When Craig Juntunen was 51 years old, he and his wife adopted three kids from Haiti. “I never thought I would be a dad,” he told me. “I retired at age 42. There was a lot of golf in my life, and I thought that would be it. But then we adopted these kids, and everything changed.”
Juntunen’s redefined life became an inspiration to his peers and acquaintances. “My golf buddies were so astounded I did this that they inspired me to write a book,” he said. “And then other people read the book, Both Ends Burning, and wanted to adopt, but the system said they were too old. Discriminatory practices were turning away good people who wanted to adopt! This was a big red flag to me.”
Juntunen was surprised to learn that most people believe international adoptions are on the rise, when in actuality, they are actually falling.
Hoping to learn why people were struggling to adopt, Juntunen went on a three-year fact-finding study and was fascinated to discover that a broken and dysfunctional system was often the reason keeping kids out of a family. Adoption is too expensive, and when the exorbitant costs are coupled with red tape and bureaucracy, it deters potential adoptive parents. The current international adoption trends show an almost 60% decline in the number of children adopted since 2004. The average international adoption takes 3-5 years to complete leaving innocent children to spend their most formative years languishing in institutional settings.
“At first I was curious, then concerned, and then outraged,” Juntunen recalled. These practices are keeping kids from reaching their true potential, because they are stuck without families to nurture them. Juntenen could not accept it.
“The motivation behind making the documentary film STUCK was to expose the issues that are keeping children stuck without families. Now that the issues are being exposed, people are talking about it. Then we can move into the next step, which is to propose solutions to the problem.”
In the making of the documentary, Juntunen and his team traveled widely. “The more countries we visited and the more orphanages we saw, the worse it was,” he said.
The story line of STUCK is about the international adoption process, but the theme of the film is Love Grows Kids. It is about the basic human right of every child to belong in a family. Family reunification, family preservation, domestic adoption – these issues are all part of solving the problem of children not having families. “We want everyone to feel included in this conversation; it’s about getting kids out of orphanages and into a family; or get kids out of foster care and into a family,” said Juntunen.
STUCK won the Audience Choice Award at the Heartland Film Festival. Three members of Congress helped kick off the STUCK tour in February, and additional members of Congress have attended the screenings. The STUCK tour is intense -- 80 days, 62 cities, 18,000 miles – and is intended to create a social movement. “Politicians do things reactively, not proactively, so social transformation happens when new information causes you to reexamine social thinking,” Juntunen explained passionately. “We want to create a robust conversation about the importance of a family to a child. As people join our movement, we want them to ask politicians to make it a priority to get kids adopted and remove the barriers and find better ways to process and manage adoptions.”
After the tour, the STUCK team is hoping to see some immediate new legislation drafted and passed in the US as a practical agent for change, and this would ideally serve as a lightning rod for other countries.
Of particular importance is safely shortening the length of time it takes to adopt internationally.
Juntunen raised some key thinking points by explaining, “We’d like to see accountability from a time standpoint. We have a dichotomy here -- we all recognize that every day maters to a developing child, yet we all accept that international adoption takes 33 months on average. We don’t want recklessness; we want safe and transparent processes, but we want to determine a child’s eligibility as quickly as possible. We need to rethink who the managers of this process should be. Currently, accountability often resides in the State Department, but the State Department is mostly concerned with diplomacy. Is diplomacy as a key goal compatible with helping children come home? We want to look solely at the best interest of the child.”
We spoke about the steps Russia has taken to ban US adoptions of Russian orphans. Juntunen said, “It’s just one more example of how the best interests of adults are trumping the best interests of children. It’s political retaliation using children as pawns. What will happen to kids who are being condemned to a compromised lifestyle?”
In a year or so, the STUCK team would like to host a summit of 25 nations to share information across borders and then go into other countries to learn best practices.
What can we do?
Visit Both Ends Burning, view the film trailer, and sign the online petition, which will be presented at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., during the May 17 Step Forward for Orphans March. You can also get tickets to the movie premiere online. Each screening is actually more than just a screening of the film. Juntunen holds a town-hall-style Q&A after the film, followed by an after-party where people exchange their stories. At least one family from each community tells their story.
I will be attending the Chicago screening on Friday, April 26th and would love to see some of my Portrait of an Adoption readers there!
Portrait of an Adoption is hosted by Carrie Goldman, the author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.
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