Sunday, November 2, 2014

What do the orphans really need?

The word orphan can be so emotionally charged. A child growing up without the safety net of a family, alone, hungry, vulnerable. Isn't that what we think when we hear the word? Orphan is also an immigration term that is used in international adoption. Orphan status is achieved even if a child has a living parent, but that parent is unable to care for them. And what about our foster care? These children are orphaned into a government system but may have a biological family unable to care for them safely. But there is a family nonetheless.

So what do the orphans (or vulnerable children)  really need from us? (Us meaning adoptive parents, potential adoptive parents, concerned advocates or those involved in the care of these vulnerable children). 

1. Families who will CARE for them
Adoptive families are needed. Desperately. They are needed in foster care to provide a safe place for a time. They are needed in domestic adoption and international adoption. For children, who have no other option, adoption is a gateway to safety, support, stability and love. Family is an important social unit that can't be replaced by institutions. So families are needed to step up and open their hearts and homes. 

Daddy's girl since day 1

2. Adoptive parents who will FIGHT for them.
Adoption starts with loss and trauma. Children need well trained, well educated parents who will research every possible resource and counseling and treatment to journey with their child toward healing. The best thing I did was to imagine the absolute worst that could happen (sexual abuse, violence, attachment problems, medical conditions..) and what I would do in each situation. Our social worker suggested that and I allowed my thoughts to "go there". For a moment, I took off my rose colored glasses and stopped skipping through the tulips. What would it be like living with a child that hated me? That had behaviors that would upset our other children? We have had unexpected bumps on the road and it's not always because of children who have experienced trauma. I haven't always attached properly and I haven't always used the right parenting techniques. It's not about being perfect, it's about endurance.It's about reaching for resources and not giving up. Is every adoption a perfect match? No. but vulnerable children need parents who will ensure that they will do whatever is needed. Until.

I am thankful he allowed me into his heart. We have learned to trust together.

3.  Adults who place the child's best interest first.

Before we even get to the point of adoption, a child needs a set of professionals to determine what they need, usually a representative in their home country (orphanage director, social worker etc) and an entity here in the US. Some children need temporary help when a family is going through a crisis. Some children need an adult to find their families and reunify them. Some can be adopted within their own country. Some (hopefully the smallest possible number) will need international adoption. Adoption agencies exist for the sake of adoption, which is not a bad thing. But are they really the most unbiased way to decide what is best for a child? If I go to a surgeon, more than likely they will recommend surgery. It is what they do and what their focus is. Will they always suggest surgery? No, but often they will. Same with the agencies. They see the beauty of adoption, the financial benefit of adoption and they rarely have anything else to offer. Family preservation is an afterthought or a small program to give back to the country they work with.So vulnerable children need someone who can examine their situation without any financial benefit if the child is placed. The best way to care for orphans is to prevent a child from becoming one.  Domestically, expectant mother need the same support through counseling or social services before an agency or adoption attorney is in the picture. 

4. Adoptive parents who are willing to WALK AWAY.
In our early days of adoption, we said a lot of NOs. Agencies that didn't feel right, children that didn't seem to need adoption, countries that had high corruption. But once we found OUR children (I was foolish to even use that term so early in the process), I don't know if I could have walked away. And I have watched families complete adoptions and live with lies. And figuring out the aftermath of raising children who had parents but maybe few resources. Many wish they could have been there before the family's tragedy began, but most felt hopeless to do anything but complete the adoption.Part of adoption is walking away, or supporting a child in a different way that originally thought. Or refusing to participate in practices that creates orphans. 

I have spent time with birth mothers/first mothers in Ghana. Not all understand what happened to their children. Not all understand the permanency of adoption. Some are asking about their children and expecting them to return. Those conversations haunt me. Mothers are hurting and missing their children while we think we are adopting orphans. My brain doesn't reconcile that. At all.

5. People who will ADVOCATE for them

There are many children that need families. Maybe not 152 million as often mentioned, but there are too many. Children hidden in cribs in Eastern Europe. Children with medical needs all around the world. Children abandoned due to cultural beliefs. Children in foster care and in residential facilities in our home states. They exist, they need an army of people searching for families for them. To make the invisible children visible. Advocacy is just as important and noble as adoption itself. Advocacy should be on every adoptive parent's mind long after their OWN children have joined their family. 

I visited the orphanages, I saw it with my own eyes. The sounds, sights and smells of 30 children with special needs living in one small room never leave me. I should do a better job in telling their stories. They need all of us to do a better job.

There are no orphans in this picture. There are beloved sons and daughters because they have a family that loves them. Forever.

This is why I believe in adoption. Because some children despite all efforts, can't stay in their home countries. They need a family or they wouldn't survive. There were people who investigated Afua's background, others advocated for her, some gave financially and we adopted. No one thing was more important than another. But I must say, I get the best part: I get to be her mom. 

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