Adoptive Families in Crisis: Exchanging the Sensational for the Reality

It reads like a bad TV movie of the week. Parents posting ads on the Internet trying to find someone willing to take their adopted child. Pedophiles and mentally ill individuals answering these ads, then being given these children at the first meeting in a parking lot. Tragically these stories aren't fiction. Written by a Reuters investigative reporter and aired by NBC, they are all too true.

The stories of the mistreatment of these children rightly horrify us. But it is important that we don't get so caught up in outrage that we miss an important underlying point.

To be clear, there is no justification for much of what is reported in this handful of stories. And, finding families on the Internet and turning over a child without thoroughly vetting them is foolish, irresponsible and often illegal. But, if we resist the urge to find an easy villain to blame for all of this, we are compelled to ask the question, "What would cause parents to take such desperate and foolish risks?" And, in fact, the Reuters reports do attempt some answers to this question. We believe this is the part that Reuters and NBC got right. Many adoptive families are struggling. We see it almost every day in the families and churches with which we work. We hear desperate cries for help from loving parents stretched well beyond their capabilities by the aftermath of the trauma and neglect their adopted children suffered prior to joining their family.

But, there are also some important missing pieces. These gaps are likely to leave the reader with some distorted impressions that need correcting.

First of all, this handful of stories is in no way representative of most adoptive parents (domestic or international), even when they are in crisis. Many adoptive parents are faced with a child's behavioral and mental health challenges that turn out to be far greater than expected and beyond the preparation they received. However the overwhelming majority of these parents make the massive sacrifices and the radical life changes necessary to help these children begin to heal.

A small percentage of these parents do find that they are ultimately unable to meet their child's needs and find re-homing or re-adoption to be the best option for their family and for the child. In our experience, the vast majority of these parents go to great lengths to find a loving home that can meet those needs. And, they go through the proper legal channels and utilize available professionals to protect and care for that child through the process of re-adoption. These situations are never easy, and struggles continue. But, it is nothing short of miraculous when a hurting child is placed in a family that is capable of containing the rage long enough for the fear to subside and healing to begin.

A second set of stories that are not told in these reports are the stories of the fracturing families who did seek help from adoption agencies only to be told, "We can't help you." Or, worse yet, they sought help from their state agencies only to find themselves threatened with charges of child abandonment or the loss of any other children living in their home. Many families reach out to their extended families and churches only to be met with judgment rather than understanding and support. These are the experiences that we have seen precede desperate actions like those highlighted in Reuters' report.

In the case of the Reuters story and following all good investigative reporting, the reader is left saying, "Somebody has to do something!" And they are right. But Reuters seems to be leading the reader toward the typical solutions of more laws and more government programs and funding. While there is certainly some work for our legislators, it is tempting to believe the fantasy that the government can fix this problem. We believe that the majority of the responsibility for preventing and addressing the problems of adoptive families in crisis lies with churches. As Christians, we believe that it is God who calls families to adopt. As a result, it is the Christian family (the local church) who bears responsibility to support those families as they seek to live out their faith by caring for orphans.

At Hope For Orphans, we believe a church that really understands God's heart for orphans will be the most effective option for meeting the needs of struggling adoptive and foster families. Therefore, we continue in our mission of reminding churches of God's concern for the orphan and the fatherless. We also seek to help them become active in reflecting that concern through ministries within the local church that serve orphans around the world, foster children, and children who have found families through adoption. Coming alongside a family in crisis is not easy; it is time consuming, and it is generally pretty messy. But, since our Savior seemed to enjoy this type of work the most, we should follow His example.

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