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Craig Juntunen

'I don’t know how many orphanages you’ve been in, [but] people wouldn’t in many cases board their dog in these places. It’s just awful.'

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At only 43, former University of Idaho quarterback and U of I Hall of Famer Craig Juntunen retired after selling a successful human resources firm, spending the next several years hanging out on ski slopes and golf links.

But following an inspiring conversation with a friend who had adopted a child from Haiti, Juntunen, then 51, and his wife adopted three children from the impoverished nation. Now, seven years later, Juntunen is on a mission to reform what he sees as deep problems in the international adoption system.

He's the producer of a documentary, Stuck, about three families desperately trying to get their adopted children out of their home countries. According to the film, the average wait time for an international adoption is 33 months, the average cost is $28,000 and adoptions are down 60 percent in eight years.

Boise Weekly spoke with Juntunen when he brought his film to Boise as part of a 62-city bus tour leading up to a Friday, May 17, march in Washington, D.C. While in the nation's capital, Juntunen hopes to present a petition with 1 million signatures to members of Congress, asking for reform of international adoption policies.

A conversation with a friend really led to you adopting three kids?

It was at a time when I was just really questioning the honest measure of my worth. What's the rest of my life going to be like? And I just couldn't see myself playing golf every day. It was such an awakening for me. It was the best thing I've ever done in my life.

What drives you in your current campaign?

I think this represents the greatest operational absurdity I've ever seen. Most of these processes are done manually. They take their time moving one piece of paper to one desk and the next, and by the time it works its way through all these hands, somebody forgot to sign something and it has to go back and start at the beginning. And meanwhile, a child has lost a year of their life.

I don't know how many orphanages you've been in, [but] people wouldn't in many cases board their dog in these places. It's just awful. I think it's a human-rights issue. I think every child has a right to belong in a family.

What's the solution?

Most of the delay could be reduced, especially with all the technology that's available. A first critical step would be a really solid civil registry program.

But if you make it faster, what about safeguards?

Nobody wants to put a kid in an at-risk situation. We don't want a reckless system. I'm advocating for a better system that has greater safeguards and greater transparency. I'm just looking for an efficient system that recognizes that every day matters in the developmental life cycle of a child.

You point to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption as a major impediment.

It's great in ideology and it's very poor in function, because it's asking many of these countries to implement things that are difficult for them to do because of the limited resources, and they're not getting enough direction.

So, can it be changed?

Treaties can be ratified at any time and modified and improved.

Many people associate international adoption with the problems of Idaho missionary Laura Silsby. Do you think that hurt the cause?

I think that people saw it for what it was worth, which was an isolated incident of reckless irresponsibility. But that gets all the attention.

Foster Friess, a wealthy born-again Christian conservative, helped fund the film and is sponsoring your march. Do you see yourself as part of an evangelical adoption movement?

No. Our effort is based solely on a sense of responsibility. It's not tied to any ideology. This is about a sense of human responsibility by adults to give children an opportunity to thrive and prosper and grow up to be who they're supposed to be. If you go back to the families who are adopting, they're not all Christians.

Foster gives away a lot of his money to make this world a better place.

You've said new legislation might be introduced--this month--on this issue. What are your goals?

I think we've got to put this into a department that has concern for child welfare ... maybe creating a new department that is really advocating for children.

What about all the kids in the United States who need to be adopted?

I don't think our sense of responsibility should be contained or confined by borders.

But what about more in-country adoption?

I'm for it. ... We've got to have a broad-based, comprehensive set of solutions to get children into families.

Do your beliefs include allowing gays to adopt?

I'm not advocating for any set of sociological agendas other than a child should have a family ... and then as we continue this conversation, society will determine what is and isn't appropriate in terms of a process and how we define this.

But if gays were interested in joining your movement, would they be welcomed?

This door is open. Everybody can get on this bus.

How does your business background inform you?

We've got to look at this in entrepreneurial terms. We only look at it in bureaucratic terms right now. And social entrepreneurism has been applied in many other situations where we've had social issues that have typically been run by the public sector that have been lethargic and ineffective.

And what about the lessons you learned from football?

What I learned as a quarterback is you learn to keep moving the chains. You keep getting first downs. And you embrace those incremental successes. And that's how this is going to happen. This wall's not coming down with one swing of the bat. We're going to have to be at this a long time.

Do you follow the Vandals football team?

I do. They're not doing so well. But there's always next year.

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