In China, it’s the magic age — the age that children “age out” of the international adoption system and are no longer available for adoption.
The number of birthdays they have until their file closes.
The age Jason, the child hosted by our beautiful friends during the same session we hosted Joy last winter, would have become an orphan FOREVER.
On his 14th birthday NEXT MONTH.
There are many conflicting accounts about what really happens to Chinese orphans once they age out of the system.
Most adoption agencies that work closely with these orphanages report that, though these children are at great risk of human trafficking and homelessness, their orphanages will often allow children to stay in the orphanage until they can find work at 16, sometimes older if they work as nannies or cooks for them.
Our guide in Superhero 4’s province this summer told us that the orphanages she works with are very protective of their aged out children and allow them to stay until 15 or 16, even though these children can no longer be adopted. The boys, she said, frequently leave by then to find agricultural work in rural areas, and the girls, if they’ve shown they are skilled at caretaking, sometimes stay and get jobs providing for the other children.
Superhero 4’s social welfare center provided in-house education and instruction for the children, who were a majority “special needs” superheroes. But most children, our guide told us, would never receive a formal education like their peers with paying parents. Which meant that they would struggle to find any kind of well-paying work when they left.
In her book The Heart of an Orphan, author Amy Eldridge, the founder of Love Without Boundaries, shares what her agency does to assist these aged out children — provide educational resources, grants and assistance to help these children who have no advocates break into a world that is sometimes cruel to those who carry the stigma of “orphan.”
“Even those who are smart and outgoing can face very big obstacles when they leave government care,” Eldridge writes. “Deep and ingrained stigmas surrounding those who have been abandoned in China remain, and there are still many schools and companies which believe it would be unlucky to have an orphan in their midst.” (Read Eldridge’s blog post on the topic of older child adoption to learn more about the very real battle for orphan acceptance in Chinese culture HERE.)
Which means that even when LWB and other agencies have partnered to assist aged out teens as they cross the bridge into adulthood, their home country has not always recognized them as valuable. Without family, most exist on the fringes of society.
Which, according to many sources, has led an undisclosed number of orphaned teens into drugs, sex trafficking, homelessness and suicide.
One aged-out teen told Eldridge that growing up without a mother or father “hurts more than death.”
Something Jason himself experienced for the first 13 years of his life.
Although Jason grew up in a foster home with an amazing foster mama (who Liz and Hunter had the privilege of meeting today!) for all 13 years, he longed for a forever family.
And although he was well loved by the woman Liz said had "THE sweetest heart," from every angle, it looked like Jason, too, was about to become a statistic.
Foster homes don't prevent children from legally aging out of the system. The same laws apply to all Chinese orphans, no matter where it is they are housed.
Jason was an older boy with special needs who had been abandoned by his biological parents.
That made him the most at-risk to be adopted of all.
But with just one month to spare, God changed this precious teenager’s story, and He brought him a host family who loved him, advocated for him and, when the first family who committed to love him forever withdrew their adoption application, marched passionately forward to redeem the 13 too-long years this boy waited for someone to call him “LOVED.”
And it is my greatest privilege to tell you that today, this boy we met and loved and help advocate for last year is no longer a file.
He’s no longer a number.
He’s no longer one of 600,000 reported orphans in a country that inside NGOs claim, in actuality, has many, many more.
Because on Monday, one year and two months after saying farewell to his host family at the Atlanta airport, Jason walked into a room in China where he met them again — and rushed into their arms.
Now, as their SON.
For the last two days, our dear friends the Whirleys have laughed and played and toured local markets and chatted about cars via Google Translate with the boy who will now be the oldest of their little team.
Although they report that this young man is still as shy as ever, they also report that he’s still as sweet.
Just now, a little taller and with a slightly deeper voice.
This sweet family will spend the rest of this week in Jason’s province and then fly to Guangzhou, where they will attend their appointment at the American Consulate and fly this boy back home to Georgia, where two little brothers are eagerly awaiting their reunion with the fun playmate who once spent a month in their home.
And for the first time in his life since the day his biological family lovingly placed him with some money and a longeval lock in a train station at only a couple days old, he will be able to anticipate his birthday.
He will be able to count it a celebration.
He will be able to actually rejoice in the anniversary of the day he was born.
Because this birthday is not a countdown to the expiration on his opportunity to become a son. It’s not his last birthday before he has to figure out where he will work to provide for himself or how he will stay alive once he has to leave the tender care of the foster mama who has provided for him so well for 13 years. It’s not his last day in 13 years to hope and pray and wish for a forever family of his own.
This birthday is his very first celebration INSIDE of one — one that TODAY, he happily ran to after he tearlessly said goodbye to the beautiful and amazing woman who has raised him for 13 years.
Because although foster families are FANTASTIC, FAMILIES are FOREVER.
And they're something EVERY 14-year-old deserves.
Want to see more pictures of Jason with his forever family in China? Join the Whirleys on their journey through China at www.facebook.com/ofcapesandcombatboots.
#jasonsstorychanged #changetheolderchildstory #everyteendeservesafamily