In 2006 Craig Juntunen, a retired entrepreneur, became focused on the fate of kids living in orphanages after adopting three children from Haiti. He observed a significant dichotomy: his children were growing and thriving due to the love and support a family provides, and yet millions of children were left languishing in orphanages all over the world without the basic human support and love of a family.
Initially Craig assumed there were not enough people interested in adopting kids stuck in orphanages. However, upon looking closer at the issue he found that his assumption was dead wrong. The number of potential adoptive parents was growing every year, but so was the number of children in orphanages. There were millions of kids who needed a family, many families who wanted to adopt them, and yet adoption was in free fall decline. What happened? Why was there such a disconnect?
Craig commissioned several studies to look at the situation. These studies identified serious problems:
- Child welfare services were non-existent, or close to it, in many countries. Orphaned children simply did not count when it came to government priorities. There were few programs designed to help families from the need to relinquish or abandon their children, few attempts made at reunifying children with their families, and in many cases, virtually no chance for a child to be adopted domestically.
- International aid organizations sought to treat specific problems children encountered, like poor nutrition, malaria and AIDS, but there seemed to be no concerted effort to give orphaned children what they needed most – a family to love, protect and raise them.
- Existing treaties, such as the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, established protections and safeguards to protect children from abuses. While admirable in intent, these treaties added more bureaucracy and steps to the process while doing nothing to compel governments to solve the problem of children living outside of parental care. Year after year, fewer children were being adopted, adoption costs were increasing, and more children were stuck in orphanages without a way out.
- Each country had a unique system for processing international adoption cases, yet they were all basically doing the same things. Standardized procedures could simplify and provide opportunities to automate and significantly speed up adoption case processing while lowering the cost of adoption.
- The process of international adoption is extremely inefficient; it takes an incredibly long period of time and requires a significant amount of money to simply determine the eligibility requirements for the prospective family and the child.
- Despite the many success stories, opposition to international adoption was being fanned by the bad publicity generated by a very few cases where adoptions had gone seriously wrong. These exceptions were being portrayed as the rule and as a result, those involved in international adoption were on the defensive. No organized campaign existed to counteract these stories and set the record straight.
The conclusion of these studies was alarming; apathy was the primary reason children were stuck in orphanages. Apathy existed because:
- The victims—the children—had no voice.
- Many who knew what was going on were ashamed and did not want to draw attention to the problem.
- Politicians chose to sidestep this issue. Solutions cost money that is scarce and resources always go to those who have the strongest voices in the political process.
- Those who debated the issue dealt with it in the abstract, as in what “should be”, rather than focusing on what we need to do for children stuck in orphanages today.
- The press paid little attention to this problem. In fact, the only time the press seemed to get involved was when a celebrity adopted a child or a bad result occurred from an adoption.
In 2010, Craig founded Both Ends Burning to serve the interests of children living outside of parental care, to give these children a voice, and to bring their situation to the attention of the world. Both Ends Burning was created with three primary goals:
1) Revitalize international adoption. In prioritizing our efforts, Both Ends Burning initially identified the revitalization of international adoption as its first initiative. As a solution, international adoption has many advantages in that adoptive parents are willing to fund the cost of rescuing a child from an orphanage and additional government funding is not required. We just needed to bring public attention to the problem and fix a broken process to make international adoption a viable solution once again. This focus led to the production of our documentary movie STUCK and the UNSTUCK movement.
2) Collaborate with the nations of the world. Both Ends Burning also identified the need to call nations of the world together to address the issues facing these children in a global summit. By sharing scientific evidence on the developmental and cognitive impact that is done to children living in institutions, we will inform and educate child welfare officials from nations around the world about the harm that is occurring to these children and seek agreements on solutions. These solutions will include measures to prevent children from needing to be relinquished or abandoned and efforts to reunify children with their birth families as the best alternative for children whenever possible. When it is not possible for children to be raised in their immediate family, we support kinship and domestic adoption. For children with no other alternative for belonging in a loving permanent family, we believe international adoption is an appropriate solution that must be considered.
3) Facilitate reform through interventions. We will support programs dedicated to ensuring the best interests of every child. These programs will be founded on best practices in child welfare and will show what can be done for these children when we remove the obstacles. These programs will become a permanent part of each country’s child welfare infrastructure and provide the basis for comprehensive solutions.