I do want to say something before I hand the blog over to John. This whole issue of orphan care is so vast and so complex, I can’t even begin to put a dent in it with a little series of posts here on my blog. There’s so much to say/learn/understand about so many things–like adoption (both domestic and foreign), foster care, maternity programs that are helping mamas keep their babies, education, and on and on and on.
Please don’t think I’m saying I have all the answers. Or even any really. God has just laid this on my heart, and I’m taking a small step toward learning more, educating others, and getting these precious children the love they deserve.
Oh! Before I forget, I’d love to extend a personal invite to anyone who’s interested in Orphan Care to attend an Orphan Summit right here in Columbus on March 9-10. Wess Stafford, President of Compassion International, will be the keynote speaker. If you’re from out of town and need a place to stay, I might just know of somewhere cheap and exciting. E-mail me.
That’s really all this time.
Take it away, John.
John: Before diving into the first set of questions, I wanted to point out that although there are some universal concerns about orphanages to address – and even some misconceptions to clear up – I can only speak with authority for Asia’s Hope. That having been said, many of the criticisms I hear about residential orphan care ring true to me, especially for organizations that provide care in a traditional institutional framework.
I would agree, for instance, that large institutional orphanages staffed with shift-workers – as opposed to family-style children’s homes with full-time moms and dads – tend to exacerbate rather than alleviate many problems facing orphaned or poor kids. Unfortunately, many people who rightly criticize poorly conceived and badly run institutions paint with an overly broad brush, ignoring the complexity of the issues facing orphaned kids, their communities and the organizations trying to serve them, and obscuring the differences between good and bad strategies for care.
I hope that this dialogue will provide some helpful perspective for your readers who wish to understand the issues at hand and advocate for best practices in orphan care.
Question: “Three out of four children living in orphanages are not orphans – they still have at least one parent alive.” (I got this quote from the article I linked to in the first post.) Is this true of Asia’s Hope orphanages?
First of all, I think that we have to clarify what we mean when we say “orphan.” Colloquially, most people think of an orphan as a child whose mother and father have both died. For our purposes at Asia’s Hope, however, we define an orphan as any child who has no parents who can or will care for them. So, while we do prioritize for admission kids whose parents have both died, we also provide care for kids who may have, for instance, a mother who has died and a father who is in prison or who has abandoned them.
Just yesterday we admitted a sibling group – two boys and a little girl – whose father had committed suicide, and whose mother had abandoned them. The kids had no food, no access to healthcare, no shelter and no education. Neither the villagers nor their extended family could or would take them in. Do these kids fit the popular definition of orphans? Maybe not. But they fit ours. So, offhand, I can’t quote you stats on how many of the 600 kids in our care have one parent living, but I can say that we only admit children for whom no other credible options exist.
We wholeheartedly support the organizations out there that provide different kinds of care – village-level education, preventative and emergency health services for poor families, well-baby care, advocacy for safe and humane working conditions for destitute laborers – these are all essential! But for a small percentage of poor children – those who have no one else to care for them, especially those who are at high risk for sexual and economic exploitation – we provide essential, lifesaving help.
Question: “Orphanages tend to separate children from their parents and from family life which is paramount for a healthy adulthood. Nothing is done to reunite children with their families and little is done to maintain strong relationships between children and their parents.” Is this true?
Well, as I explained in my previous answer, most of the kids in our care have already been separated from their parents, and have received little or no help from their extended families, either because the families do not have the resources to provide that care, or because the families have simply abandoned them. So, for many kids, a reunion with a biological family is impossible. And in many other cases, it is the remaining family members – aunts, uncles, cousins — who have been exploiting the kids, forcing them to work on the streets as beggars, or in the fields as farm laborers. To reintegrate the kids into this kind of situation would be unwise and unsafe. But where possible, we facilitate continued contact with extended families. Often family members will come to visit, and occasionally, our staff will accompany kids back to their villages to help maintain contact between the child and their community of origin.
On the other side of the equation, we work hard to provide a real family for the children in our care. We don’t have huge, institutional facilities; we build or rent single-family dwellings. We don’t hire shift-workers, who come and go; we recruit full-time, long-term moms and dads who become parents to the kids in their care. And we work to keep the homes small.
We’ve seen huge orphanages – sometimes with hundreds of kids. Every study we’ve read and every piece of anecdotal knowledge we’ve accumulated indicates that kids from those types of institutions fare poorly as adults. That’s why we try to admit only 20 to 25 kids per home, and we generally maintain a high 1:5 staff-to-child ratio. The kids in our care develop stable, lifelong relationships with real mothers and fathers, real brothers and sisters. We believe that this will provide our kids with the kind of loving family environment that all experts agree works best for kids, especially kids who have suffered the trauma of loss and extreme poverty.
Thanks, John. Stay tuned for Part 3 on Wednesday. And feel free to ask John (or me) any questions you might have or share your own personal stories of mission trips/orphan care in the comments.