I wish orphanages didn’t exist. A child in an orphanage means the enemy has won a battle, a battle to break a child and parent bond or destroy a family. Orphaned and abandoned children exist because we live in a broken world. I wish we didn’t need the foster care system and I hate orphanages, but if these types of homes have to exist, they should be GREAT.
People frequently ask me “why does a child wind up in an orphanage?” There are a lot of misconceptions about this; most people assume all kids in orphanages are “orphans” who have no living family. The short answer to why most kids are in orphanages is “sin.” Severe abuse, neglect, abandonment, substance abuse by the parents, etc. are all results of flawed people who have fallen into deep sin. Some people should just never have kids. Unless you’re dealing with AIDS, war or severe natural disaster, true orphans where both parents have died are kind of hard to find. Frequently, a parent might still be around, but for many reasons, they just can’t or won’t care for their child or have chosen to abandon their child or children. In any country, you can read stories every week of babies left at hospitals, fire stations, or in trash cans. Today, in many countries, there are thousands of children that are sold into slavery every year. We live in a deeply broken, profoundly messed up world.
Some people believe orphanages break up families to fill their dorms; this does happen in some cases, but less than you might think. There is an assumption that many children are in homes worldwide due to poverty, this happens also, but most of the time, there are other, deeper underlying issues. In most cases, it’s not easy to say what’s best for a child: A marginally abusive/neglectful situation or an orphanage?
In our home, as in any healthy ministry, we do everything we can to keep families together if it’s truly in the best interest of the child. The family is the ideal model, and every child deserves a healthy family. Every child needs the love, acceptance, and loving guidance of their parents. If a parent needs short term help, counseling, etc. to keep the family together in a healthy situation, that should always be the first choice. If there is some extended family that can help that’s an excellent second choice. Sometimes all that’s needed is daycare to keep a family together so the parent can work and still care for their children.
Unfortunately, sometimes, it really is in the best interest of the child to break up the family. You can imagine some of the horrific stories of the children in our care. We had a five-year-old brought to us after the stepdad held him against a hot stove for wetting the bed. We had a two-year-old dropped off late one night with bruises over much of his body and a broken leg after the mom lashed out in a drunken rage. We took in a girl who had just turned fourteen and was pregnant after being raped by her stepdad. (he is now in prison) These types of stories are much too common. Even the most ardent defenders of the family would be hard pressed to defend keeping some families together.
A well-meaning, well-educated individual once passionately shared with me that orphanages are a broken system and that they should all close down. I agree that it’s a broken system, but saying all orphanages should be closed is like saying the health care system in the US is broken so all hospitals should be closed. Just because we close a broken solution, doesn’t mean the problem goes away. I so wish there were better options for the countless children who fall through the cracks of society.
If the family is not in the picture, and adoption is a real alternative, it should always be encouraged. Unfortunately, adoption is not a reality for the vast majority of children living in any care situation. The latest figures available are that only 2% of children living in care situations worldwide ever get adopted. Most have multiple siblings, are “too old” to adopt, or they have some living family that still has a claim on them. Depending on adoption for a child’s future is very much like depending on the lottery for your retirement: It might work, but not likely.
A couple of years ago, eleven-year-old Pablo (not his real name) was brought to us after being removed from his home due to neglect on the part of his mom. He had been bouncing around the system for a while. He hadn’t been in school, was in bad shape physically, and had spent way too much time on the streets. After a few days here, he expressed amazement that he was getting three meals a day and asked if that was normal. His mother is currently working with the government to receive custody of Pablo. Mom visits from time to time but is still not doing very well; she’s dealing with some long-standing substance abuse issues. Pablo is now doing great in school, just graduated top of his class, and has become a real part of our family. We know we don’t replace loving parents, but here Pablo has a loving home with people who deeply care about him, great opportunities, and a future that was just a dream a few years ago. Very recently, Pablo came to us with a request. He knows his mom is working on getting him back, but he’s also bright enough to know he has no future with her. He has asked that if his mom gets custody, and if it’s OK with her if he could still live here. He wants to stay here so he can continue in school, work for a better life, and just visit his mom. We sincerely hope and pray that his mom gets her life in order, but until that happens, we want to provide a great home to Pablo, and the many other Pablos who are out there.
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