Are There Alternatives to 'Abandoning' Children in Poor Economy?

The Global economic crisis has hit many countries hard, and has created a tragic problem in places where the family unit has traditionally been very strong – such as Greece.

Some parents feel they have no choice but to abandon their children to churches and charities, however some experts argue that economic problems should never be a reason to split a family apart.

A report revealed that an increasing number of parents are giving up their children in Greece and also brought up the question of what truly is best for the child – should they be given over to services that can better provide for them, or is the family unit too crucial for a child's development to be broken up?

Mary Lee Allen, the Director of Child Welfare & Mental Health at the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), a non-profit child advocacy organization, told The Christian Post that everything possible needs to be done to keep families together.

"We certainly feel very strongly than whenever steps can be taken to help children remain in the home, keeping the child in the family is what's best," Allen said. "The challenge is to make sure that kids can be kept safely at home – but we do not believe that poverty or income related issues alone should be the cause of removing children from their families."

She explained that the CDF has been working for many years to try to ensure that steps can be taken to give families and parents the resources that they need so that they will not have to look elsewhere for the care of their children: "Now that fiscal pressure has been increased on families, they need even more support so they can make sure they meet the basic needs of their children and keep the family safely together."

The problem of families losing their children based on economic issues is not as big in America as it is in Greece, but the issue still should not be ignored, according to Allen.

"We would be very concerned if we saw large amount of families (in the US) be turned to the child welfare system, as we refer to it, solely because of income," she said. "Obviously, you have to look at individual situations to ensure that children can be kept safely home. Better to give the recourses to the family so that they can give the children what they need, rather than use those dollars to keep the child away from the family as you move forward."

Speaking about her experience working on these issues, Allen shared: "I have spent many years seeking these changes (to ensure resources are given to families). We have seen some improvements in the country – it used to be that a furnace will break, and the child will go into foster care. Now more resources are being used to help families get back on their feet. We want to address these problems and keep the family safely together."

Sarah Gerstenzang, the Executive Director of New York State Citizens' Coalition for Children, an organization that provides support, information and advocacy for foster and adoptive parents and professionals in New York State, agreed that family unity should be preserved regardless of economic obstacles.

"I don't think it's often (in America) that children get abandoned just because of poverty – even though poverty contributes to it. Usually children come into foster care because of abuse and neglect. Poverty certainly is a piece of that, and poor families are over-represented compared to other families – they have fewer support in everything," said Gerstenzang, who is also a trained social worker.

Discussing what is best for the psychological development of a child, she affirmed "children should live with their birth families whenever possible – and when children do have to go into foster care, parents are supposed to be helped so that children can return to them. "

A unique perspective into the Greek crisis was offered by Kees den Toom, Operation Mobilisation's leader in Greece, which is a news organization involved in missionary work.

In an email to The Christian Post, he shared his views from his base at the Christian Center in Larissa, Greece, a member of the Evangelical Church.

"We definitely acknowledge the great pressure that is on many families and especially the weakest of societies, like single mothers. Without judging anybody, I am shocked that it seems like the Greek society does not have an answer for this problem," he wrote.

He expressed that while he supports families doing everything they can to stay together, the growing problem in Greece is indeed a very serious issue without a solution at the moment:

"It is now that our Christian faith is tested and we need to understand again our holy calling in the name of our Heavenly Father to care for the widows and the orphans. It is indeed a great challenge to feed the needy, especially as many people in our church have lost their jobs or have seen their income cut dramatically, yet we do stretch ourselves and do our best to help as much as we can."

Toom refused to place the blame on the shoulders of parents who abandon their children, regardless of their choices, and called for prayer and unity to restore Greece.

"I think this crisis is a challenge for all, whether (they live) in America, Africa or Greece. Do we really care as Christians?" he asked.

"I think it is not for us to judge if these parents do the right thing or not, they are desperate!" he said. "Let us stand next to them and whenever we meet cases like these, do not close our hearts, but take our responsibility and our calling seriously to share His Light in these dark hours of despair for many."