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Mar 17, 2023

Lives Changed Through Adoption

The topic is often a sensitive one—the placement of a child in the children’s home system does not come from the best circumstances. There are currently nine children’s home functioning in Belize. These include both private and governmental. Each facility is placed strategically in different municipalities over the country to support the placement of children.  But foster care is also an option sought for displaced children through the Department of Human Services. This week, Sabreena Daly found a success story of foster care and adoption through the Baumgartner family. She travelled down south and found this week’s look on the bright side.


Sabreena Daly, Reporting

Childhood photos are reminiscent of a life lived innocently. They are capsules of time stamps, memories painted on paper that are relived in every viewing. For some, it’s a reminder of a life well-lived and with the ones around us, a sense of belonging. Susan Baumgartner looks at her children’s time stamps often. She came to Belize in 1989 and describes the events that followed as a God story, as she and her family would be challenged soon after with several opportunities of fostering children in need. 

Susan Baumgartner

Susan Baumgartner, Adoptive Mother

And so, we were doing some help and intervening in those crisis situations.  and um, in most cases, the children were not able to go back into the original family, and so children need mom and dad. They just need a home. They need somebody that will stick with them. That will be there for them, that they can just be part of a family and home. So, no matter, um, which children, uh, came into our home, we always just tried to make them feel as part of the family. And so then after some time we, uh, pursue the adoptions.”


She’s a mother of eight with two biological sons and six adopted children. Today, we met her with three of the adopted six. But overtime, this selfless family has fostered up to nine babies in need.  Now, Susan wears the pride of her growing family and the elevation to grandmother status.

Susan Baumgartner

We fostered nine, uh, malnutrition and neglect babies over five-year time, and then seven stayed with us. And now we are at the point of adults and, and, and grandchildren. They come from several different biological family settings, but, uh, we have melded into a family, so they don’t consider, oh, I’m a biological sister. No, they’re sisters and their brothers. And so, it doesn’t matter where they came from, it’s a family unit.”


The Department of Human Services is the central authority when it comes to adoption and international child abduction in Belize. Director Shawn Vargas explained how the department’s unit of Child Placement and Specialized Services supports displaced children.

Shawn Vargas

Shawn Vargas, Director, Department of Human Services

The adoption component, which is the final component, the final end on the, on the spectrum there is the foster care where, um, parents can foster children for any period of time. There’s the respite care where, um, you can host a child for a weekend. Or a holiday or the summer, the, um, Easter time. Um, we are open for that. And of course, there is the other component where you can come to the facility and, and volunteer.”


According to Vargas, a child’s placement in a children’s home is last on the spectrum. The ministry’s continuum of care considers family first, thereafter, foster care placement.

Shawn Vargas

The probability of adoption in foster care is significantly higher than those of the children in institutions, because within foster care, the parents, there’s a developed family comradery; the love, everything is genuine within that household. And the possibility of adoption is faster for us. That’s what we have been seeing.”


And while foreigners make up a large component of adoption processes in Belize, The Department of Human Services has seen local adoption exceed the numbers when compared with foreigners. Family members are adopting nieces, nephews or cousins because of raising them. But still, many tend to avoid it due to its lengthy process.


Shawn Vargas

Generally, it is supposed to be a nine-month process gut. The interviews, the assessments, the home visits that are involved. It’s supposed to be a nine-month process, but because of the complexities of some of the matters and, and legal documents. And so, we have seen it gone as far as two years, and we are trying with the process to make it as, as.  easy as possible., to take in, especially when children are, are older.”


Vivian was one of the first babies fostered by her family. Her mother, Susan, recounts the back story of how they met her, and how she knew Vivian would be family.

Susan Baumgartner
The way we had found Vivian, uh, we had gone to visit in Belmopan, a friend, and this gentleman said, oh, I just visited the hospital and I saw the worst malnutrition baby I’ve seen in years. And so before we went back south, we stopped by the hospital and met Vivian for the first time as a five month old. Um, very underweight, very malnourished. She was a happy baby. She recovered well, she, um, was easy. And then when we, uh, went to take her back, the, the family wasn’t receiving her, so she stayed. And so I knew from that day, she was my baby. She was my girl.”

Vivian Baumgartner

Vivian Baumgartner, Adopted Daughter

So I came to them at eight months and they’re all I know as parents and they did a really good job in making us or making me feel like one of their own. So, um, as far as sending me to school, like taking me to all, like my regular doctor checkups, um, family vacations, stuff like that. They made me feel like their own child.”


We also met her sister Rosanna who was fostered soon after, also as young as eight months old.

Rosanna Baumgartner

Rosanna Baumgartner, Adopted Daughter
I don’t think like I’ve ever had a moment where I felt out of place or not like family because like, this is just it.”


Vivian Baumgartner

“We grew up like very close to each each other. Yeah. So like, um, people would, and they still do to this day, get us like mixed up. They would call me Rosanna and her Vivian, and I’m like, no, I’m Vivian. And this is Rosanna.”

Susan Baumgartner

We have fostered and adopted children with disabilities. Actually, three children with disabilities. At the time when they were little, we didn’t know that that would be the case and so growing in that, learning and just valuing, each individual has that value on their life. So helping them achieve what they can achieve. So, with special needs, I had to do the homeschooling because they couldn’t, uh, handle the school settings. And so,I had to dig in that way myself. And, um, for example, Ricky, he can, he can read  and he can do quite a few things.”


One of the obvious questions considered when growing a family is financial stability. This mother of nine shared with us the many ways they adapted to make their family have everything they needed.

Susan Baumgartner

You don’t make the decision because you’ve got lots of money. You make the decision because, Kids need a home and we have a faith in, in God, and he will make a way. So whether it’s, um, you have the provision or whether it’s, there’s times where there was a year and a half where we lived in PG and the kids were in primary school that we would, my husband and I would bake every day and walk and sell to make enough for their bus fees to get them to school and to keep some food on the table. So whatever it is you need to do, you do it.”


Now, Susan can be proud of the adults her children have grown to become. And Vivian has even taken the course of service to children that come from similar circumstances she and her siblings originated from.

Vivian Baumgartner

So, um, the unit that I’m attached to, I’m a community development officer and I’m attached to the child placement and specialized service, and so my responsibility is to write reports for like custody, guardianship and adoptions. I think it’s rewarding because like I work with a great team within my unit and they’ve really done a great job in like welcoming me and training me to give service to our clients and stuff. And so, and many of whom have been a part of my own adoption process. So, I feel like it’s rewarding for both them and I.”

Susan Baumgartner  

So, it’s really amazing to see all that you go through the ups and the downs, the highs and the lows. And then to come to that place of yeah, she is right back, um, being able to serve the same type of situations that she came from.”


The impact of adoption and foster care goes beyond the placement of child to a family. A chance of a family is also the molding of a future. And in Vivian’s story, it’s the molding of a future for children just like she once was.



“What are you feeling?”

Vivian Baumgartner  

“Like a sense of gratitude because um, I know it’s such a big sacrifice and commitment and dedication, like for my mom to, you know, come from the US and like live in Belize and dedicate her life to raising kids that weren’t her own. , but still like treating us like her own and like not one day did she ever make us feel like we were adopted, you know?”


Looking on the Bright Side, I’m Sabreena Daly.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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