I'd love to know what movies get wrong about orphanages if you wouldn't mind sharing!
Oh, I'm so glad you asked!
So imagine all the movies with orphanages in them: Annie, Despicable Me, Meet the Robinsons*, Stuart Little, etc. The narrative goes like this. A bunch of poor orphans live in a home run by usually one person. When prospective parents come to visit, the children eagerly all line up, hoping to get picked! So exciting! The parents find the child they want, fill out a bunch of paperwork, and go home with their new child. There may be a couple bumps as everyone gets used to the new family dynamic, but they work themselves out by the end of the movie. Happily ever after!
Literally every single thing about that scenario is wildly incorrect. First off, and this comes as a surprise to most people, there aren't any orphanages in the United States. None.
Not many kids are orphaned these days thankfully, and if they are, there’s usually extended family or other arrangements previously made by the parents (like through their wills or godparents). If there’s truly no one that can take the kid, they’d be put into foster care and given an adoption worker along with their normal social worker.
The closest thing we have to orphanages are probably residential programs and group homes (which are basically a step down from residential and in a house with a smaller group of kids). I say they’re similar because they look it from the outside. A bunch of kids living together being cared for by adults who aren’t their parents.
That’s where the likeness ends, though. Kids in residential aren’t up for adoption. Strangers can’t go in and visit. The kids are there to receive extra care. They have something going on that make them too much to handle for their parents or foster parents, and it could be physical disability, behavioral issues, or mental health struggles. Most kids are in programs like that temporarily, though some live there for years. The adults that work there don’t live there. It’s a normal 40-hour workweek and many people work in shifts to make sure it’s properly staffed.
The government does line the kids up to show them off to prospective parents sometimes. They’re called adoption parties, and for some reason they’re held at Jordan’s Furniture store a lot. (Because they volunteer the space, I think.) There’s food and music and lots of kids up for adoption and lots of parents hoping to adopt.
Little kids tend to like them because they’re too young to understand what’s going on and, hey, lots of people to pay attention to me! Older kids HAAATE them. If they want to be adopted, then this is a great way to feel judged and rejected for a few hours. Most aren’t really excited about being adopted. Most kids’ birth parents are still alive, but their rights were forcefully terminated by the state. The kids can feel lots of things about this. Angry. Disloyal to their birth family if they want a new family. Scared of being hurt by the new family. Sad to leave their foster family. Still want to go home even if it’s not possible. It’s not a fun time.
Nothing concrete comes of these parties usually. Parents can talk to social workers afterward if there’s a kid that they want more information on, but it’s really the beginning of the process. There are other ways to begin that process. I’ve heard of teachers meeting a foster kid and wanting to adopt, or someone knowing a foster family taking care of a kid who’s up for adoption. Others simply talk to an adoption worker. I don’t know what the process is like for that. Quite often, foster families will take care of a kid and then adopt them. (That’s what happened to us. We fostered a newborn. He wasn’t up for adoption until he was two, and we were couldn’t even contemplate giving him up at that point.)
Sometimes, social workers will try to get prospective parents to meet kids without the kids realizing the adults are thinking about adoption, to spare the kid the worry and rejection. Once the parents have decided to move forward, there is paperwork, but I think it’s normal foster parent type paperwork because, surprise, you can’t adopt them yet. Kids have to live in your house for six months before you can adopt
Since most kids will be with a foster family before going to a pre-adoptive home, and they probably are comfortable there and attached to the family, the transition to the new home is gradual. They start out with visits for a few hours, then sleepovers. If the kid hasn’t figured it out already, they’ll let them know these people want to adopt them around this time. Some kids take it well. Some... don’t. Longer sleepovers, then finally they officially move in. This could be a couple weeks if the kid is already familiar with the adoptive family or longer if they’re particularly attached to the foster family.
If six months are up and things are still going well, the real paperwork can start. There are home evaluations, interviews with the parents, interviews with the children already in the family, psychologists determine if the adoptee is adjusted well and securely attached. I’m sure there’s a ton more that I don’t know about. It freaking takes forever. When you’re done, you have to go to court and have papers signed by a judge. I’m sure this is the best part of every judge’s day. There are smiles and pictures and kids happily banging the gavel to make it official!
Unfortunately, the issues that come from adoption are not all solved at the end of the 90-minute movie. My brother, who never lived with his birth mother and has only had us as his family, still has issues. I know a girl who was straight up abandoned by her mother. She’s got serious mental health and self-worth issues years later, even though she and family adore each other and they are so good to her and super supportive. On the other hand, some people have zero issues over it. They don’t know and don’t care about their birth family.
Some issues go away after time and love. Some people start out with no issues, but after a few months or years, things start to change. Their subconscious realizes that they’re not in danger, and this is a safe environment where they can finally start to work through the trauma they’ve been through, and suddenly they’ll start having mental health or behavioral problems, and sometimes they’re severe.
It’s sad, but occasionally adoptions fail. This is part of the reason for the six-month wait. Sometimes the kids have so many issues that the parents can’t help them and keep them safe. Sometimes the parents weren’t as good people as they pretended to be and should haven’t kids. Thankfully, this type. of thing is pretty rare. I’ve never met anyone who it’s happened to. Most of the time, kids are put into good homes with people who love them and help them heal from the things their birth families put them through.
TL;DR There aren’t any orphanages in the US. Adoption is very complicated and emotionally messy, but it’s great! I’m sorry not sorry I wrote an essay.
*I give Meet the Robinsons a pass. Lots of kids who are up for adoption or who have been adopted struggle with it a lot. For some, they feel worthless because their foundational belief about themselves is that not even their own mother wanted them. For others, they feel guilty about betraying their birth family when they start to love the adoptive family. Some are rejected repeatedly. Almost all of them have been deeply hurt in the past. Meet the Robinsons acknowledges issues like these and told the story of a boy who dealt with them in a healthy way, and showed kids that it’s okay for them to be happy, and made a very cute and imaginative movie out of it, and I love it for existing.
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I've been following this story for days before it went viral and most media outlet picked it up with sensationalism, and let me just throw some things out there before you start making "Orphan" movie jokes.
- Kristine and her now-ex, Michael Barnett, who are the adoptive parents of the girl in question, adopted her from Ukraine in 2010
- since the girl, Natalia, did not have a birth certificate, she was taken to MULTIPLE doctors who had estimated her age to be around eight
- another doctor examined her in 2012 and determined she was around 11
- Natalia has a bone-growth disorder and is a little person
- she is not the first child the Barnett's had adopted
- their older adopted son is autistic and got into Purdue University at 12
- Kristine wrote books about raising him in which she claimed that before she started tutoring him at home, he wasn't speaking nor communicating with people in any way and was thought to be incapable of it
- his story brought the family fame, television appearances and money, gaining them a segment on 60 Minutes in 2012
- that same year, the Barnetts had Natalia's age legally changed to 22 in court, after allegedly obtaining a letter from a doctor claiming she is an adult
- in 2013, the whole family sans Natalia moved to Canada, leaving her alone in a rented flat with no money
- during her time alone, reportedly a neighbor took her in after she got evicted in 2014 for not paying rent, but according to multiple sources, Natalia can no longer be located, and questions are raised about her well-being
- another couple tried getting custody of her in 2016, and the Barnetts filed an objection to that
- while Kristine told the police and the public outrageous claims about Natalia's time with the family, Michael Barnett had something completely different to say
- he has stated that he always believed Natalia was indeed a child, and that his ex had coached Natalia into telling anyone who asked why she was on her own, that she was an adult who looks younger due to her condition
- Kristine claims Natalia never grew, among other things, which she says also proves that she is an adult because both average height and little people grow until adulthood, but her own family photos disprove those claims since Natalia is visibly bigger and older on the most recent ones
- even if Natalia showcased all of the behavioral issues that Kristine claims she has, surely there is a better way to go about the situation than what this ex-couple did
- the movie Orphan came out in 2009, giving Kristine more than enough time to get "inspired" by it
- a couple of weeks ago, Kristine and Michael were charged on two counts of felony neglect of a defendant, and released on bail
- according to the case against the Barnetts, experts carried out bone density tests on Natalia in June 2010 and concluded she was eight year old
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