The Colombian children have spent this month in Maryland with their host families and have experienced typical summertime activities. Baugh said they intentionally keep the children in the dark about the possibility of adoption, though some children deduce what's happening.
"We can't build up hopes of adoption in any way," Baugh said. "We tell them they may meet someone here who will stay in touch with them. But they will go home without hope of coming back."
Most children in such programs figure out they are here to find a permanent home, said Harriette Wimms, a psychologist and director of inpatient psychology at the Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital. As their situations are filled with emotional difficulties, she said the programs should be direct with the children.
"Children talk to each other," she said. "Even though they are on a wonderful vacation, some know they might be adopted. It would be better to be honest and give them all the parameters. Children are perceptive. When they don't know all the story, they will make up the rest."
Wimms also said that when the children return to Colombia, they will need support there as well as from the new friends they made in the U.S. "This program is great for the 80 percent who are adopted, but it is imperative that there is support for those who won't be," she said.
Nadu and Roberto Sanchez have opened their Clarksville home to three siblings from Colombia. A practicing physician and mother of three, two in college and one in high school, Nadu Sanchez had forgotten how daunting it would be to keep up with two boys and a girl, ages 9 through 12.
"I am getting whiplash as I keep counting heads at the neighborhood pool," she said. "It makes it all worth it to see how happy they are right now."
Language has not been a barrier, she said. Her husband knows some Spanish, and she has been able to figure out what the children want or need. She has found her temporary charges engaging, well-behaved and adorable.
"If nothing else, we want to give them a vacation to remember," she said. "At best, we can find them a permanent home. I know adopting three children is asking a lot of any one family, but they all get along so well. You can't help but get attached. It will be hard to send them home to an orphanage at the end of four weeks."
Foreign adoptions can take as long as a year and can be costly for families, often reaching thousands of dollars. But many organizations offer financial support, said Baugh.
"We need to figure out ways to pay for adoption programs here and abroad so that parents who have the will but not the financial means can pay for costly adoptions," Wimms said. "There are many parents with the love, patience and optimism to bring a child into their homes. If we can make the process less costly and complicated, then there would be 100 percent placement."
Sarah and Ryan Widman, a host family last year for 10-year-old Andres, are planning a sojourn in Colombia. They expect to return after a lengthy legal adoption process with Andres, who would be their first child. The little boy meshed so well with the couple that they immediately started adoption proceedings.
"We skipped diapers and sleepless nights and headed straight to elementary school," she said. "We have been in touch with him every week since. He is so excited and so eager to tell us the English phrases he is learning. All these kids are so amazing and brave. I wish everyone could get to know them."
Gustavo, who lives in foster care in a central Colombian city, wants to grow up near his sisters. For now, Chris and Marycarol Skaggs and their three children are crowding many experiences into Gustavo's time with them. Beachmont Camp in Kingsville offered hikes, art projects and archery and swimming lessons.
Gustavo was smaller than most of the campers in his age group, friendly with the counselors and his peers and eager to be involved in the myriad activities. Although he doesn't speak English, he does not hesitate to add to the conversation, and often the other children grasp his meaning. He is generous to a fault, sharing his lunch and any treats given to him.
"This is a unique challenge, but everyone seems to be having fun with it," said Rebekah Dumm, senior camp counselor. "All the kids are trying hard to communicate with Gustavo and they are helping him. They are really trying to interpret."
Daniela, who speaks fluent English now, can translate for her brother. She attended the same camp a few years ago and joined him in several activities. She feels certain he is enjoying his whirlwind stay.
"I didn't understand the language, when I came here three years ago, but I had fun," said Daniela. "Then, I came back to my new country and my new family."
That is the Skaggs' hope for Gustavo. Marycarol Skaggs said she has been in contact with Gustavo's social worker and foster mother in Colombia and knows he is receiving good care. But the child longs to be with his sisters, she said.
Luz Myriam, a Colombian caseworker who accompanied the children on the trip, said "una familia" — or "one family" — is the fervent hope of every child.
"Most of these children are orphaned or abandoned," she said. "Many have never had a family."
When asked if she misses her homeland, Daniela, who is preparing to enter high school in the fall, answered with a question. "What home? I had no home there. This is my forever home."
Her adoptive mother said, "That is what she wants for her brother, too. If he does not find a home here, she will feel that he has been left behind. It will bother her deep in her soul."
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