I had a conversation with a pastor who was looking to start a ministry to recruit foster parents and support foster children and families in crisis within his church. We were talking about the needs of these different groups and how he can be communicating to his congregation the realities of their situations. He was telling me that he thought this should be pretty easy because the church had a number of families that had adopted internationally. Surely if a group of people have been touched by the needs of an orphan across the world, they will readily jump at the chance to help a child in need down the street, right? If only it were that simple.
Having done international adoption first and then adopting two kids from foster care, this is an issue I have seen from both sides. I have spent time explaining the needs of international orphans to those experienced in foster care. I have spent time explaining the needs of the foster children in our community to those who have adopted internationally. I have had frustrating moments in those conversations where I see somebody minimizing the true, heartbreaking needs of a child. That feels very personal to me, because whether they realize it or not, they are talking about my child. They are explaining how one of my kids would have been fine without any intervention or how one of my kids isn’t their responsibility.
So here’s what I wish my friends in both communities could understand:
For my foster parenting friends:
We live in an amazing country. When our society becomes aware of the needs of one of our children by their entry into the foster care system, a host of services become available to them. They have access to a free and appropriate education, medical care, food aid, clothing and housing. Obviously this is the ideal and sometimes the helps meant for a child do not go where they are supposed to, but as a society we strive to meet the needs of our neediest. This is not true for the child waiting in a orphanage today. I have often thought that my Liberian son so rarely gets sick and is such a survivor because those were the only kinds of kids who even survived long enough to be born in spite of a mother’s extreme malnutrition and lack of prenatal care, to make it out of a desperate home situation and into an orphanage, and to struggle through life in an environment where there were more children than there was food or arms to carry them. That is the story of the child who made it into my arms. He was blessed to be taken to a hospital when malaria nearly claimed his life. Many other children weren’t so lucky. There is no guarantee of food, clean water, safe housing. An education may seem like a faraway dream for the orphaned child.
Yes, there are needs in our community that need to be met, but we can NOT begrudge the family who feels God’s call to care for that child in Africa, or China, or Bulgaria whose very life hangs in the balance if a family doesn’t step up and bring him into their own family. We need to offer support to those families who are entering into this form of ministry through family building. The biggest support we can be before that child comes home is to offer financial help. This kind of adoption is very expensive, but these kids are worth it! After the child comes home, foster families have SO much wisdom to offer! We had the benefit of knowing our kids and their issues before committing to their adoptions, so we can help coach, mentor and encourage those parents whose kids have come from hurting places and who may have brought with them issues their parents were unprepared to deal with. If we cut ourselves off from those parents because we think they spent unnecessary time and money when they could have just helped a child in our neighborhood, we will be cutting off a support of understanding and education those parents will desperately need. I don’t think the Bible gives us an option to take a pass on offering that encouragement just because we think they should have gone the same route we did.
For my international adoption friends:
It can be easy to look at the desperate situation your child was in and to think the needs of the foster child don’t hold a candle. These American kids will get cared for, so why shouldn’t we pour all our resources into saving the lives of the children in orphanages? But how does God see it? Is the soul of the child in China more important than the soul of the child in Denver? Yes, as a society we look to meet the needs of the kids who need help in America, but what about the needs you can’t pay anybody to meet? The government can supply food, safe (hopefully) housing, education. But what about love? What about the emotional stability and safety a child can only get from loving, committed parents to help them meet their full potential? What about an understanding of their worth in the eyes of God? Is the government going to take care of that for the child down the block who is currently living with a foster family that is glad for the money, but not emotionally invested in this child? We NEED quality foster parents and parents adopting from foster care to step up for these children. When instead of a multi-thousand dollar investment, all it takes is a couple weeks of classes and a homestudy to be qualified to change the life of a child, what is the excuse for the family who says they take the needs of hurting children seriously?
I am especially concerned when I see a pre-adoptive family with a strong sense of sentimentality about international orphans. This is a family that wouldn’t dream of bringing in an eight year-old foster child because of all the “baggage” they must surely have that could negatively effect the children already in their home, but they have no problem bringing in an eight year-old institutionalized child from another country. Let’s be sure we are not contributing to the further stigmatization of foster kids by thinking international orphans are pure, innocent and grateful while foster kids are damaged goods. Children from hurting places carry those scars and need our love and support to experience healing no matter what continent they come from.
If you are not called to foster parent, be supportive of those who are! Do NOT fall into the temptation of minimizing this good work. Realize that your experience taking on a child who came with a life history before you uniquely qualifies you to coach, mentor and encourage those parents adopting from foster care who are concerned about bonding or attachment or how to interpret negative behaviors. You may have experience in dealing with the issues of being a multiracial family, or information on resources in the community to help kids connect to their culture or deal with grief. You could be a valuable resource for the foster and adoptive parents around you if you are willing to invest in creating community.
Overall, I know God calls different families with different strengths to care for the needs of His children. What a great example of community we can be if we stand together to strengthen our commitment to kids, whoever they are and whatever their needs.