Wednesday, May 27, 2020


Celebrating Barker’s 75th Year | The China Waiting Children Program: A Story of Partnerships

“Adoption is addicting. Many people look at me funny when I say that,” says Holly. “It’s not always easy, not always smooth, but the love that both we and the child get transcends all difficulties.”

It’s the same story told a thousand ways--adoption uniting amazing families with extraordinary kids. Take Holly and Doug Gillespie. After the couple had a biological son, in January 2008 they brought home a 7-month-old baby girl from South Korea. With another biological daughter in April 2010, they were parents to three kids younger than age 4. They had their hands full, it seemed. But they were still feeling the pull of adoption. So three years later in June 2013, they traveled to China to bring home a bubbly 20-month old son from Inner Mongolia who’d been living in a group foster home in Beijing, China. 

With four kids--two adopted, two biological--the Gillespie family was definitely complete. Or was it?

The end of their story had its beginning back in 1992 in the first of a series of key partnerships. That year the Barker Adoption Foundation (then known just as the Barker Foundation) began seeking ways to further expand its work facilitating international adoptions. By that point Barker was matching waiting families with children who needed homes through agencies in Latin America, and that work—particularly in Colombia—was thriving. 

Barker had worked with respected Massachusetts agency Wide Horizons to assist one family in adopting a baby from China, where Wide Horizons had connections. Staff liked what they were seeing with families who’d gone that route in adopting. So in late 1992 Barker formalized its first China Program: eight or nine families would travel together with a translator and a Wide Horizons social worker to finalize adoptions from orphanages in south-central China. By October 1994 Barker and Wide Horizons had worked together on eleven such trips. In May 1995 on the sixteenth trip, eight families adopted children from China,  with a Barker staff person accompanying. 

Barker’s commitment to robust post-adoption support took several forms for these parents, including arranging for those returning from these trips to meet with parents who’d adopted children on previous China trips. Nearly all adoptees from China at that point were girls—a result of a cultural preference for boys at the time and the government’s one-child policy. The Chinese government was diligent in ensuring adoptees’ welfare: at the time parents had to pledge they’d give their children an inheritance, never abandon them, let them re-enter China if they wished, and allow a Chinese government representative to visit them in the United States. 

In spring 1998 a second partnership took shape when Barker merged with the American Adoption Agency, which primarily focused on international adoptions and had programs in China and elsewhere.

The number of China adoptions would later slow. But successful collaborations have a way of opening more doors. In 2008 Barker’s reputation for ethical adoption led the Chinese government to approve our participation in the country’s Waiting Children program for special-needs kids. 2014 brought another expansion of our China connections when the Connecticut-based Family and Children’s Agency selected Barker to assume responsibility for its China program because of our track record of bringing on and transitioning similar programs. 

It was Barker’s China Waiting Children Program that the Gillespies eventually turned to in 2017 when they decided that even with their four children, there was still room in their family. After a few months of waiting to be matched through another agency, they saw a posting online of a two-year-old girl from China who was healthy except she was missing the lower half of her left arm. Were they prepared to parent a child with a special need? After many conversations and prayers, the answer was yes. They switched adoption agencies to work with Barker, and in January 2018 were on their way to China to bring home their now nearly three-year-old daughter. Within a few days, they’d discovered her spunky, funny, loving personality, Holly says. In December 2019 she got her new prosthetic arm (view here).

That wasn’t quite the end of their story: Holly’s brother and wife have since brought home a three-year-old daughter of their own from China. Are the Gillespies done adopting? They’re not giving a definite answer. “Children are a gift, and adoption has made it possible for us to be able to create this crazy, loud, wonderful family that we get to call our own,” says Holly (read the Gillespies full story here).

Over the years Barker has placed hundreds of children in permanent, loving families through its China programs. Along the way, we’ve also created opportunities for children to strengthen their ties with China through celebrations of the Lunar New Year and other events. Today there are more than 2,000 children still waiting in China. Adoption through the program requires an openness to parent a child with needs that range from correctable to lifelong. 

One couple researching international adoption said that they kept returning to Barker as their first choice because they “especially appreciated the predictability and stability of China’s Waiting Child program.” We can’t know what the future holds for international adoption during this extraordinary period—but our experienced international team will continue to be reliable guides in navigating rough waters, no matter what comes.

Guest Writer: Steven Yoder