November is Adoption Month and many churches remember Orphan Sunday (this year it was November 8) during the month. In the Old Testament, God is often described as a father and defender of the fatherless and many commandments ensure justice and care for those who do not have parents, such as Isaiah 1:17 which states “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” In the New Testament, James states, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”(1:27)
There is not many things closer to my heart than foster care and adoption and this month, I will be doing posts on both of those topics in honor of Adoption month, however the very first thing we can do as Christians is prevent children from becoming orphans, whether legally or by poverty.
Most children that are adopted out of foster care in the United States are not true orphans; one or both of their parents are generally still alive. However, because of the parent’s inability to care for the children due to a variety of reasons such as substance abuse, mental health issues, poverty, developmental disabilities, and domestic violence, they are unable to safely care for their children. Many of these problems are generational and parents have not been safely parented themselves as children, so have no idea how to be a safe, healthy parent.
Internationally, many children are true orphans due to preventable diseases, lack of clean water or food, AIDS, wars, and women dying in childbirth. Many more parents internationally feel they cannot care for their children due to extreme poverty, lack of resources, and cultural concerns.
As a church, we have the resources and the command to preserve families by providing the care both locally and internationally to prevent parents from having their children removed or from being forced to give them up for adoption because of the lack of resources.
Here are specific ways the church can help prevent children from becoming either legal or true orphans. Locally, Christians can provide a space for NA/AA meetings, reach out to people who are struggling with addictions, create spaces where it is safe to ask for professional help for mental illness, speaking positively about necessary psychotropic medications, help people with transportation to and from mental health and substance abuse treatment appointments, provide food and volunteer at food banks and pantries, volunteer to teach parenting (ABC Pregnancy Care Center has a peer parenting program), come alongside a young mother or father and mentor them regarding healthy child care, create a space where non-violent parenting is taught, validate father’s raising children, teach child development, teach budgeting skills, teach youth bystander skills to prevent rape and domestic violence, teach employment skills, teach sexual education including topics such as consent and contraceptive use, offer free contraceptives, offer affordable child care, teach that domestic violence is not to be tolerated, offer or support a safe space for victims of domestic violence to stay with their children, pet sitting for victims of domestic violence (often abusers will threaten children and animals of the victim and shelters often don’t accept animals), offer healthy relationship classes and marriage counseling, allow a parent with a developmental disability and their child/ren to reside with your family to care for both the parent and the child, and create a homeless shelter or housing network.
Internationally, the church can provide communities with wells for access to clean water, sustainable horticultural skills for families to grow and raise food; micro loans with financial education for families to start small businesses; hygiene, nutrition and basic health training; disease prevention; educating girls and women; providing vaccinations; providing quality prenatal and childbirth health care including training local midwives; providing access contraceptive; providing sexual education including topics of consent and contraceptive use; prevent child marriages; and education to men to prevent domestic violence and rape.
Some of these these things are pretty huge but some are fairly simple and wouldn’t cost much in the amount of time or money. If the church works to prevent children from becoming orphans, more families could safely and healthily care for their own children. There would be less trauma to children and less broken hearts of parents and there would be more resources and families to adopt true orphans. We could be doing so much more to create healthy families and communities. Until we get there, we will have many legal orphans that need homes. I will be discussing that next week.
What are other specific ways the church could prevent children from becoming orphans?