Sunday, March 19, 2017

Another special needs Armenian child finds a home in America away from her motherland
Crystal Kupper and "Guyana" which is actually Gayane but these
odars can't spell or pronounce anything except "SAVIOR"  
She peered out from the baby carrier and immediately ducked back in, petrified by the sparrow flitting above. I hadn’t yet told Guyana we were at a zoo, with even scarier animals than sparrows. Of course, I couldn’t fault my new daughter’s reaction to outside experiences too much; nearly all her five years had been spent in five rooms at an Armenian orphanage.
We strolled around the zoo in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital city, trying to get used to each other. Guyana’s 24 pounds barely registered with me, though I was intensely aware of her deadweight legs smashed crooked, all thrown out of whack by her many physical challenges.
Natives stared with beautiful dark eyes. It isn’t normal to see people with disabilities in public in this corner of the world, especially not a miniature, halfway-paralyzed spitfire kangaroo-pouched against an American woman. I felt as if we were a zoo exhibit ourselves.
But then an old lady stopped us, asked Guyana in Armenian who I was. My daughter stopped shrieking over the terrifying ducks and deer long enough to proudly announce, “My mama!”
Yes, I thought in awe. I am your mama, and you are my girl. Forever.

Lifelong Dream

When I was 8, my family began fostering disadvantaged babies. The moment I met Joshua, my first foster brother, I fell in love. I vowed to not only be the best foster sister, but to adopt someone just like him one day. Then his brother Keith joined us.
Two years later, Joshua and Keith were adopted by another family. My heart was shredded, but as I cried, I felt comforted by God in a completely new way. This is what I want you to do, He seemed to say. This is going to be your life, and it’s going to be good. My parents eventually adopted my sisters Jaimie and Shelbea from foster care, and the love intensified a thousandfold. My feelings weren’t blind; I witnessed firsthand the raw hurt and pain that grafting a family together brings. Still, as each year passed, the desire to adopt grew. I knew I would occasionally question God’s call, but I also knew I couldn’t deny His invitation simply because it would be difficult.
So I started preparing in my teens for my “someday” life. As I studied, trained and volunteered, I became convinced that God wants every Christian to become involved in orphan care. I hoped and prayed that my involvement meant adoption.
On our honeymoon, my husband Nickolas and I dreamily discussed the future. We would see the world, we decided, and build our family through both birth and adoption.

Spurred to Action

In 2012, I read a blog post about the terrible injustices many countries inflict on citizens with special needs. Though I was used to tales of malnourishment, neglect and outright abuse in foster care, I was shocked as I scrolled through the photos: elementary-aged children the size of newborns, living skeletons sitting in barren sheds, battered corpses tossed out the back door, toddlers with minor special needs abandoned at adult mental institutions. Many developing nations, I learned, don’t use their scarce resources on the disabled, instead warehousing and hiding them from the rest of society, barely keeping them alive—and often failing at even that.
As a journalist, I naturally started researching. According to UNICEF, approximately 153 million children in the world have lost one or both parents. And though the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows Americans internationally and domestically adopted 135,000 children in 2007-2008 alone, there was still so much more they could do! As A Family for Every Child notes, 81.5 million Americans have considered adoption. If just 1 in 500 of these adults adopted, every waiting child in the U.S. would have a permanent family.
Meanwhile, children in Third World countries with conditions like Down syndrome, HIV/AIDS or spina bifida face very bleak prospects: abandonment, little or no medical care and/or education, malnourishment, physical and sexual abuse, early death.
That first blog led me to a Maryland-based organization called Reece’s Rainbow (RR), which not only photo-lists adoptable kids with special needs from around the globe, but raises funds for their eventual adoptions. I spent dozens of hours those first weeks scrolling through photos of kids with sad stares and sadder stories.
“What about us?” I asked Nick.
He shook his head. “I think we should help, but not adopt,” he said. So we started raising and donating as much money as our budget allowed to our “favorite” kids’ individual funds, praying somebody would see them and that we’d rejoice when they were “found.”
In 2014, the U.S. Air Force transferred Nick to Britain, where we continued parenting our three young children. I had been advocating for RR kids for more than two years when I saw Guyana’s picture on the website. There she was, a long-lashed Armenian princess with a pageant-queen smile, despite her intense needs. Instantly, I had the same feeling as when I first held my biological babies; I simply knew she was ours.
Only one problem: I had promised God I wouldn’t mention adoption to Nickolas for one year, because if the Lord wanted us to adopt, then He would have to do the convincing. And I was only a few months into that vow.
So I kept my mouth shut. And prayed. I knew adoption—especially of a child with spina bifida, extreme scoliosis, epilepsy, hydrocephalus and strabismus—wouldn’t be successful if only one spouse was on board. If this isn’t from You, Father, I pleaded, take this desire away from me. But if it is, YOU tell Nick to kick his concern for the orphan up a notch!

High Gear

Our American friends Kim and Jed Johnson, already adoptive parents themselves, were founders of a nonprofit group in Ukraine called Wide Awake International. Wide Awake aims to get Ukraine’s child orphans out of poorly resourced adult mental institutions and into either permanent families or family-like group homes.
After spending a few days in their orphanage, I told Nick what I saw: men older than me the size of our seven-year-old. Boys in homemade straitjackets. Kids hurting themselves because there was simply nothing else to do.
“Stop,” he said. “I can’t hear anymore. But … will you take me there?”
So we returned together, and the rescuer-protector portion of Nick’s father-heart ignited.
A few weeks earlier, we had been discussing our yearly goals. I told him I would raise money for two kids’ RR accounts, and he asked me to describe the children. So I first showed him a cross-eyed Ukrainian teenager who had stolen my and several friends’ hearts, and then Guyana. I still knew she was meant to be a Kupper, but I hadn’t said anything about it to Nick.
“What does she have?” he asked. I listed her diagnoses, and the room quieted for a few seconds.
Nick cleared his throat.
“Um,” he said, “what would you think about us adopting her?” 

Family Support

At the time, we didn’t know where she lived, nor how to care for anyone with spina bifida. “I just knew we needed to take care of her,” Nick told a friend later. “I knew I could be the father she deserved.” Along those lines, we felt convicted that God would take care of the details.
And like always, He did. Over the next 13 months, we were amazed at His provision. We aren’t wealthy, but after intense fundraising, being blessed with grants from several groups, including Steven Curtis Chapman’s Show Hope, Lifesong for Orphans, Rollstone Foundation and Every Child Has a Dream, extra freelance work for me and extra mini-deployments for Nick, we raised more than $30,000 to pay for Guyana’s adoption fees in less than seven months.
People’s generosity blew us away: A friend of my college roommate saved her barista tips. A couple we met in line at the airport mailed a check. An RR buddy organized a fundraising auction. A high school classmate sold artwork on our behalf. Another hand-painted and sold shoes on her Etsy shop. Others helped in non-financial yet just as important ways, like watching our kids, writing recommendation letters, bringing meals, donating frozen breastmilk and sharing our story online. It was humbling and wild!
Because we were Americans adopting from Armenia while living in England, we had extra red tape and official confusion to wade through. Still, we passed all the home study, dossier, background checks and various legal requirements, and last December, we flew to Yerevan to meet our girl for the first time.

Last Push

Guyana was exactly how we pictured her: gorgeous, spunky and very clever. Thankfully, she was in an orphanage run by the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s order of nuns), where she was thoroughly loved and adored. The sisters there genuinely care for each high-needs child with the most amazing patience and joy; we had never seen anything like it, especially after witnessing fairly severe abuse in Ukraine and watching friends in America bring home Eastern European sons and daughters who’d been at death’s door.
We gave Guyana a picture book with photos of her new family and promised to come back, this time for good. In May, we did just that and were thrilled when she remembered and warmly welcomed us with an adorable, accented, “Now, America!”
When we brought her to our apartment, however, it all went south. Guyana embarked on a multi-day hunger and sleep strike, crying in Armenian for the nuns and her friends. We brought her back to the orphanage, concerned that she would have seizures from refusing her medicine. On top of that, Nick flew back to England, leaving me in Yerevan to finish the adoption and learn how to administer medications, cope with seizures and insert a catheter. I intensely missed our children and felt petrified for our family’s future. Had this whole idea had been a giant mistake? Did Guyana hate me? There were entire days when I couldn’t choke down so much as a banana, or do more than sit with my Bible and cry. It was no fairy tale.
But God—and His children! Messages from friends flooded my inbox, most containing worship music, lyrics and encouraging verses. Other adoptive moms told their horror stories, giving me small glimmers of hope that we too would survive. Friends on five continents prayed for me by name, listening to my darkest fears and reassuring me that God had the plan in hand.  On a quick outing one afternoon, Guyana screamed at me in frustration. Instead of bursting into tears like I had the day before, I squared my shoulders, yelled out, “I’m no longer a slave to fear! I am a child of God!” and kept trying to get through to her. Gradually, it worked. We began bonding and ended the walk with a smile. Yet that positive movement didn’t happen because I am a perfect Christian; it happened because this adoption was supported on all sides by prayer, practical help and shared pain.
To return to England, I had to fly through Russia—something the Air Force advises military families not to do. To make matters worse, because of our unusual living situation, Guyana had no visa to leave Armenia or enter Russia or the U.K., though what we were doing was completely legal (if rare). Our embassy contact gave me instructions on what to do in case Russian officials detained me.
With Guyana strapped to my back, I made it out of Armenia and through the first Russian passport check with little trouble. But as I came to another checkpoint, I shook in nervousness. Was this the part where, like a bad spy novel, the Russians arrested the lone American with strong ties to the U.S. military for trying to kidnap a paralyzed Armenian chatterbox?
The woman in front of me dropped her stack of papers and the official bent down to help. He glanced at me and the long line behind me, saying a hurried greeting. I replied “hello” in English. “You’re American?” he asked. Gulping, I nodded. He waved us on. “Then go.”
I obeyed.

Back Home

Today, we are stationed in New Jersey, a fresh family of six. Guyana charms everyone she meets, most of whom, after learning our story, label us saints. I sometimes wish, these people could have seen me prostrate on the floor of that Yerevan apartment, just as paralyzed as my new daughter, when they say that.
Then they would see that anything good that comes from my family is actually from the One we daily beseech for wisdom, and that, through His strength, they can do hard things, too.
Nick and I have fulfilled those early marriage goals, though the road ahead is still long and difficult. But this is our life, and as God promised, it is good.
Just like it is for every flawed person willing to offer up their terrified, unsure, wildly imperfect “yes” to the ultimate adoptive Father.
To learn more about Reece’s Rainbow, visit Wide Awake International’s website is

Adoption by the numbers a steady decrease in International Adoption

SOURCE: National Council for Adoption
SUBJECT: Child Welfare
TYPE: Report
A new report from the National Council for Adoption highlights American adoption trends, including for infant adoptions, intercountry adoptions and adoptions from foster care.
The report, Adoption: By the Numberscovers findings from the seventh edition of the National Adoption Data study. Results from the study have been published approximately every five years since 1985.
The National Council for Adoption, an advocacy organization for children, birth parents and adoptive families based in Alexandria, Va., drew on data from a survey of state adoption statistics, the National Center for Health Statistics, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of State, and other data sources for its report.   
The report found that the overall number of adoptions has declined since 2007, the last year the number of American adoptions were counted by the NCFA. Most of this decline is attributed to a 75% decrease in the number of international adoptions, falling to a low of 5,647 in 2015.
During that time, the number of domestic infant adoptions remained mostly steady, growing slightly from 18,078 in 2007 to 18,329 in 2014.
Approximately 50,000 children were adopted from foster care in 2014, holding steady since 2007. This follows a decade where the number of adoptions from foster care doubled after the passage by Congress of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. The number of children waiting to be adopted from foster care continues to grow.
The report features 17 statistical tables along with figures and charts that illustrate trends in additional areas such as:
  • Adoptions of children with special needs
  • Adoptions from public and private agencies
  • Immigrant-orphan adoptions
  • Countries with highest rates of intercountry adoption
For more information or to read the report, click here.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Adoption unites 2 siblings from Armenia

siblings should never be divided by adoption.

A family who adopted an infant from Armenia eight years ago recently adopted her 16-year-old brother as well. From left, Erik Petrosyan, 16, Lauren Spiglanin, Tom Spiglanin and Arianna, who they adopted first. (Chuck Bennett/Daily Breeze/SCNG)
A family who adopted an infant from Armenia eight years ago recently adopted her 16-year-old brother as well. From left, Erik Petrosyan, 16, Lauren Spiglanin, Tom Spiglanin and Arianna, who they adopted first. (Chuck Bennett/Daily Breeze/SCNG) 
A Rancho Palos Verdes family who adopted an infant from Armenia eight years ago recently adopted her 16-year-old brother, Erik Petrosyan. (Chuck Bennett/Daily Breeze/SCNG)
A Rancho Palos Verdes family who adopted an infant from Armenia eight years ago recently adopted her 16-year-old brother, Erik Petrosyan. (Chuck Bennett/Daily Breeze/SCNG) 
His family’s flight was scheduled to leave in less than 12 hours, but Tom Spiglanin was still standing outside the United States embassy in freezing cold Armenian weather.
He planned to pick up his newly adopted son’s visa from just beyond the embassy’s front doors, but so far he hadn’t received any indication it would actually be issued.
“If we don’t get this visa, we don’t fly home,” he said.
Then, late in the afternoon while his worrying mounted, an email arrived saying the travel document was ready.
The touch-and-go situation at the embassy last month was just one of the final hurdles Spiglanin and his wife, Lauren, overcame to bring their 16-year-old son from Armenia to join their family in Rancho Palos Verdes. The Spiglanins had adopted Erik’s younger sister, Arianna, in 2009. Now, nearly eight years later, they say their family is complete.
The process of adopting Erik began when his grandmother died in late 2013. She had been caring for Erik since his mother died shortly after she gave birth to Arianna.
At that point, his aunt contacted Lauren Spiglanin and asked if she and Tom would adopt Erik.
“And I said, ‘absolutely,’ ” Lauren said.
Adopting Erik, who will keep his last name of Petrosyan, had been on her mind ever since they took Arianna home eight years ago. They’d kept in touch with him via Skype several times a year while they were raising Arianna, who was born premature and, because of complications, with a brain injury that left her with a condition similar to cerebral palsy. Now the bright, young 8-year-old gets help speaking via a display that tracks her eye movements. She’s made it clear that she’s happy to have Erik home with her, Tom Spiglanin said.
Even though they’d already adopted Arianna, Lauren Spiglanin said the process of bringing Erik to California wasn’t any easier this time around.
In fact, it was even more difficult.
Because Erik is a teenager and wasn’t living in an orphanage, new hurdles had to be overcome that the Spiglanins didn’t face when they adopted Arianna.
Right off the bat, they hit a roadblock — most of the attorneys they contacted in the U.S. to help facilitate the international adoption turned them away. Erik’s age, and the fact that he was living in a private home rather than an orphanage, were too much for them to take on, she said.
After working her way through several personal connections, Lauren Spiglanin contacted David Adishian of Palos Verdes Estates, a longtime family friend, for help. He put her in touch with his son, who finally connected her with an attorney in Georgia who said she could help them.
“I was flying high,” Lauren Spiglanin said. “Then we came to a slam.”
Just as the couple was making their way through the U.S. side of the process to adopt Erik, they were hit with another bombshell — the attorney they’d hired to help them through the international adoption process broke the news to them that she wasn’t approved to facilitate the adoption in Armenia.
One night, shortly after that setback, Lauren Spiglanin decided to take matters into her own hands. After an online search, she sent an email to the Armenian minister of justice. In it, she told the minister that every day since they adopted Arianna she had thought of Erik, and that every single day it weighed on her.
“Basically, I just poured my heart out,” she said. “I guess (the minister) was really touched by my email and the photos I sent of Ari.”
Within hours of that email, the minister gave a special approval for the Spiglanins to adopt Erik, and they were back on track.
In what turned out to be a three-year process, they filed one piece of paperwork after another, conferred with attorneys in the U.S. and across the Atlantic and, finally, after a court hearing in Armenia, received approval to bring Erik back to California with them.
After obtaining Erik’s visa from the embassy in Armenia, the Spiglanins arrived back home Feb. 9, nearly three weeks after they’d left for Armenia.
During the roughly eight years between bringing Arianna home and adopting Erik, Tom Spiglanin said, it felt like something was missing in their family.
“It was like there was something incomplete about us. We weren’t full,” he said.
Now, Lauren is working to open a memory care facility for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in Torrance while Erik attends Palos Verdes High. He has a knack for photography and likes his history class. And the Spiglanins said they’ve been contacted by multiple teachers praising Erik.
The only bumps they’ve experienced so far have stemmed from a language barrier. But, with Tom’s limited grasp of Armenian and Lauren’s Armenian family, they eventually find ways to work around that, they said.
They’re looking forward to the future when Erik becomes more acclimated, and the communication barriers become easier to overcome, Tom Spiglanin said.
They’re planning a trip to Hawaii sometime in the future — Lauren is pushing for April, but Tom says that’s not likely.
“There’s an intensity that you’re operating at to get everything done, and this adoption is just a part of what we do,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to relaxing.”

FBI Raids International Adoption agency

Strongsville – The FBI has confirmed to Channel 3 News that they executed a raid on a Strongsville international adoption agency Tuesday morning.
Back in December the U.S. Department of State debarred European Adoption Consultants (EAC) from continued operation citing “a pattern of serious, willful, or grossly negligent failure to comply” with standards for international adoption.
On Tuesday the FBI raided their offices and the home of its founder – but they wouldn’t elaborate on the nature of the raid other than to say they were “executing a warrant.”
Among the allegations by the state department, the EAC "…failed to adequately supervise…preventing the sale, abduction, exploitation, or trafficking of children."
And that they failed safety procedures that prevent "…solicitation of bribes; Fraudulently obtaining birth parent consent…" to get the children here.

Children in Armenia needlessly separated from parents due to poverty

YEREVAN — Thousands of children in Armenia are needlessly separated from their parents and placed in institutions due to disability or poverty, Human Rights Watch said in a report released late in February. The government should urgently provide community-based services and quality, inclusive education so that all children, including children with disabilities, can grow up in a family, the group stressed.
The 102-page report, “‘When Will I Get to Go Home?’ Abuses and Discrimination against Children in Institutions and Lack of Access to Quality Inclusive Education in Armenia,” documents how thousands of children in Armenia live in orphanages, residential special schools for children with disabilities, and other institutions. They often live there for years, separated from their families. More than 90 percent of children in residential institutions in Armenia have at least one living parent. Human Rights Watch also found that the Armenian government is not doing enough to ensure quality, inclusive education for all children. Inclusive education involves children with disabilities studying in their community schools with reasonable support for academic and other achievement.
“The government of Armenia has made some bold commitments to reduce the number of children in institutions, but needs to make sure those promises are backed by serious, sustained action,” said Jane Buchanan, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “All children have the right to grow up in a family, and government and donor resources should support families and children, not large institutions.”
Children have the right not to be unnecessarily separated from their parents. Neither poverty nor disability can be a justification or a basis for placement of a child in an institution.
Residential institutions often serve as the main distributor of social services to families facing difficult life circumstances such as poverty, unemployment, poor housing, health issues, or disability. Services and staff are often concentrated in institutions, rather than available and accessible in communities, including for the rehabilitation and education of children with disabilities. This compels many families to send their children to residential institutions, even when they would prefer to raise them at home.
The government aims to move children out of at least 22 residential institutions by 2020 and transform these buildings into centers for community-based services. Some have already been converted. However, the three orphanages that exclusively house children with disabilities will continue to operate. Failing to provide family-based care for children with disabilities on an equal basis with other children is discriminatory and should be ended immediately, Human Rights Watch said.
The government also has stalled key amendments to the Family Code, which would facilitate foster care and adoption – options essential when children cannot safely return to their birth families. The current government budget provides support for only 25 foster families in the country.
According to UNICEF, financial support for children in institutions in Armenia is between $3,000 and $5,000 per year per child. These funds could be used for community-based services and direct support to families, which are less expensive in the long term, according to UNICEF.
Even well-resourced orphanages are often overcrowded, with children organized into large groups with few caregivers. Even the most dedicated staff may not be able to provide the individual attention and nurturing that children need to thrive.
When Meri was born with Down Syndrome in 2009, a doctor encouraged her parents to leave Meri in the hospital, claiming she would not live long due to her disability. After a family crisis five years later, her parents decided they wanted to learn what happened to their daughter, and ultimately found her living in an orphanage for children with disabilities. Her father Artur described her growth and progress upon returning home from the orphanage: “She wasn’t walking at all. She only started walking when she came home. … She is understanding more. She knows her name. She can respond. … Meri is a blessing. If we didn’t trust our family doctor, we never would have abandoned her.”
In terms of education, the government has committed to making the entire school system inclusive by 2022. But at present the lack of an individual approach to academic achievement, as well as physical barriers in schools and communities, means that some children with disabilities in Armenia receive no education at all. Others enrolled in “inclusive” community schools may attend school for only a few hours a day, or a few days a week.
Children with disabilities often do not attend classes with other children or if they are in the classroom, may not be provided with the services they need to participate in an academic curriculum. They may instead be given art, sewing, or other tasks to occupy them. For many children with disabilities, their education consists primarily or exclusively of one hour or shorter individual sessions once or a few times a week.
Community schools often lack sufficient staff, in particular aides who can provide direct support to one or more children. In some cases, a parent, most often a child’s mother, will remain with the child in the classroom to provide support. Some children with disabilities receive sub-standard home education, with teachers visiting a child at home to teach basic literacy and numeracy only.
International standards provide that schools should be fully accessible, and provide reasonable accommodations to support students, regardless of their disability. Support measures provided to children with disabilities should be individualized, based on each child’s particular learning needs, and strengthen opportunities for students with disabilities to participate fully in the classroom.
Children with disabilities who age out of orphanages or special schools may remain in institutions as adults indefinitely. This can be due to the lack of accessibility in housing, transportation, and employment. In other cases, however, they remain in institutions because they are deprived of their legal capacity, denied the right to make decisions for themselves. They can be denied opportunities most people take for granted, such as deciding where to live, having a job, developing friends and hobbies of their choosing, finding a life partner or spouse, or raising children.
“Edmond” (not his real name), a young adult with a mild intellectual disability who lives in an institution, told Human Rights Watch, “I cannot answer who decides that I stay here. … I have been here since I was 8 years old, and I will stay here. It is one of my dreams to be able to live on my own and live my own life. For a long time, I thought about being able to live on my own, but I lost hope.”
“Children and young adults with disabilities have the same rights to education and opportunities as their peers,” Buchanan said. “Making sure children with disabilities can go to school in their communities is a good first step, but it is an empty gesture unless children get a quality education that enables them to achieve academically, fulfill their potential, and contribute to a diverse society.”
(To watch the YouTube video in English visit 
You can donate to AID BEYOND BORDERS, their website shows the many families they help stay together