severely neglected, but her mother did not even consider asking the assistance of human services. The hard facts: at the time this child’s case came to light, she was nearly 9 years old, drank from a baby bottle, wore diapers, was afraid to be touched, obsessed over food because she was underfed, and had “terrible twos” tantrums.

Even before she married, something in Diane’s heart told her that adoption was a thing she was “supposed to do.” And Bernie said he simply “knew” Danielle should be part of their family.

Diane and Bernie already had a family of 4 biological sons, most of whom were grown and out of the house by the time they were introduced to Danielle. Did they take a risk by adopting her? Sure. Has it been easy for them or their other children? If you go to www.oprah.com and watch the video, you will see that making Danielle part of their family has been and is challenging. But as Diane told the TV audience: she saw a person somewhere in the blank stare of Danielle’s eyes.

Danielle was removed from her biological mother’s care but, considered a difficult child to place in foster care, was slated to be institutionalized. At the time of the adoption, this “special needs” 8-year old was considered to be have a developmental age of 6- to 18-months. After more than a year and a half with her adoptive family, that age was assessed as an 18- to 36 month old. Even though her development is lagging, she has made progress. She has learned to use the toilet. She is working on eating by herself. She swims. She cuddles. She has grown--because she is loved, thanks to her “forever family!”

Moving hearts with stories of passion and compassion is a lifework of Oprah. It would be my hope that Oprah and other TV hosts would continue to bring “info”-mercials of this caliber to raise awareness about children who need acceptance and love.

I would hope they would also showcase that levels of child “neglect” are often much more subtle than in Danielle’s case. That, for example, there are presently over 125,000 children and teens in foster care awaiting adoption, and that some of these children have been in the “system” for years. I imagine how powerful it would be for TV audiences to hear firsthand from a teen what it is like to be shuttled from home to home, school to school. Or to listen to a 9 year old talk about living in a group home. Or how a child of any age who longs for a family feels about not being hugged on a regular basis or rarely, if ever, hears the words “I love you.”

While it is sometimes fun to see big name celebrities talk about their lives with TV hosts, and other times great to watch the hosts cook and dance, I feel it is topics like this—weighty, meaty, relevant to a change of heart and perspective for our country and world—that can propel humanity forward knowing that we each make history by our choices every day.

As a team member of the National Adoption Center, I personally answer calls daily from people who are curious about what it takes to extend the borders of their family and adopt a child in need of a loving, permanent home. Many people don’t know the benefits of adoption. Whether a person is single, in a committed relationship, gay, straight, lesbian or bisexual, they can choose adoption. Our motto is “there are no unwanted children, only unfound families.”

This family inspired me. They, indeed, made history through their choice. There is no question: children with special needs are in need! Armed with the right “info”-mation, an answer can be clear: adoption is a great choice! Are you ready to take the chance and make it yours?

written by Nancy Barton

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