Far be it from me to say that the orphan care movement has a PR problem, but if my experience is common, then they just might. I attended the big (3000+) Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit 9 conference last week in Nashville. When I posted on Facebook and Twitter that I would be attending this conference, I received the following comment on Facebook from a well-respected adoption education professional, who is also a friend:
Question (I genuinely need an answer). Do any of these Orphan conferences talk about waiting US kids, or are they always about international adoption?
I then received the following email from another adoption education professional:
I was a little surprised to hear you were going to this conference since you are a leading national advocate for adoption education/preparation and this “movement” is not about preparation, it is known for candy-coating adoption to get people to jump on the bandwagon of adoption. I thought this wasn’t what Creating a Family is about.
Then as if to add a cherry on top, I turned on the car radio and heard an NPR Fresh Air interview with Kathryn Joyce, author of a new book that is critical of the orphan care movement– The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption. You can listen to the podcast of the Fresh Air interview, or check out this article in Salon, with the totally non-inflammatory or discriminatory title of “How the Christian right perverts adoption: The evangelical adoption boom is driven by creepy links between the Christian right and a billion-dollar industry”. (Wow, talk about unbiased journalism!)
My Concerns with the Orphan Care Movement
I have expressed my concerns in the past that the larger “Orphan Care Movement” was not focused enough on educating and preparing would-be adopters. Over the years, Creating a Family has heard from a number of families who were drowning post adoption, and felt abandoned by the folks at church who weren’t prepared to help and support them when the going got rough. It’s fair to say that plenty of parents who adopt older kids struggle during the transition regardless of how much preparation they received, but it seemed that some of these people truly didn’t know what they were getting into.
I have also been critical of the abuses in international adoption. Who isn’t?!? I never thought, however, to blame a movement that encourages people to adopt for these abuses. That would be like blaming the locavore/eat-local movement for an outbreak of food poisoning from a local farm. The folks I know in the orphan care movement, both the supporters and well as adopters, are just as interested as the rest of us in ethical adoptions.
Adoption is Not a Happy Ever After Story
Needless to say, after the reception I received and the media focus on the orphan care movement, I was looking forward to the session on “The Biggest Challenges Facing the Orphan Care Movement” with Dr. Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and author of Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches, the book that more or less launched the evangelical orphans care movement. I figured he had his work cut out for him, and he didn’t disappoint.
Dr. Moore talked for an hour and covered a wide variety of topics, but one thing was crystal clear—he was not all about having people jump on the bandwagon of adoption. Here are some of my notes, which are a rough paraphrase that I hurriedly scribbled down.
- If what you want is a risk-free life—Don’t Adopt!
- Welcoming someone into your life is an invitation to be hurt.
- Don’t sentimentalize what it means to be a parent. It’s hard and often unrewarding work.
- Adoption is not a happily ever after type of story.
- I spend more of my time talking people out of adopting now than encouraging them to adopt.
- Ummm, not much candy-coating or bandwagon jumping going on there. As much as I’m in favor of painting a fair picture, he went a little far focusing on the negative. I appreciate that he did this to make sure his audience heard that adoption is a lifetime choice that takes a lifetime of commitment, but still…he kind of scared me and I’ve already adopted and almost finished raising them.
In his assessment of the challenges facing the orphans care movement, Dr. Moore did not address the perception that they are primarily focused on “rescuing” poor kids from abroad, so I asked this question in the Q & A part of his session. He acknowledged that they needed to get the message out that the orphans care movement was encouraging all types of adoption. He chuckled when he said that it was sometimes a challenge to get churches to agree on the “right” kind of music, much less the right kind of adoption.
Based on what I saw and heard at Summit 9, the orphan care movement is not in the least focused primarily on international adoption and is totally focused on educating families about what they might be getting into. A quick perusal of the session listings showed an equal, if not greater, focus on providing families for waiting US kids than on adopting from abroad and many session on attachment and struggles of older child adoption. I spoke with several social workers from governmental child welfare agencies that were attending, and they universally sang the praises of churches as a source for families for children in foster care—both for fostering and adopting.
Although I realize this isn’t proof of anything, I couldn’t help but notice that in addition to the black and Asian kids (which may or may not have been internationally adopted) running around at Summit 9, I saw at least five children with Down Syndrome (again, hard to know if they were adopted, and if so, if they were adopted domestically or internationally, but all five were Caucasian.)
The Problem with Pictures
After I asked the question at the session on The Biggest Challenges, a woman came up to me to talk. I wish I had written down her name, but I think she said that she was with Hope For 100. She and her husband are involved primarily with promoting foster care adoption in churches, but she said from a very practical standpoint they struggle with how to visually represent this mission. They can’t use pictures of foster children, and pictures of families created from fostercare adoption often don’t look any different from families created by birth. Pictures are a shorthand, and for better or worse, pictures of kids from other countries are an easier shorthand for the orphan care movement. This was not something I had thought of before, and I see her point.
Where I Hope the Orphan Care Movement Moves
At Summit there were a few sessions on what churches can do to prevent orphans in the first place, which is where I hope the focus of this movement moves in the future. We often quote James 1:27 (pure religion is to look after orphans and widows in their distress). I’d love to see more emphasis on looking after the widows—be they actual widows or single moms struggling to hold their families together. Although not well known, the orphans care movement is moving in this direction. Saddleback Church where Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Life) is pastor has a large program in Rwanda to help families stay together and to promote domestic adoption within Rwanda. This is in addition to the large foster care support program they have in California.
Heaven only knows (pun intended) that the Orphan Care Movement has a wonderfully efficient outreach campaign, but it does seem that they need to get the word out that they are way past being sugar-coating, band wagon jumping advocates of saving foreign orphans through adoption. Consider this blog a step in that direction.
Now I’m curious to hear what are your impressions of the orphan care movement? I wonder if the response I received was universal or just a coincidence.