Imagine with me for a moment that you wake up tomorrow morning, coffee cup in hand, you open your front door to let that early morning sun stream into your sleepy, still, quiet home and there – sitting before you on the porch – is a child. Alone. Dirty. Crying. Broken. In need of care. I can only imagine that your reflexive response would be to bend down low – pick that child up, cuddle, soothe, clean and care for this precious one sitting before you. I cannot at all imagine that your response would be to see the need and shut the door. We are simply wired to serve.
Our neighborhoods, communities and nation is at its best when we rally together in the face of great tragedy and crisis. I would offer that there is a silent tragedy playing out across every town and city. It is a quiet crisis of thousands of children who are in need of either a temporary or permanent home within which they can feel safe. It’s foster care. It’s children waiting to be adopted. It’s orphaned and vulnerable children around the world who wait – voiceless – powerless – for someone to open their door, stoop down low and invite them in.
Though admittedly, and wholly unintentionally, we can so easily get lost in the overwhelming number of orphaned and vulnerable children, both domestically and internationally, that need someone just like you to love, lead, disciple and care for them. Because the numbers are stark and scary (153 million children orphaned worldwide – 424,000 children in foster care nationwide) – we struggle to compute and grasp the enormity of the orphan crisis, so we tend to back away or turn away from the need, feeling incapable or unequipped to do anything about it. But here is my encouragement to you – see one. Just one. Understand that you and your family can have an enormous impact on the life of ONE child.
Orphan care may look different for everyone and that is good and just and valuable and necessary. Whereas one family may be called to foster care, working tirelessly to reunify families, others may be called to adopt a child either domestically or from across the globe. Others may be in a position to help fund ministries or services that work toward keeping vulnerable families intact, while others may feel called to help support women in unexpected pregnancies. The need is certainly great and fraught with challenges, but it is not insurmountable when a community comes together and takes a stand for the broken.
Regardless of your path – I believe the key is intentionality. Intentionality to go and seek to serve the vulnerable – understanding that though they may not be found on your front porch – they are certainly in your community waiting for a place to call home. These are children and families who exist on the margins of our towns and neighborhoods.
They are effectually unseen, unheard and underrepresented. They have no voice, they have no advocate, and they are subject to a system that – though well intentioned – is overrun and consumed by navigating the complexities of addiction, incarceration, neglect and abuse. I would also add that the intentionality extends into being educated and equipped to assess options that may best fit your family.
To that point, it is critical to understand that information is power. Adequate information is essential in good decision making. Adequate information and understanding of the differences between foster care and adoption for example is critical. Foster care, at its root is designed to be a temporary bridge for children who, for whatever reason, are not safe in their current home environment.
Families that enter into foster care need to do so with an understanding that they will be asked to be a support not only to that child, but also to champion and encourage that birth family. Foster families need to be laser focused on helping a birth family work toward reunification with their child; which, though not easy, is exceedingly necessary.
You may have heard the term “foster to adopt” before. This is a term that does not (or should not) exist. Families should never enter into foster care with a goal of adoption. Families should only ever enter into foster care with a goal of assisting in reunification – while at the same time understanding that, yes, sometimes children do end up becoming available for adoption.
Adoption out of foster care may indeed be an option, but it should never be the initial goal.
Conversely, families that enter into adoption do so with the understanding that they are pursuing a child who is already legally free for adoption. Internationally, this is likely a child that has been orphaned or abandoned due to the death of one or both parents, poverty, lack of access to medical resources, famine or disease.
At first thought, the very idea of boarding a plane and flying across an ocean to become a mother or a father to a child you have never met may sound outlandish – but is it? Is there any greater calling than stepping into someone else’s brokenness and standing with them? Whether on the other side of the globe or on the other side of the street – a vulnerable child is a vulnerable child.
When we are tempted to reflexively think, I could never do that, I would encourage you to flip that narrative and consider, Could I do that? Could I be the one person who says to that child, I see you. I am here for you. I will invite you in.
Alternatively, domestic adoption is typically resultant from women in unexpected pregnancies that choose to make an adoption plan for their child, or through the adoption of children whose biological parents have had their rights terminated by the court. This can be children of any age, but is most commonly found in older children (4yo and older) or sibling groups and teens.
Are you called to foster? Called to adopt? Feel compelled to provide help to a woman in a crisis pregnancy? Are you financially able to help fund the efforts of those who serve these families? We are certainly not all called to do the same thing… but we are all called to do something.
For more information, and to find ways that you may step in and serve, please visit www.lifelinechild.org.
Sonia Martin joined Lifeline Children’s Services in July of 2019. She is from Montgomery, Alabama and serves as the Director in the Central Alabama area. Sonia earned her BSW from the University of South Florida, MSW from the University of Alabama, and she is a TBRI Practitioner, TIPS Leader, and President of the Montgomery County Foster Parent Association. Sonia is the mother of 7 teenage boys, 3 of which were adopted internationally and she is a foster parent for Montgomery County DHR.