Colombia Adoption: Older Kids Want You To See They Aren’t Scary!

Many of the kids waiting for an adoptive family through Holt’s new Colombia adoption program are over the age of 5. But, partially spurred by fear, most adoptive families express openness only to a child who is 0-5 years old, passing up some precious, special, smart and wonderful kids whose greatest dream in life is to feel the unconditional love of a family. Learn about two kids — Cata and Santi — who are waiting for families. And, learn more about why Colombia adoption is an amazing option for families!

Colombia Adoption Program for Older Child Adoption
Kim Dowd-Uribe with two of the children she met in Medellin, Colombia. Holt’s Colombia adoption program is our newest country for families, but with Kim’s expertise, passion for kids and work ethic, it feels more like one of Holt’s long-standing partners.

On paper, kids’ backstories are scary. Especially older children.

When children are reduced to medical forms, psychiatric evaluations, intake documents and quick assessments — lacking the context of their vibrant personalities, beautiful smiles and contagious laughter — their needs seem overwhelming.

Paperwork can be dehumanizing.

At least, that was the case for many of the 33 children we met waiting for families through our Colombia adoption program.

When I read Cata’s file, it didn’t say that she loves sports and dancing. It didn’t talk about how funny and confident and abundantly sweet she is. It didn’t talk about her bright, sparkling eyes or gap-toothed smile from the loss of baby teeth.

Colombia Older Child Adoption
Cata is waiting for a family to adopt her through Holt International’s Colombia adoption program.

Continue reading “Colombia Adoption: Older Kids Want You To See They Aren’t Scary!”

How The Pieces Fall Into Place

The story of a boy named Spencer and all the people who came together to help him become the active, independent, outgoing kid he always had the potential to be.

Spencer fishing

I met Spencer Morrow seven years ago at an orphanage in northeastern China. It was my first trip for Holt as the senior writer for the organization, and I had never traveled to China before.

I had never seen the inside of an orphanage.

And I had never met children growing up in institutional care, without the love and security of a family.

For many reasons, this experience is as vivid in my mind as many of the experiences I’ve had traveling for Holt in the years since. Continue reading “How The Pieces Fall Into Place”

Life With James

The Van Winkle family share their story of bringing home James — a boy with special needs — from Korea. Throughout National Adoption Month, we have advocated for children like James — all boys with special needs who need our extra help to be matched with loving adoptive families.

Adoption is part of our hearts. We started our family six years ago with our daughter, Corinne, who was born in Vietnam. We began our second adoption journey two years ago with the Holt Korea program. We were matched with our son, James, who immediately captured our hearts. He is now 2 years old and has been home with us for three months. He loves to mimic his sister, stack Legos and be outside. It has been wonderful to finally have our family complete.

With James’ adoption, we had been through the adoption process before so we felt confident in starting again. We began following the paper trail, checking off various boxes as we mailed off our documents, and anxiously waited to be matched. We finally got ‘the call’ four months later and saw the most handsome and sweet little boy’s picture. That moment is when the real waiting began. We had seen him, connected to his picture and started sending care packages and photo albums. Little did we know that our short wait of four months would turn into two years.

We knew that his adoption was going to take a much different path than his sister’s. For Corinne, we waited longer to be matched, but travel came soon after. During James’ process, we were matched early on, but the wait to travel was long. Then came the changes to Korea’s adoption laws and the adoption process. This was a glaring reminder that although the paperwork steps are similar in most international adoptions, the process itself can be very different for each family. Our best advice for other families working through the adoption process is that it’s best to have a ‘go with the flow’ mentality and to expect changes or bumps. The adoption process is a rollercoaster of emotions, but the final steps and meeting your child is completely worth every loop on that rollercoaster.

Continue reading “Life With James”

A Warm and Loving Home for Schyler

Share Schyler’s story to help us find him a family in these last few days of National Adoption Month!

November 26, 2014

DOB: May 26, 2014, N.E. Asia

Today, Schyler has been in this world exactly 6 months. In that time, he has been lovingly held by his birth mother — a young woman still in high school who relinquished him for adoption shortly after giving birth. He then moved from his mother’s arms to the soothing arms of his foster mother, a woman in her later 50’s who has cared for many children waiting to join adoptive families. In his brief glimpse of the world, he has known what it’s like to be in a family — living in an urban apartment with his foster mother and father, as well as an older brother and sister.

Born in May, he has not yet experienced the cold of winter — only the hot brilliance of summer and cool, crisp days of autumn. On warm summer days, his foster mother took him for walks in his stroller, from which he studied his surroundings, and curiously stared at tree branches swaying in the wind.

Schyler has discovered that he likes baths — loves to feel the warm water on his skin. He loves to be held, loves to hear familiar voices and feel the presence of people — especially his foster mom. When he hears her voice and sees her approaching, he gets excited and makes cute sounds. He does not like strangers, however, and cries when he sees them.

Developmentally on target, Schyler can bear weight on legs. He has figured out how to roll himself over and to reach for large objects. He smiles and babbles and laughs. He loves to play.

Shortly after birth, a brain sonogram showed that Schyler has a small cyst around his right cerebral ventricle that needs to be medically observed. He also has a flat occiput, brachycephalic-shaped head. Schyler needs a family that has access to medical resources and will be open to unknowns regarding his special needs.

Schyler’s life has just begun. And so far, all he has known is warmth and love. Our hope is that he will continue to find the world a warm and loving place. Please share his story to help us find Schyler the loving adoptive family he needs and deserves — a family that will show him everything that life has to offer.

For more information about Schyler, contact Kristen Henry at

A Whole New Layer of Blessings

For National Adoption Month two years ago, the Barnette family shared their story of bringing home their daughter, Hannah, from Korea. Last March, they traveled to Korea again to bring home their second adopted child — this time, a son who they named Drew. This November, we have advocated specifically for boys with special needs from Korea and China — children who need the greatest help to be matched with families. But Drew fits the more common profile of children waiting for families in Korea. While he is a boy with a special need, his need is so minor that it would not be considered a “special need” in the U.S. In fact, all of his medical issues are resolved except for sensitive skin and eczema. Click here to read more about the children who need families from Korea today.

After bringing home our daughter, Hannah, from South Korea in 2012, we knew we wanted to add to our family as soon as possible and decided to grow again through adoption.  Deciding on an agency and country was easy this time. We had a great first experience with Holt and South Korea and felt comfortable with Holt’s Korea program staff in the U.S. and the Korean adoption process. We also loved that our children would share their birth country and culture. Before bringing Hannah home, we thought we would adopt from a different country if we adopted again, but South Korea had captured our hearts! We were told we could start the process again after we finalized Hannah’s adoption. So on December 15, 2011, we finalized Hannah’s adoption in court, and on December 16, 2011, we sent our application to Holt!

We knew there was a need for families to adopt boys with mild and manageable special needs from South Korea. This proved true in the number of families we had connected with on social media that were bringing home sons through Holt’s Korea program. Boys in Korea are not as likely to be placed domestically for adoption. Many of them also have normal neonatal conditions that end up resolving on their own, but are still considered “special needs” in Korea. We felt that a baby brother was just what our family needed.

Once our home study was complete, Holt’s waiting child program could directly match us with a child based on our profile and the child’s needs. A few months later, we received a file from Holt to review for a possible match. But after further testing, the child’s needs seemed much greater than what we felt we were able to parent.

In August of 2012, Holt sent an email to waiting child program families — the same way we first saw our daughter’s face — with a few boys from South Korea. One of those boys was Wu-jun, a handsome little guy who was 6 months old with a few rashes on his face and a mischievous grin. My husband and I were immediately drawn to him and felt really at ease about the medical info shared about him. We requested his file that afternoon. One of the great things about the Korea program is the extensive medical info on the children, including hospital records and monthly well baby check-ups. Wu-jun had an abnormal neurosonogram at birth and his skin rashes were thought to be due to food allergies. We had a doctor experienced with international adoption review his file and she advised us that while the abnormal test could be part of a more complex problem, his seemed isolated with no other issues. She felt he was healthy and developing on target. The doctor also told us that an abnormal neurosonogram at birth was a fairly common need seen in boys from South Korea. His possible allergies and skin issues seemed very minor to us. We also consulted other families who had adopted children with similar medical histories and everyone we talked to had positive experiences. We prayed about moving forward with Wu-Jun’s adoption and quickly felt a peace that he was our son. While we waited to hear if we would be matched with him, Korea sent the results of Wu-jun’s follow-up brain MRI, which was completely normal. A few days after letting Holt know we wanted to be Wu-jun’s parents, we received a phone call with the news that he would be our son! Our family and friends received this picture later that afternoon:

When Liz and Jason received the referral for Drew, they learned that he had a rash on his face – likely due to a food allergy. He still has sensitive skin, but all of his other medical issues have resolved on their own.

Continue reading “A Whole New Layer of Blessings”

If We Are Brave

In honor of National Adoption Month, Holt adoptive mom Mandie Hickenbottom-Conner shares about her journey to Korea and back to adopt her son, Desmond. A boy with special needs, Desmond is like many of the children who wait too long to find the loving adoptive families they need and deserve.

I never imagined my road to motherhood would be so riddled with loss…

Babies and children are surrounded with ideals of hope and joy. So, when I was dating my husband and we got engaged, we never talked about dreams deferred, fertility difficulties or death. And yet, before parenthood could be realized in our life together, all of these things would come to pass.

Mandie changes her hair color to raise awareness about different kinds of cancer. “It’s been a strangely effective way to get people’s attention,” she says. “When they ask about my hair, I tell them about warning signs and statistics.”

Our decision to adopt felt more like a long, arduous, emotional preparation than the beautiful “calling” so many of our friends seemed to experience. And although we always felt we wanted to adopt “one day” to “complete our family,” it soon became obvious that if we wanted to have a family, we would have to embrace adoption.

I know it may sound as though I think of adoption as a consolation prize.  Please know, this couldn’t be farther from the truth…

On a cold but unseasonably sunny winter day in February of 1960, a young, Irish immigrant gave birth to a premature baby girl in the rural Iowa bedroom of her older sister and guardian — herself an immigrant-bride during the Second World War.

Mom and baby were very ill. And because mom was caught pregnant with no husband to claim her or her infant daughter, she was also facing deportation. Her only option was relinquishment.  So when the ambulance arrived, the baby was immediately handed over to the medics with the instruction that mom did not want to hold or see the baby and that her infant daughter was to be placed in the care of a representative from the nearby children’s home.

Although she never touched her newborn child’s soft skin, mom took the time to gift her with a name. Following Irish tradition, it included her own mother’s name in the middle position.  A name…  the second and last gift she would ever give her daughter this side of Heaven.  The first being life itself, no matter how harsh the circumstances may have been.

In the far reaches of time and space, close as a breath yet expansive as the universe, God was watching this very mother and child. And He knew He already had a plan in place for the life of this small, sick baby girl — one part of which was to become an adopted daughter in a family of her own.  Another was to become my mother.

Fast forward to October 18, 2011. My now 51-year-old mother was on the phone in her living room while I was on the phone in her basement.  She, with an oncologist.  Myself with our adoption agency, Holt International.  It was our third wedding anniversary, but the atmosphere was far from joyful.  My mom was being told she had cancer for the second time; and my husband, Sean, and I were being told we must change country programs – from Thailand to South Korea.  Thailand’s adoption program was in upheaval due to the recent monsoons, and many foster families and orphanages had been displaced. In the wake of the natural disaster, timelines in Thailand had stretched into the unforeseen future and all new families without a current referral were advised to switch to a more stable program.

I got off the phone and wept. Wept for my mother, and wept for this unsure future facing my husband and me.  Holt was our second agency and South Korea our fourth country program.  Our previous agency had lead us through dead-ends in China and Ethiopia; so, hearing the news about Thailand that day, coupled with my mother’s returned cancer, was a blow my heart was not prepared to handle.

As my husband and I became caregivers to my mother while she began the extensive and physically exhausting road to stem cell transplant, we hoped and prayed daily for news of a child referral to restore our joy. We were called once in the summer of 2012 with a possible referral of a boy with some very specific special needs — the most daunting (in our eyes) being frequent seizure activity. Everything in my being wanted desperately to grab hold of the thought of having this child in our lives and press it tightly to my heart. But after much prayer, we both knew that we were not emotionally ready to give this sweet boy the kind of care he deserved. Continue reading “If We Are Brave”

Help Sammy Find a Family During National Adoption Month!

Sammy will turn 12 in two months and is nearing the age when he will no longer be eligible for international adoption. Please help us find him a family before he ages out — share his story for National Adoption Month!

Date of Birth: January 31, 2003, China

Sammy is a caring boy with an artistic bent and a generous heart.

Born on January 31, 2003, Sammy has lived most of his life in an orphanage in a central province in China. Here, he has developed wonderful relationships with his caregivers and peers, and his teachers at the orphanage call him the “best helper in the classroom.”

He is described as very polite, easygoing and giving of both his time and possessions. In a report from a few years ago, a staff member at the orphanage shared about a time when a boy took one of Sammy’s toys. Although the caregiver urged the boy to give the toy back, Sammy saw how much he liked it and generously gave the toy to his classmate. When the caregiver praised Sammy and gave him a piece of chocolate, Sammy turned around and offered the chocolate to another one of his classmates. His selflessness is truly moving — especially for a boy who has so little to call his own.

Sammy is also a talented painter who has distinguished himself in his art classes at the orphanage school. His teachers are astonished to see how his skills have developed, and an orphanage director personally invited him to join a special painting class. Sammy’s teachers see true academic and artistic potential in him and they are hopeful that he will soon be able to study at a public school. Continue reading “Help Sammy Find a Family During National Adoption Month!”

This National Adoption Month, Let’s Bring Eric’s 10-Year Wait for a Family to a Happy End!

UPDATE: As of November 2015, Eric has a family! Congratulations Eric!!

Eric is a 10-year-old in a wheelchair. But his biggest obstacle in life is not the wheelchair or the special needs that cause him to depend on it. Eric needs and deserves a loving family. Below, four Holt advocates share about this special boy who they met at an orphanage in northern China earlier this year. For Holt’s director of program and foundation relations, this was her second visit with Eric in four years. When she recognized him, she was devastated to find he was still there… still waiting for a family.


I am mindful of my office clock ticking softly behind me as I write to you this morning about Eric*.  On most days, the clock’s steady ticking is a hypnotic sound in the background – only intermittently discernable as I work. Today, however, the ticking seems jarring — as if sounding an alarm that time is irretrievably passing by.

I need my next minutes with you to not pass by without moving you to pause, reflect and act.

And here is the reason:  a terrific boy is losing his dreams of growing up in a family. He can never get his childhood back, and he has already lost 10 years in an institution. Eric’s window of time is running out.

This past summer, I led a small focus team of Holt supporters and adoptive families to see Holt’s services for children in northeastern China. For everyone on the trip, each day seemed more amazing than the last. As our journey neared the end, we visited an orphanage in Jilin province home to about 200 children, newborn to 18 years old.  Another 70 children from the orphanage now live in foster families in the community.

Of all the children in care — whether at the orphanage or in foster care — 90% have special needs.

Nearing the end of our tour of the orphanage, our local Holt China staff member, Zou Rong, asked if our team would take the time to visit with three children who have been waiting to be adopted for some time. “Just take a bit of time to get to know them,” she said. In unison we said “yes!” and followed her into the playroom —warm sunlight spilling in from the wall of windows. We quickly tossed our bags into a pile in a corner of the room so we could hug and play with the children.

To my amazement, I immediately recognized one of the children — a young boy in a wheelchair.

Continue reading “This National Adoption Month, Let’s Bring Eric’s 10-Year Wait for a Family to a Happy End!”