Brandon Hatmaker
Failure to Thrive
by Brandon Hatmaker on March 19th, 2013

A few years ago I visited for the first time a government orphanage in a third world country. The first room I entered was about 20 feet long by 15 feet wide. It was packed with 27 cribs each holding two screaming infants. The three workers were doing all they could with their assigned tasks: One fed a child, one changed a diaper, and the other shuffled the children from their crib to the other two workers like an assembly line. It was all they could do to finish the task for all the fifty or so infants before it was time to start all over again.
The second room was filled with toddlers. There were no workers in the room yet none of the children dared to walk through the open door. The moment we broached the doorway they swarmed us. Each holding a pair of florescent orange sunglasses that had been given by a previous visitor, each one holding them out with the obvious desire for me to help put them on their face. The moment I did, they would smile big and start running around the room laughing.
After doing this for several minutes, I realized that some of the kids were coming to me multiple times. In fact, all of them were. After enjoying a moment with sunglasses on their face, they were intentionally taking them off (or bending over, shaking their heads, and pretending they fell off) only to return for me to assist them again. This went on for quite a while.
These children did not care about the sunglasses being on their face. What they cared about was the individual attention they were getting as I helped them. It was their moment, if even for a few seconds. And they thrived in that moment.
I learned a lot that day. The biggest lesson came when I found out that was not a room filled with toddlers… it was a room filled with 3 and 4 year old kids that were the size of 1 and 2 year old kids. I was amazed at how small they each were.
Fast forward a handful of years.
Recently I was invited to view a film by the Both Ends Burning campaign called “Stuck”.  Stuck is a documentary that highlights some of the current political and procedural shortfalls related to international adoption and the destructive impact of long-term institutionalization of orphans. Its goal is to create a movement calling the process to reform.
The claim of Stuck? Every child deserves a family. If it can’t be through unification with biological parents, then it needs to be through a more rapid process for adoption. This stands in opposition to a long drawn out process taking an average of three or more years while the child remains institutionalized during their most significant developmental years (Note: we’re not talking about skipping “due process”… only cutting the fluff. See below for more on this).
One segment of the film highlighted my new least favorite phrase: “Failure to Thrive”. While there are significant and often lifelong emotional and mental impacts of a child being orphaned and institutionalized, the thing that most miss is the measurable physical impact it has on a child. The longer a child is institutionalized and away from a healthy family environment, the greater the impact. This is very telling.
Failure to thrive indicates insufficient growth, weight gain, or inappropriate weight loss. It covers poor physical growth of any cause and can subsequently be a cause of abnormal intellectual, social, and emotional development.
It’s nearly impossible to tell the age of many orphaned children at most international orphanages. Evaluating height, weight, emotional maturity, or even thought development all lead to inaccurate conclusions. All can be impacted negatively.
This is often most noticeable post adoption... and once the child is in a healthy family environment. As an adoptive dad, I’ve seen this first hand. After spending nearly three years in one of the best orphanages in Ethiopia, our adopted son grew more than two inches in under three months after coming into our home. He began to thrive in his new environment. I heard just yesterday a report of an adoptive child who grew three inches in two months and was able to move from below zero-percentile on weight to just above average. In TWO MONTHS.

Something has to change.
Following the film, Craig Juntunen, President and Founder of the Both Ends Burning Campaign led a discussion on what needs to happen to help improve the process:
1. The US Government needs to take the lead: Nations across the globe will not take this serious until we take this serious. We need to encourage our government to move beyond simple legislation that has proven to be ineffective and to re-engage this conversation.

2. Foreign Countries need to enter the conversation: This needs to be a collaborative global effort with the goal of placing the needs of the child above political red tape.

3. New Legislation must be introduced: We’ve already begun to see some proposals on the table for legislation that needs to come forward. This will only take place if “we the people” continue to encourage our legislators to take this seriously.

4. Summit of Nations: This is a critical step of collaboration. Studies have already shown that if we took the five necessary best practices of the adoption process from the countries that do it best, we would have an effective nine-month process that could be adopted by any country seeking to do so. This is a fraction of the 3+ years it takes for the average international adoption to take place.

5. Countries willing to Pilot the Program: As with any new process we’d need adoption advocates willing to pilot the program with the desire to improve the process, not just go through the motions.
So what can we do? One of the best things we can do to encourage this process is unify our voice. Here are a handful of things you can do to join the fight.

Posted in not categorized    Tagged with no tags


Tara Bradford - March 19th, 2013 at 7:36 PM
Great post Brandon!
I appreciate and support BEB's efforts. The even sadder part is the number of children living in institutions who wait, age out and even succumb to death because of a lack of resources for the kids to have good care as we wait for countries to make changes. The kids suffer at the hands of others who can do something but don't make it a priority on their political agenda. Thanks for being a voice and advocating for these precious kiddos waiting for something as simple as a family.
John - March 19th, 2013 at 7:53 PM
Absolutely great post Brandon. We are ON DECK with our agency, and have been DTE Ethiopia for 26 months. I shudder to think about how many children in that country alone who have had to wait far longer than needed; not to mention Russia, Guatemala, and the countless other countries, who have countless other children, with no hope for a future family. Stuck was a powerful force for change in Houston, as I know it will be.

We will be in DC on May 17th to help deliver the million signatures. Thank you for all you do Brandon.

becca - March 19th, 2013 at 9:44 PM
I am so thankful for adoptions...both international and domestic. as a mother that was chosen to be the mother of the most amazing little girl in the world I want to spread the word that as as much as the need is all around the world.... The need is great right here... When we began the adoption process... I was sure God was wanting us to go abroad... I spoke and prayed with Stephanie Davis from Chosen Heritage in Dallas Texas and she told me the need right here is great for families open to bi racial and Afrian American babies... So God in all His glory blessed us with a baby girl... People ask all the time where we adopted her from... And are always shocked when I say Dallas Texas. The need for chirstians to rise and allow God to grow families through adoption is great.... All across this land....and to the furthest parts of the world.... The need is great for Christian familes right here to embrass birthmothers who are in the very act of choosing adoption are demonstrating the most unselfish love I could ever imagine .... I believe every baby deserves a mommy and daddy... I believe we as the body of Christ have to rise and open our heart'sand homes.... And to all that have walked the road of adoption.... I was chosen.... Its a love that there are no words to describe....
Amy - March 19th, 2013 at 10:01 PM
Amen and Amen!
Jill - March 20th, 2013 at 10:17 PM
Becca could you please contact me. My husband and I are waiting for that phone call but we like to have every available line open. Right now we are working with a small agency in east Texas. We Love our agency but are open if God has a different plan. We are home study ready and more then ready for the call.
Jacqueline - March 19th, 2013 at 11:15 PM
I'm open to the idea that we need to adopt these babies (of all ages) into Christian homes. My question is, is that the right place to spend so much money? Each adoption costs tens of thousands of dollars. That money would go even further in a 3rd world country where they live on about $2 a day. Would it be better for the child to be with relatives & help the local churches set up a structured environment with that same money that would be benefit 20 children? Would more lives be saved? I've visited Christian orphanages in Haiti, so I have an understanding of what a "good' orphanage looks like. I just wonder if we would be better off trying to help the people with the problems that put them in the position of having so many children in orphanages. The Bible clearly tells us to help widows and orphans. I just wonder what that looks like in real life. Maybe it's different for different families. Perhaps, adopting is right for some, while supporting is right for another. Either way, prayer is a necessity.
Mindy - March 19th, 2013 at 11:42 PM
Jacqueline, your comments really cause me to think. Being over 50, I feel kinda left out of the adoption thing, but I could certainly find an orphanage to get involved with and support these kids that way!
Missy - March 20th, 2013 at 5:46 AM
Mindy, here is a great organization that you may be interested in in which you can support an effort in ethiopia to take 7 orphans at a time out of orphanages and immediately place them in a permanent adoptive home in-country with a young Christian widow, where they recieve love, ministry, education, and support and are legally adopted by the widow. One of my favorite pictures of James 1:27...widows and orphans together. You can choose a "family" to sponsor.

Also, there are many ways to help. Did you know that foster parents cannot leave their children with anyone that is not certified by the state in respite care? On can be certified in respite care and offer a sanctuary for parents who are in the trenches of foster care and just want a date night.

There are also great child sponsorship programs.

As an adoptive mom, I love to show those who feel "left out" of this amazing call that adoption is ONE way to answer this call, and God loves to see us reach out in any way we are able. Imagine the impact if we all jumped in this game.


Andie - March 22nd, 2013 at 11:37 PM
Ok, I am 54 and on my second adoption..special needs China.. My first - my amazing daughter - at 50 years old.. But, any kind of help with the children of the world is fantastic!
Missy - March 20th, 2013 at 5:56 AM

You nailed it. I love to see Christians asking these questions. As an adoptive mother, these are the questions I have heavy on my heart; and I know we can do better too. I contacted several of the big adoption conferences about some of these questions, and many of them have also been asking these questions and are working on ways to bring answers and ideas to the table for the community to consider.

Defending the cause of the orphan (the widow, the poor) is a big, big, messy picture and there is room for all of us to grab a paintbrush and start working. Adoption is ONE piece. There are SO MANY PIECES.

Laura - March 20th, 2013 at 7:50 AM
Jacqueline, I agree with your thoughts. I would like to share with the facebook page I admin. My inlaws and a group of people from their community here in Maryland around 25 years ago worked with a missionary in Sucre, Bolivia building churches and other projects. The missionary and a Bolivian woman involved with his seminary there took a few children off the street to live in her apartment because she just couldn't stand passing them on the street day after day. The missinary and the woman and the team of people from here had witnessed the Bolivian government orphanage and also knew that this was not the place for children ....The story is explained in more detail on my page but eventually just with their prayers and hard work, donations from a small community and word of mouth over the years, the children were given there own home at "Peace is my Home" and "Seeds of Hope" (2 sites - same thing). I would encourage you to read about the setup and structure of the "families" that the children are part of now. Children cannot be adopted from here because they are given a loving, nurting family, better than most "real famillies" or "normal families" and also they are growing up, becoming doctors, teachers, pastors, government officials in their own country which means they themselves are already beginning to change their countries from the inside out. Every penney put into the houes on site and the children are 100% by donations just from people who care. Right now it is run through my father-in-laws church. We are working on getting it into it's own Non-profit. All volunteers are just that. But it is really lifechanging when you see how these kids ARE thriving. They have been given a home right there in their own city. I am all for international adoption and support it 100% but I agree with you that there are SO many children and not all can possibly be adopted. I believe God has placed homes like this one (and others simliar) as another option. It just takes people who care...and I think this is a good example of what God can do with those with a heart for these children. The page is I just got it up and running a few months ago. There is still much need we seek from others God brings to us!
Seth - March 20th, 2013 at 4:54 PM
I wrestle with these same questions, too. In a broken system, I wonder with whether further deregulation or streamlining won't actually lead to more problems, potentially abuses. These are questions worth asking and I'm not sure there are black and white solutions either way.

I love the families that are engaged in the adoption process. I love those that are asking these questions, too. Ultimately, I know we all do the best we can with the information we have.
Tommy - March 20th, 2013 at 5:32 PM

What a terrific question. We need to ask the difficult questions, even if they make us uncomfortable. I have a personal answer/opinion to your question, but first it is important to look at the extent of the problem. My understanding is that there are 80 million orphans in Asia and 40 million in Africa. The two largest Asian countries do not desire nor seek out financial help for this crisis. India is the country with the most orphans and they oftentimes do not look favorably on Americans "trying to help." A big reason is India is not Christian and many fear Christianity if Americans are "too helpful."

Another factor is that in countries lacking a Judea/Christian value system, there is often less of a value for each human life. The orphan has simply drawn the wrong stick in life, but it is his or her lot. Children who are ill with Aids, Hepatitis, or birth defects may be made orphans because the family is cursed to keep them, or loses face for having a "defective" child. In many of the larger countries, the children are not signed over to an authority but rather are left on a busy corner with no way to track parents are family. In short, the problem is HUGE.

I hope to change the lack of value for each human life in these countries and work at that on an ongoing basis. I would even say it is a major calling in my life. But, when the richest country in the world can't solve its own foster-care problems, I have no illusions about what that country can do in other countries. Instead, I think the work we do is really about one child at a time (google starfish story for a good illustration).

So, I conclude that yes we should try to help and educate people so they are not put in orphanages, just like we should do the same here to keep the children out of the foster care system. But, at the same time, we should adopt and foster and continue to try and solve the cycle of poverty. Yes, yes, yes to everything mentioned.

On another note, perhaps the changes that occur to us when we adopt or foster is as important to God as the actual adoption or foster care for the child. I don't know. While giving money and perhaps even time is terrific, adopting has changed MY life. My family, and particularly my biological children, are changed forever because we adopted. God has used our obedience to mature me greatly and to send me back 7 times now to help much in the way you suggest could be more productive. I am not sure I would have parted with the resources or the many months of vacation time for my neighbors in a far away country, had I not adopted.

Finally, I think and have seen God use adoption to help race relations here at home.

God's work is sometimes not easily understood by me. My job is to follow, even if it means being the women pouring the costliest perfume at our saviors feet.

I encourage you to do what you can. Don't let what others are doing become an excuse not to engage where God would have you.....and thanks for asking the difficult questions!

Jacqueline - March 22nd, 2013 at 11:36 PM
Thank you so much to everyone who replied to my comment. I will check out the references given. These are questions that I wrestle with regarding taking care of those God told us to look after. I get that it can mean an unbelievable life change for the adopted child & his/her family. While it's just one child or one family, it is EVERYTHING to that one child and that one family, especially in the case of the children who are viewed as defective. (That breaks my heart!) I also see how it can be helpful to support a child in his/her own environment (Ive heard it takes about 2 years for an adopted child to fully assimilate into his/her new home~that's really tough for a child. I have a friend with a large family who struggled & finally put her adopted child into Teen Challenge because she never really did assimilate. She was told this isn't uncommon for children at her particular age. She is doing much better a year later) I see benefits to both adoption and keeping families together in their country of origin. I love hearing ideas of how to serve God & obey Him, whether it's helping one individual or a whole community.
heather - March 20th, 2013 at 5:41 AM
Thanks for the post, Brandon. I'm a fellow AWAA family- DTE for 13 months for a young girl. Don't know what to say here except thanks for helping be a voice for the fatherless and for all of us somewhere in the messy process. Lots of love to your family from mine here in Maryland!
Suzanne Morrison - March 20th, 2013 at 6:29 AM
Oh my goodness, Brandon Hatmaker! I'm in tears. Love you and your crazy bunch of family.
jasonashleymorriss - March 20th, 2013 at 10:12 AM
keep pushing Brandon!
we're watching every move y'all make in the lead car.
every move...

Mandy @ MoneyMasterMom - March 20th, 2013 at 11:25 AM
I was afraid that watching that video would make me want to adopt. It made me cry. Thank you for being a voice for those who don't have one.
WICK Anderson - March 20th, 2013 at 1:23 PM
I'd heard a little about the movie....great re-cap here. My family and I are in the "fundraising" and "awaiting referral" stage of our adoption from the DRC. It's been a long road so far, having been officially on the waiting list since last October. We look forward to bringing our daughter home someday, continuing to speak however we can for adoption reform, and the importance of caring for all God's children who are living in unjust conditions. Praying with you for big changes...
Boston Mom - March 21st, 2013 at 11:03 AM
Thank you, thank you, Brandon. My daughter came home at age 2 with the diagnosis "failure to thrive." It haunted me. It haunted our family. Nothing seemed worse than those three words, which professionals told us meant "your daughter has basically given up."

Well, my daughter is now a healthy five year old. She skis like a whiz, rode a two wheel bike by age 4, plays soccer, does gymnastics, and won second place in her first horse riding competition. She reads, creates all kinds of things out of recycled material, and has a curiosity and energy about her that everyone can see. She loves life and inspires all of us. She had not ever "given up." The world had given up on her.

We have so many children waiting for families, waiting for the opportunity to thrive. We have to remove these artificial barriers and make it happen. These children need us. And our world needs them.
Karen - March 29th, 2013 at 7:08 AM
Thanks for all the suggestions of ways to help! I was shocked (and thought she was making it up) when a foster parent told me she could not let her kids go home to a schoolmates house unless the parents had a background check. I am ALL for protecting the kids, but wow! A background checked co-worker volunteered to help drive those kids to sports practice because the kid's participation was hindered by the FP's work schedule. So many hurting kids.
Julie Hedberg - April 30th, 2013 at 11:21 PM
Hi Brandon,
Thank you so much for your post, we truly need, SO badly for this movement to take full effect.

I wanted to write to you specifically, b/c I am on the core team to help prepare for the Stuck March for Orphans on May 17th. There are many ways to get involved, but most of all we need the word to spread about what specific ways we need the public's help. I wanted to talk to you about how we can work together about sharing our flyer and email with churches across the country. There is a lot to tell and I hope to explain over the phone if this is something you care to help us with. I just want to make sure you have all the information beforehand.

Specifically, to give you an overview, we need many more marchers on May 16th and 17th. We already have the meetings and congressmen who have agreed to listen, we just need the people that agree, to show their support, and we have power in numbers.

For those that cannot make it, we have a call in day set up for May 16th and we literally need EVERYONE can call to leave a 30 second message and together we will not be ignored.

I truly hope to hear back from you so I can send you the email if you would like to consider sharing it with your congregation or with other pastors as well. But for now, here is the link with much of the information needed for the March itself along with "Call in day" information:

THANK YOU for your passion to care for orphans and for answering the call to adopt yourself.
Hope to talk soon,
Dan - May 18th, 2013 at 12:48 PM
Do you realize that you wife is railing against international adoption and you just posted in favor of it? As a Dad, like you, who has both biological and adopted children I'm a bit confused by your wife's lack of research and factual documentation on international adoptions. I was a missionary kid until I was 18 in West Africa, both of my sister are missionaries in Asia my 'boots on the ground experiences' do not compute with what she is saying. I have to say that by adding her voice to the growing cacophony of voices implying international adoptions are fraudulent and the result of baby stealing are already having an dampening effect on adoption rates. Congratulations on making Christians looking like baby trafficking jerks.
Brandon Hatmaker - May 18th, 2013 at 5:57 PM
Dan, maybe you need to read her post again. and then again. She is very pro adoption. It's just that the system is broken.. on both ends. It's too slow for those who need to be adopted... and too fast for those who shouldn't. Facts are facts and she stated experiences she's heard of first hand... we need to be aware. I have close friends who've nearly fallen victim to this very thing... devastating... but a necessary reality. This is not about US, it's about the children! Listen, we're adoptive parents, I have three biological and two adopted children (from ethiopia)... that should tell you something, my wife and I both agree that reunification should be a priority. from there... adoption with other family... then adoption within their own country... and last resort be international adoption. For many.. that will be their only choice. This is a big necessary, ugly, tough, conversation. Let's all act like adults and talk it through... study... be willing to be wrong... celebrate when we're right... and treat other with dignity. Working hard on both sides to FIGHT FOR THE ORPHAN. No snide comments necessary.
Leave a Comment