Tag Archives: Adoption

What are “Poverty Orphans”?

Poverty Orphans

In 2011-2012 there was severe famine in the Horn of Africa. Every evening the news would show more pictures of people suffering and migrating in hopes of finding provision. One particular evening I saw something that moved me to tears and has stuck with me ever since. After the crowd moved down the road, a tiny baby remained. The news reporter explained that the parents may have died and no one wanted to take on a baby, or the child may have been abandoned by parents who had nothing to give the baby but didn’t want to watch him die. Doesn’t that break your heart? If the parents survived, they must be living with guilt over that choice. And what became of the child? Did the news crew film him and then pick him up? They undoubtedly had water and food. Honestly, when I think about that I get upset at the news crew way more than the parents. The news crew had resources. I hope they did the right thing.

That was my first encounter with the truth of poverty orphans. Poverty Orphans are defined as children surrendered or abandoned as orphans but who actually have one or both parents living. They are given up because their parents can’t feed them and they believe that it will be best for their kid(s) to go to orphanages, churches, hospitals, or maybe even new families where there will be food to eat and safe water to drink. Other poverty orphans are surrendered because they require expensive medical treatments or have special needs, and desperate parents truly feel that they have no other option than to give their child to an organization that can care for him or her. Giving away a child and never finding out what happened to them is the most crazy desperate thing I can imagine. It’s horrifying that these parents truly have no other options. If they don’t surrender their children, they watch them die. It’s that simple and that ugly.

There are no accurate statistics on the number of “orphans” who actually have parents. A large number of the abandoned kids are too young or too sick to tell anyone if they have parents. Often a surrendering parent will tell the organization that they are an aunt, uncle, or neighbor and that the parents are dead with no one to take the kids.

I know this is a heavy topic, and I have promised over and over that Food Shelf Friday is not about guilt and sadness, but hope and resources. So here’s the good news: a number of charitable organizations have been developed to reduce the incidence of poverty orphanage. Their goal is to reach families in crisis before it becomes so desperate that they give their children away. These organizations employ local people at a fair wage, provide micro finance loans so the parents can start their own businesses, provide relief for children in the form of food distribution, or provide medical services so the parents don’t have to make that desperate choice.

I personally struggle to balance my budget with my social and environmental concerns. It seems that if something is fair trade, then it’s out of my budget. If I find something affordable, it’s tested on animals. My consumer habits are a big tangled mess of concerns that often conflict. I find it can be really overwhelming, but my friend Heidi reminded me of two quotes: First, “Do the next right thing.” (Michael Hyatt) And second, “Do the best you can until you know better. And when you know better, do better.” (Maya Angelou)

So I decided to take some baby steps:
– My chocolate and coffee choices are fair trade. I’ll be eating less chocolate because the fair trade-grown chocolate is expensive, but the coffee is not. We’re Keurig users, and the fair trade cups are the same price as the others. So that’s an easy step to take. If you’re brewing grounds you may have to spend more for fair trade.
– After seeing a video in class about birth defects and working conditions for banana growers, I reduced our banana consumption so we could switch to organic bananas. My “right” to something should not trump another’s right to be safe.
– I get a monthly subscription box from Fair Trade Friday and purchase things from Noonday Collection so that I can give gifts I feel good about. I may have to give less to stay in my budget, but it’s worth it. We can pare down our luxuries to provide others with necessities.

I know I have a long way to go and an abundance of things I could be doing better. I’ll get there. But this is my “next right thing” and as I learn more about global systems, I’ll do better. No parent should be so desperate that they have to give their child away. I want to be part of the solution.

How about you? What is your “next right thing?” What businesses or non-profits do you support for their efforts to keep families together and fed? Share in the comments so we can all “do better.”

Open Homes: Foster Care and Adoption “Part four: What can we do?”

Open Homes 4

During the month of June, I’ve been exploring the issues of foster care and adoption in a series I call Open Homes: Foster Care and Adoption. If you haven’t read the other posts, here are the links:

Week one: What is the Need? – Statistics about foster care in America and orphans around the world.

Week two: Meet the Panel – An introduction to the panel of foster and adoptive parents who helped with the series and a few recurring themes of their experiences.

Week three: The Hunger Connection – Food-related issues prevalent in foster and adoption situations.

-Week four: What Can We Do?

There is a story going around the internet about a psychology professor. Discussing perseverance, the professor held up a glass of water. Everyone expected to hear the old “half full or half empty” debate. But the professor surprised them by asking instead, “How heavy is this glass of water?” Students offered their guesses. Eight ounces, ten ounces, etc. The professor then told them that the actual weight of the glass was not nearly as important as the duration of the hold. Anyone can pick up a glass of water for a few seconds; it feels virtually weightless. But after a few minutes, the glass begins to feel heavy. After a few hours it gets painful. Holding it up all day will leave you shaky and sore.

In Exodus 17, Moses experienced that. God inspired him to climb a hill overlooking a battlefield and hold up his staff. As long as he did, the Israelites were defeating the Amalekites in battle. When his hands fell, the Amalekites gained on the Israelites. This seems like an odd thing God asked of him, and my initial response is to wonder why. What did the Israelites gain from Moses standing there with his staff in the air? Maybe God was testing Moses’ obedience, or the exhaustion helped him empathize with the men who fought all day. Maybe seeing Moses on the hill with his staff in the air was inspiring for the soldiers. Maybe this story was put there for us.

Like the professor’s glass of water, Moses’ staff got heavy. His arms began to tremble. He faced a test of willpower. Did he want victory more than comfort? As long as he chose victory he had it, but comfort came with defeat. That’s deep stuff that is also true for us today. In so many areas of our lives we can choose comfort, but it comes with a terrible price. But that’s a lesson for another day. Today I want to consider what happened when Moses was at the end of his physical ability. Just when Moses thought he couldn’t hold up his arms any more, when his elbows and shoulders were giving out, Aaron and Hur arrived and held Moses’ arms. His arms were still raised, but the pain was gone and his will was strengthened; he knew it was possible to win because he didn’t have to be strong enough to do it alone.

Like Moses, foster and adoptive families face a daunting task. Even in the best of circumstances, the kids coming into their homes have faced loss and scarcity. And supporting these kids day and night is exhausting. But we can be Aaron and Hur for families around us.

1 – Pray – the transitions, the challenges, the joys, all of it needs to be covered in prayer. Prayer works, and the first thing it does is keep your heart soft and your eyes open to the needs around you. Pray for families you know who are adopting or who take in foster kids.

2 – Offer practical help – We all know that “let me know if I can help,” however sincere, doesn’t get much of a response. It’s hard to admit when you need help. Good friends don’t wait to be asked. Like Aaron and Hur they show up and pitch in. Panel member Gena said, “Reach out — help — even when it looks like a family “has it all together,” they are probably struggling in some ways.” Panel members suggested offering help around the house or babysitting.

3 – Treat the kids as kids – The stories of foster and adoptive kids really pull at your heartstrings. But they’re not the only ones facing challenges, and kids are very sensitive to inequality. Several panel members pointed out that elevating the foster or adopted child above the other kids in the family causes rifts between the kids and even encourages some negative behaviors. Treat foster and adopted kids just like anyone else their age; give them a chance to be normal.

4 – Sympathize (or empathize) – Parents of all stripes need to vent now and then. And kids of all stripes are both wonderful and challenging. Check in with your friends who foster or are in transition with an adoption. Remind them that you are praying for them, and offer (and re-offer) to pitch in. Even if they don’t take you up on it, they will know that you are thinking of them and that you are aware of the challenges they’re facing. If Moses had refused Aaron and Hur’s attempt to hold up his arms, I imagine they would have stayed nearby in solidarity and continued to offer their help until he accepted.

5 – Material support – Some of the families in the panel have had sudden placements. Foster kids often arrive with nothing but a paper grocery bag of dirty clothes. Taking in a kid who comes with nothing is expensive and daunting. A surprise Target gift card lifts burdens and spirits. Ask what the kids need. I’ve seen friends give luggage, school supplies, bedding, clothing (new and gently used), baby equipment, groceries/meals, toys/games, and even salon services to bless kids and their foster families. If a friend is adopting, throw a “big kid baby shower” or participate in adoption fundraisers. International adoption in particular is very expensive and it’s a huge blessing when friends donate or host fundraisers. There are tons of great fundraiser ideas online.

I hope you have learned some things this month about foster care and adoption. As always I encourage you to pray for the children without a forever family and the people who care for them. And if you have more ideas about being Aaron and Hur for foster and adoptive families, leave a comment!

Open Homes: Foster Care and Adoption – Part 1: What is the Need, and What Does This Have to do With Hunger, Anyway?

Open Homes

Congratulations to Lisa Landrum Hensen, the winner of Food Shelf Friday’s For the Love giveaway!

During the month of June, I am going to be posting a series of blogs called Open Homes: Foster Care and Adoption. This is part one: “What is the Need, and What Does This Have to do With Hunger, Anyway?”

I am personally not a foster or adoptive parent, nor did I grow up in a foster or adopting home. So the idea of adoption and especially foster care seems unfamiliar and overwhelming to me, and I know a lot of you feel the same way. The disruption. The expenses. The physical/mental/emotional challenges that many of these kids bring with them. It’s daunting. And I know a lot of us look at foster care and think, “I could never do that.” Guess what? NO ONE looks at fostering and says, “Sure, no problem, I can do that.” People who agree to foster or adopt don’t have fewer challenges; they do it in spite of the challenges because there are children without stable homes. For this series I invited a number of my friends from around the country to share their experiences with foster care and/or adoption so that people like you and I who don’t have personal experience can understand why they do what they do, and what we can do to help. I’ll introduce the crew of contributors next week. For now, let’s take a look at why this is such a big need.

Food Shelf Friday is all about hunger. I assure you that I have not strayed from my mission. As my friend Sarah said, if a child has spent ANY time in the foster system, it’s not a matter of IF they have food issues, it’s just a matter of which issues and how bad. Scarcity undermines stability and has long lasting effects on children. A big part of what I’m doing with this series will relate to children’s food issues as they move from neglect and scarcity into a foster or adoptive home.

Some facts that illustrate this big need: Over 397,000 American children are currently in foster care. About 30% of them are fully terminated from their birth parents and available for adoption.  The average foster child’s wait for a forever family is 3 years – significantly longer for kids with serious special needs, older children, and sibling groups. Over 23,000 kids “age out” every year, meaning that their time in the foster system is finished as they become legal adults, and they are launched into the adult world without parents to guide them. Worldwide, there are more than 17.9 million orphans living in orphanages or on the streets.

In 2008 there were an estimated 135,800 adoptions in the United States, both international and domestic, open and private (there is no agency that tracks all adoptions, the info is scattered here and there depending on whether the kids are going through private, foster, or international adoption. 2008 was the most recent estimate I could find). In 2012 there were just over 7,000 international adoptions by American parents, a number that has been declining in recent years (it was over 17,000 in 2008), probably due to the depressed economy and the expense of international adoption, as well as policy changes abroad. About 40% of American adoptions involve children from the foster system.

17.9 million orphans. Nearly 400,000 American kids in foster care. These are big numbers. Obviously this is a major issue and a huge need. Begin to pray for the children out there who don’t have parents to guide and care for them. Pray for the families who foster. Pray for the families who are working on adoptions or adjusting to the unique challenges of bringing home an adopted child. In the weeks to come I will be introducing you to a panel of people from around the country who have seen these numbers and declared that they will do something about it. We will be learning from their varied experiences how we can do the most good for the next generation, even if we don’t become foster or adoptive parents ourselves.

Facts about foster care, orphans, and adoption came from The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, which gathered many of these facts from various agencies and studies and put them all in one place. Other facts came from the National Infertility and Adoption Education Organization: