By June Bond, B.A. M. Ed
The United States is seeing a surge in the interest in orphans across the world. Orphan ministries are popping up at local churches throughout the nation. Local movie theaters are showing movies like “Stuck” which highlights the plight of orphans. And, in spite of the recent closing of Russia to international adoptions by Americans, many adoptive parents are turning to orphans in other countries. As an adoption professional of over 25 years I am proud to have been a part of hundreds of adoptions from orphanages in foreign lands. As a person of faith, I support mission funds for overseas orphanages. However, I would like to challenge each of us to look at the orphans that are residing in the United States. (SHHHHH it is a well-kept secret!)
The first step is to see a larger narrative in the term “orphan ministry.” We usually restrict the term orphan to a child that has lost their parents through death. However, the term can also focus on any child that is without care and/or without a forever family, including children in foster care.
Americans are a compassionate people. Every time a natural disaster strikes abroad, our office phones ring nonstop, wondering how the caller can help the children that are in the midst of an earthquake, tsunamis, floods, or other disasters. Americans reach out when a need to help children emerges. Unfortunately, our country has not been as vocal about helping our own orphans — children residing in foster care that are legally free and are waiting for a forever family. Often when completing a home study for a family to go overseas, I ask the family if they had considered adopting a child in the US foster care system that is legally free. The most common reply that I get is that they feel led to “go where the need is greatest to help.” Let me assure my friends, the need to adopt legally free children (orphans) is great in this country. There are over 104,000 waiting children in the United States. These children reside in foster homes, group homes, and treatment facilities. They represent individuals and sibling groups of all races and ethnic groups. These children are the orphans of our country —- And like orphans of other countries, they will likely be the ward of the state for a major portion of their life if they are not adopted.
In order to place a focus on this need, we must harness the attention of the American public to bring forth our sprit of generosity. Adoption is not just for November — National Adoption Month. Now that I have preached my sermon…. what are ways that we can highlight our nation’s orphans and give them a chance at a forever family?
1) Educate yourself to be a voice for the children. Current statistics indicate that there are over 104,000 legally free children in foster care. Bring this number to the forefront. Let others know that adopting a legally free child from foster care does not cost thousands of dollars as is the case in international adoptions. Remind people that the children that are adopted from foster care usually have a subsidy and medical card —- so a family does not have to be rich to provide a child with a home. Remind folks that a pass-port is not needed to adopt a child from foster care just a willing heart that is open to a child in need.
2) If your church has an orphan ministry, make certain they include foster children and foster parents in the ministry. Bring awareness to the needs of orphans both domestically and internationally. Let the orphan ministry be a support financially, emotionally and spiritually for parents and families during the adoption process and post adoption. If your church does not have an orphan ministry —- start one. The best model that I have seen is Home for Me Ministry at First Baptist Church of Simpsonville, SC started by Rhonda Littleton. “While we know that everyone in the church will not be able to be a foster parent or to adopt a child, every person in our church can be a part of our team,” states Littleton. The team celebrates every time a family receives a new foster child or an adoptive child. More than celebration however, the church team forms a loving “wrap around for the family.” This wrap around includes prayer, gifts for the child, birthday cakes, a homecoming gift, a birthday gift, a Christmas gift, cards every three months, welcome home clothes and toys, as well as families that can give respite for the family and a weekly meal. In this way, the new family does not become overwhelmed and stressed out in the initial months of a placement. Likewise this concept allows for many church members to use their time and talents in a meaningful support. In a larger sense the entire church adopts the child.
3. Find out about your state’s Hearty Gallery and determine when the Heart Gallery can be highlighted in your home town. A picture really is worth a thousand words when it comes to bringing interest about children in foster care. Also volunteer your time and talents so more children can be showcased in the Heart Gallery.
4. Volunteer to be a Guardian Ad Litem or serve on the Foster Care Review Board. Your positive voice in these two vital jobs can be the voice for the child. Speak up and let “the powers that be” know that these children deserve a forever family that will support them.
5) With the blessing and assistance of your local social services, advocate with your local media and newspaper to start a Wednesday’s Child program that highlights a different child or sibling group each week. Unfortunately, stray pets needing homes often get more free press than children needing homes. Pretending the issue does not exist, does not make it go away. As Americans, we cannot be ashamed to advocate for our own orphans!
6) Find new outlets to get the message about US orphans out to the general public. Are you in a service club or Sunday school???? Present a program on the topic! Do you know the local librarian???? Ask to put up a bulletin board! Do you go to a book club???? Pick out a book about the topic for discussion!
7) Be creative about bringing the needs of orphans (foster children) to others. One fourteen year old in our town, known as the Coupon Kid, gets 10 newspapers every Sunday and an allowance each week. She then marches herself (all 85 pounds) into the local drug store and turns $25 into $100 worth of items that foster children may need as they are moved from place to place. She has now started a fashion show each year that benefits the Children’s Shelter, usually the first stop in an emergency placement. This year she raised $6,000 in her fashion show. Enlist a local sorority, scout den, or high school service club to plan an event that brings awareness. Like to party and can’t find a good reason???? Have a baby shower for the new baby of Prince William and Kate. Let your guests bring school supplies or toys for foster children. Bringing awareness about our orphans may be the key to finding them a forever home.
As I continue on my long journey as an adoption professional, I applaud the families that open their home and hearts to any and all children. I have seen families travel literally to the ends of the earth to bring their child home. It is my firm belief that if we bring added attention to our children in foster care that are legally free and are waiting for a forever home, a new orphan ministry can bloom in the United States.
Just remember — When it comes to a child, if you want to go where the need is greatest —- you may not have to travel very far!