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Their Last, Best Chance: Advocating for Waiting Kids in Thailand

Holt’s Thailand Special Needs Program team recently returned from a trip where they met with dozens of older children and children with special needs. Now home in the U.S., the team is ready to advocate for them with prospective adoptive families!

When the Thailand Special Needs Program (SNP) team first met Atid* at an orphanage in Thailand, the orphanage staff didn’t quite know what to do with him.

“The orphanage brought him in and said, ‘We don’t know what to do,’” recalls Celeste Snodgrass, Holt’s senior director of clinical services. “The child had a disability, and he was sensory seeking.”

Celeste and the SNP team explained to the orphanage staff what was going on with Atid — why his disability would make him want to touch and feel his surroundings. They also requested that he be transferred to a different orphanage that specialized in the care of children with disabilities and special needs.

This was in 2018, on the inaugural trip for Holt’s Thailand SNP — a unique program in which a team of Holt social workers travel to meet and assess older children and children with special needs. The team travels across Thailand, visiting orphanages in often remote places, and gets to know children for whom this program may be their last, best chance of joining a permanent, loving family.

After the SNP team advocated for Atid to be transferred, they saw him again the following year in his new care environment. “He was a whole different kid,” Celeste says. “This kid is amazing. He sings songs in Thai and English. Your heart just melts. He is so adorable.”

A boy living in an orphanage in Thailand hugs one of his caregivers.

While the primary objective of the SNP is to advocate for children with prospective families back in the U.S., Atid’s story highlights another unique benefit of the program. When social workers travel to visit children, they can also advocate for them to receive any specialized care they may need — care that can put them on a path to a place where they can successfully transition to life in a family.

The SNP team felt confident that Atid would thrive in a family, and eventually, he was matched with an adoptive family through Holt’s special needs program. Recently, Celeste traveled to Thailand again on Holt’s fourth SNP trip ­— and once again, she got to visit Atid, who was an infant when she first met him. He’s almost 6 now. 

“I can’t wait for his family to be able to meet him and spend time with him and see what a joy this little boy is,” Celeste says. “He is excited and asks all the time when he gets to go [to the U.S. with his family].”

Atid is just one of over 90 children who the SNP team spent time with on this year’s trip to Thailand, in early April 2024. “[We saw] a mixture of new children coming into the program, children who have been in the program who we’ve met before, and children who are matched and waiting for travel,” Celeste explains.

Of the 90-plus children that they saw on the April 2024 trip, 35 were children they had never met before.  “Most of the kids are anywhere between the ages of 4 and 9. There was a handful of kids who are 10, a sibling group who is older and a couple single girls who are older. But the majority are under 10,” Celeste says.

For each of these new children, Celeste and her teammates — including Holt social worker Cara Smith and Holt’s waiting child case manager, Brooke Loomis — spent team learning about their personalities and interests, assessed any medical, developmental, cognitive or emotional special needs they may have, and determined the kind of family they would best thrive in. They got to see and learn about their care environment, and also got to speak with the children’s teachers, caregivers, nurses and social workers.

We met some amazing older children — mostly girls, and a sibling group of 3 girls! — who are developmentally on target, who just want to have an adoptive family…”

Celeste Snodgrass, Director of Clinical Services

Through all of this information-gathering, they are able to create a comprehensive portrait of the child’s life, personality and environment — and, upon their return to the U.S., personally advocate for them and represent them to prospective adoptive families.

And for this special group of children — children who have in some cases waited years to be adopted — it’s often this personal advocacy that can mean the difference between growing up in an orphanage or growing up in a family.

“This is a very important program working with HSF and the Thai government on trying to home-find for these kids because we are the only agency advocating for these kids,” Celeste says. “The government of Thailand works with a whole bunch of countries for international adoption and places children through these orphanages with families around the world. But the majority of families around the world are not open to medical needs, developmental delays or generally older kids. So for these kids, this is really their only avenue towards a potential adoptive family.”

In April, the Thailand Special Needs Program team met 35 new children who are waiting for loving adoptive families!

Before they were considered for Holt’s special needs program, the Thai government did try to find families for the children. “For every child, it’s a different reason,” Celeste says, explaining why they struggled to find families for them. “(Sometimes it’s due to) prematurity and the impacts of that, or siblings who came into care when they were older.”

But that’s where meeting and advocating for the children personally can really make a difference. The Holt SNP team members see beyond the children’s needs on paper and can meet them as complex, beautiful people, and in turn, convey to families their candid description of them — sharing what makes them special, and ways in which families will need to support them.

“We met some amazing older children — mostly girls, and a sibling group of 3 girls! — who are developmentally on target, who just want to have an adoptive family,” Celeste says of the children they met on their most recent trip. “One girl who thinks she won’t get a family because of how she looks — she is bigger than most Thai kids and has curly hair and she is just the nicest girl.” They met some very young boys who were impacted by being born extremely premature. “Also some sweet boys who are early elementary/young school age who show some developmental delays,” Celeste adds.

While assessing each child’s strengths and needs, the team also looks for specific strengths and attributes in their prospective families — whether it’s a good understanding (or willingness to learn) about the complexity of older child adoption, access to medical and therapeutic resources for their special needs, or other ways they can meet the child’s specific needs. But above all, the most important attributes are a commitment to love and care for a child, and a willingness to support and advocate for them in all areas of their lives.

In total, Holt is currently advocating for 57 children through the Thailand Special Needs Program and has united over 60 children with adoptive families since the program started in 2018.

To learn more about the children in the Thailand Special Needs Program, visit our Thailand waiting child photolisting or email [email protected]!

adoptive mother and father holding daughters adopted from China

Children with special needs are waiting for families!

Meet some of the children waiting for loving adoptive families. Could you be the right family for one of these children?

*name changed as Atid is still in the adoption process

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