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Question: I see in your blog that you are addressing the current controversy about short term missions in the church. How do you respond to people who say it isn’t good for the orphan children (who traditionally have attachment issues) to be exposed to all of the indiscriminate affection from strangers who come and go? There are a lot of “experts” who say this does not help, and in fact hurts these kids in their ability to form lasting attachments. In my opinion, these “experts” are more ivory tower than boots on the ground, but I am really curious how you respond to that after so many years at Door of Faith Orphanage.
Answer: I’ve read some of the studies that discuss the problems of multiple visitors to children in orphanages, and I fully understand the concerns. Here in our home, we do what we can to offset this as much as possible. It’s important to us that our children have very consistent care from the same worker/house parent for as long as possible. We have a very high staff ratios (about 4 to 1 right now), and most of our staff stay with us for many years. We also intentionally limit the interaction between the groups and our kids. Today we encourage our visiting groups to work in the surrounding area more than here at the orphanage. We also limit the visiting hours in the nursery with the babies and toddlers. The people coming in are not unlike friends any parents might have over to visit; our kids bond with their full-time care givers and see them as the parental figure.
Every orphanage is different, just like every family is different. But let’s discuss the issue of random affection from visiting groups at homes where they are not well-run or not well staffed. It’s a tragedy that infants, young children or any children need to be an orphanage. It’s even worse if the home is poorly run or run from the wrong motivations. Working in a bad situation, what’s worse?: No affection or physical touch? Or random, inconsistent affection? If a child is starving, junk food can save their life. Junk food is not nutritious, and it’s horrible for a person long term, but starving to death isn’t a good alternative. Cutting off junk food doesn’t make a nutritious diet automatically appear. Preventing groups from visiting orphanages does not make quality, loving staff automatically appear. Adoption or family reunification (when healthy) is always a better alternative, but frequently orphanages are making the best of a horrible situation.
A few years ago there was an orphanage about 30 minutes from us that was a nightmare. The home was overcrowded, filthy, and the kids were not getting anywhere near the attention they needed. We would still send groups there to help, explaining to the groups exactly what the situation was and that that home would probably never change. We would send groups because FOR A SINGLE DAY the kids would be fed, held, and loved. A single day is better than never. Today that home is under new management, and they are doing a GREAT job. I no longer need groups to bring “junk food affection” to those children.