The obligation of church leaders who promote adoption

Orphan Sunday is recognized and celebrated in thousands of churches, large and small, here in the U.S. and beyond. It’s incredibly cool to see the church “being the church” through encouraging and supporting faithful families offering the world’s most vulnerable kids the opportunity to experience the love of Christ on a daily basis.

One of our priorities for Key Ministry going forward is to better resource churches responding to the need for adoptive homes. Our ministry developed as a byproduct of a large church’s attempt to meet the needs of families who were struggling to maintain their involvement at church in the aftermath of adopting kids from Eastern European orphanages. Shannon Dingle did a fabulous series on adoption and the church last fall, and has spoken at the Together for Adoption Summit in Durham, NC.

My clinician’s perch affords me a unique perspective on the commitment and faithfulness of families called to serve as foster care providers or led to adopt kids who wouldn’t otherwise have a home. My “day job” has also led me to anticipate the challenges families often face in their adoption or foster care ministry…challenges that far too many families and churches are oblivious to when they commit to an adoption or orphan care ministry. In our practice, our adopted kids are among our most challenging to treat, and the most likely to need an out-of-home placement. In reality, the church hasn’t exactly distinguished itself by its’ depth of understanding of kids or adults with complex mental health concerns.

Shannon has been discussing how churches can love their adoptive and foster families. I’d like to challenge church leaders to assume responsibility for supporting their families when they pursue adoption ministry.

1. Church leaders have a responsibility to be forthright with the families about the challenges they’ll potentially face when adopting. According to this paper in Pediatrics, adopted children are more likely than biological children to:

  • Have difficulties with emotions, concentration, behavior, or getting along with others.
  • Have a learning disability, developmental delay, or physical impairment
  • More than twice as likely as biological children to have special health care needs
  • More likely to have repeated a school grade
  • Less likely to have a very close relationship with the parent
  • Parents of adopted children are more likely than parents of biological children to have felt that the child is harder to care for than most children

Too many parents go into foster care or adoption assuming their love will be sufficient for overcoming the damage resulting from a child’s experiences or upbringing. Love isn’talways enough.

2. Church leaders have a responsibility to ensure that staff and leadership become trauma-informed. Shannon said what needed to be said on the subject here.

3. Church leaders have a responsibility to provide tangible supports for families who pursue a calling in adoption or foster care.  Will you help families access the mental health services they’re more likely to need for an adoptive or foster child? What about the medical services they may require if adopting a child with special medical needs. What about tutoring or advocates who might help families access special education or support services from schools? What about child care or respite care when families can’t find or can’t afford someone when they need a break?

4. Church leaders have a responsibility to put in place supports to allow families who adopt to maintain their level of engagement in the church. In my mind this one is MOST important. Are you prepared to welcome their kids into your children’s ministry or youth ministry? What if the parents adopt a child who is HIV-positive? What will the parents need to continue to attend their small group every week? What will they need to continue to serve in the ministries where they’ve grown and matured in their faith?

Are we as church called to care for orphans? You bet. Are we expected to use the gifts and talents entrusted to us to support families who respond to such a noble calling? They should expect nothing less!

Here’s a little video inspiration…

Updated March 1, 2016