Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A little about orphanages

In talking with a friend recently, he asked me, “So how many orphanages are there in the United States?”  Well…none. Nor have there been since the early 1960’s, when the last few were closed down by the Illinois Department of Children and Family. Orphanages began falling out of favor during World War 2 and were almost completely closed by 1960. The closure of orphanages in the United States came after years of scrutiny about the facilities themselves and research that large institutions were no the best place to be raising children. Out of favor also fell the word “orphan” to describe children in state custody, as quite frankly, most of these children do have parents.

So we entered into the country of foster care. Over the years, there remains some need for residential treatment for those youth who are unable to succeed in traditional foster families, as well as those youth who struggle with mental illness, but these facilities are few and far between and actually house a small fraction of the nations youth in state custody. By and large, we’re doing pretty well with these foster families and statistics are showing that children are succeeding. As time passes we’ve learned that kiddos over the age of 18 need some continued help and we are starting to implement some post-foster care programs to help these young adults transition into independent living and being a grown-up. I think we’ve got a long way to go still but it’s working.   

We’ve recently started to take it one step further with a program called Safe Families for Children.  Safe Families is a faith-based program whose aim is to get families the help they need, before the State steps in and tells them that they are going to need it. The results of the Safe Families programs cropping up around the country have been amazingly positive. A buzz is starting to form in the church community and people are talking about this unique and successful program. To combat some of the slow down in international adoption, some agencies are jumping onto this train to use their qualified staff and passionate clientele to provide training and care to these families most in need during a vulnerable time.

So here in the United States we’ve clearly decided that group care isn’t optimal and that foster families provide a better care alternative to children in need. Thankfully this is a good idea that happens to be spreading. We’re finding that more and more countries are going to this model as well. Most of my clients are surprised when I tell them that about half of my China adoptions are children in foster care. They assume because they always get information about the child being care for by such and such orphanage that they live there. This is not necessarily true. Because of the strict government regulations, all children in China are under the care of a government orphanage, but they don’t necessarily live there. They might live in a private foster family or a large, privately funded foster home, such as New Day, but they all have to check in regularly with the orphanage for medical care and routine examinations. We are so blessed that our little girl resides in a private foster home.  
The older children available for adoption in Colombia are in foster care. These children have social workers and therapists to help them work through their grief and past trauma as they are being prepared for adoption. Living in private foster homes allow the children to remain in a traditional family setting to ease their transition from their family of origin to the adoptive family.

And those countries that are left with no other options (largely based on financial abilities and lack of participation from the greater community to foster) except to have orphanages often find some of these orphanages run by churches or private funds. Many of these children’s homes, as they are often called, try to emulate family life as much as possible. Many keep children in small groups where they sit together at a round table and pass the food around, much like most families do at the dinner table every night. Spending a month in Brazil, I was able to visit some orphanages that did just that. Although living institutional care, the children had large bedrooms shared by four children and stuck together with that group of four for three meals per day. Seeing the children help fill each other’s juice cups and pass the rice around the table was an amazing sight to see. The cooperative spirit of preparing a table for a meal can only build self-esteem and prepare those who will be adopted for their future families.

It seems as though the remaining countries that do have government run orphanages appear to be glad to see the private orphanages cropping up to help ease some of the financial burden incurred to them just to keep the lights on. One such example is Brit’s Orphanage in Haiti. This orphanage is the dream of one young girl, Brit Gengel, who met Jesus in 2010 following the Haiti earthquake. It was through her last text message to her parents that she shared with them her wish to open an orphanage. They honored her last written wish and Brit’s Orphanage opened in October 2012. There are now 66 children there, most of whom will never be adopted. The Be Like Brit Foundation is now an organized not-for-profit who is funneling money into their new orphanage to continue to make a difference in their community.

Another amazing story is that of Maggie Doyne, who at age 18, on a vacation before heading to college, decided to just stay in Nepal and open an orphanage and subsequently a primary school. The Kopila Valley Children’s Home opened in spring 2008 and the primary school opened in spring 2010. This young girl, just now 24 years old, finds herself caring for 40 children and in charge of ensuring education for another 300. She’s set up her home to model as close to a little family as possible in hopes that these children will be prepared for life after Kopila Valley.     
It just cannot be denied that a “family” setting is optimal and sets these children up for success in the future. Whether or not these children end up getting adopted into families, or go out into the world and start their own families, learning how to positively co-exist with others can best be achieved in a healthy setting. I hope the future will yield even more of these special options which will result in long-term success for these little ones in need.      

Dear Eastern Europe,

Read this, please.  

Yours truly,


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