Care Packages

To send a care package or not? That is a question that many adoptive parents ask themselves as soon as they are matched with a child overseas. As an adoptive mom myself, I remember vividly searching for the perfect stuffed animal to send to my new daughter – a pink bunny that was incredibly soft. I wanted to think of her sleeping with it every night, waiting for the day she would finally have a family. Of course, adoption day finally came and she arrived without the rabbit, and I of course had to wonder if she had ever even gotten it. The honest answer? She had not.  Once I began working heavily with her orphanage, I quickly learned that care packages were not given to the children, but for very good reasons that I had not thought about in my own desire to feel a connection to my daughter-to-be. I have realized after talking to dozens of orphanage directors that care packages are usually much more important to the parent than the child, and they are often actually hurtful to all the other children living in an institution who have not been chosen by families.

Singling out one child in a group living situation can be very disruptive, and so many orphanages just put the care package away and don’t even bring it out until the bus or van ride to provincial. This is because it can be very upsetting to all the children still waiting for homes (or ineligible for adoption) to see just one child get a package with presents. I think it is very important for us to remember the children who will not ever receive the gift of a family. I also think it is important to remember that not only is it hurtful to the other kids in an orphanage when a child is singled out, but it also can be detrimental to the child being adopted as well. We shouldn’t think that every orphaned child is congratulating the one chosen for adoption. I know of many cases where older kids who have either aged out of the system or who weren’t given a chance took out their frustrations on children who were picked for adoption. Kids can be quite cruel at times, as we all know – and I understand completely how distressing it can be for the older kids who never got a chance to find a family. A care package from the US can be like rubbing salt in their wounds. While some will react with tears or sadness to know they will never be chosen, others can react with anger towards the kids who are.

I have never had an orphanage director tell me they love care packages. I think they tolerate them because they know it means a lot to adoptive parents. But if a family sends a stuffed animal or a blanket to a child, they need to know the odds are slim that the child will be given it. Aunties worry that nice gifts from overseas will be damaged; many orphanages put babies in multiple cribs so keeping track of one blanket is difficult; urine leaks with cloth diapers are a daily occurrence and so stuffed animals aren’t really practical, etc.  I also have received several emails from orphanages who got care packages that weren’t marked properly for customs and they owed fees. One family sent such a large package that the orphanage owed almost 1000 rmb to pick it up.

Now when people ask me my opinion on sending a package, I always recommend simply sending photos of their family, so that the aunties can get to see where the child they have cared for is going. Then the orphanage staff can choose whether or not to share them with the child. Even if it is just on the van ride to the adoption center – the child will know at least a bit in advance who is coming for them.

I do understand why parents want to send packages, as I have been there myself. But now I know that while I was thinking of my single child – the orphanage has to think of ALL the kids in their care. Parents need to realize that there is a high likelihood that anything sent will just be put in a director’s desk or storage cabinet until adoption day, but for very good reasons that we as adoptive parents often don’t think about.

Amy Eldridge
Love Without Boundaries Foundation