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Missions 101

Is Christian Orphan Care Enabling Child Abandonment?

Jul. 31, 2014By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

From Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan:

I recognize that orphanage life is the only option for some children. However, I think that the overabundance of churches that are building orphanages are harmful in a number of ways:

1. They are taking in poverty orphans. I will say it again: a child should not have to be abandoned at an orphanage to receive aid. If we can feed and educate a child in an orphanage, we can feed and educate a child living at home.

2. They are focused on providing a destination to missions groups. It’s sad to say this, but I’ve heard it from numerous people: the church wants to build an orphanage so they can visit and “love on” orphans when they take short-term trips. NO, PEOPLE. No no no no. Orphans are not mission-trip props.

3. They are motivated by the romanticism of starting an orphanage and how heroic that will make them look. People want their name on the building. It motivates people to donate when they feel ownership. Opening an orphanage looks good on paper. I get it. Still not best practice.

4. They are failing to provide adequate supervision to at-risk children. Orphanages in third-world countries tend to be poorly staffed, with high child-to- caretaker ratios and a high staff turnover. It is rare than an orphanage in a third- world country would meet even the minimum standards to be a licensed childcare facility in the U.S., and yet we are somehow satisfied with sub-standard care because they are poor.

5. They are not focused on permanency planning or family reunification. I cannot tell you have many orphanages I’ve visited where the children have living parents who even visit on weekends and there is absolutely no plan in place to get the kids back home.

6. They are raising children to be ministry partners instead of psychologically healthy adults. I have often heard orphanage directors talk about how they are raising the “future generation of Christian leaders” by raising kids in an orphanage. Except that our goal for kids should be to raise them into adults with a healthy sense of self . . . and the best way to do that is in a family, not in a “future Christian leader warehouse.”

She then lists these questions every church should be asking:

  1. Are the children’s basic needs being met?

  2. Are the children being treated with the same standard of care that we would expect to be given to our own children? Are they receiving enough food, love, attention, education, supervision, and medical care? Is someone checking in on a regular basis to make sure that this is true?

  3. Are there children living there who could live at home if the parents received financial support? What efforts are happening to get this child back with their family?

  4. Are there children living there who are legally free for adoption? What efforts are taking place to find that child a permanent family, through local or international adoption?

  5. Is this orphanage denying children the opportunity for a permanent family in favor of raising future ministry partners?

  6. Is there a plan in place to assure continuity of care until each child reaches adulthood? Is there a plan in place for when a child ages out?

  7. Is there a long-range plan for insuring the orphanage is well-staffed and meeting standards going forward, until the children are adults?

Read the whole thing here.

Darren Carlson is the Founder and President of Training Leaders International.  As President, Darren oversees the general direction of the ministry and serves as an advocate for pastors with little access to formal training and thoughtful cross-cultural theological engagement. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter

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