For years there has been a growing movement in Christianity promoting adoption, particularly international adoption, as a ministry outreach. It makes sense when you think about it; as Christians we are “adopted as sons” (Gal 4:4-6) into God’s greater family and God has an incredibly large and beautifully diverse family. We are mandated to care for the widow and the orphan (Isa 1:17), and when it comes to orphans the best way to care for them is to give them a loving, Christ-centered family. It gives you warm fuzzies, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, there is a pretty deep chasm between the warm fuzzies and realities of raising an orphan. Orphans, whether from your country or somewhere across the sea, are by definition parentless and have likely seen more abuse and neglect in their young lives than most of us will experience in a lifetime. Many assume they are doing a good deed by giving a home to a child who needs one, and then realize that raising a child who has been traumatized in some way is vastly different than raising a biological child, or even an adopted child who has seen very little trauma. Stories such as the adoptive mom who put her Russian son on a plane to go back to Russia because of his behavior problems illustrate just how difficult it can be to raise a traumatized child, and how important it is to have support and knowledge of strategies to deal with challenging behavior (US Mother Sent Adopted Son Back to Russia).
In contrast to the US foster care system (Adoptive Families) most international adoptees have spent some time in an orphanage, which is not the best way to spend your formative years. In additional to navigating the complicated international adoption system, which varies by country and even region in various countries, adoptive parents must contend with language barriers, unknown medical and social history, and even the possibility that the child they are seeking was trafficked specifically for the purpose of adoption. Still, if you are properly prepared for the challenges and have a lot of family and community support, international adoption can be an amazing way to grow your family and hopefully God’s family as well.
This is what makes the recent developments in Russia so disturbing for Christians particularly, and in Guatemala, Vietnam and various other countries who have also closed their doors to intercountry adopters. International adoptions are fraught with political drama, and sadly closing off adoption is an easy way to get attention and sometimes agenda pushed through. Although the agency I helped found, A Gift of Hope Adoptions (www.agiftofhopeadoptions.com), does primarily domestic adoptions, we will often work on international adoptions to provide the domestic requirements. I’ve worked on Russian adoptions, and can tell you they were some of the most difficult and complicated requirements to fulfill, and usually took years to finish. While I do not condone the actions of those who may have mistreated their adopted children (or any children), I’m deeply concerned for all the children who may have gone home to a loving family and now won’t.
As Christian social workers, I think it is our responsibility to support those adopting traumatized children from anywhere both by teaching and modeling appropriate behavior responses and discipline, providing respite resources and researching more effective ways to parent traumatized children. Even if your family is not in a position to adopt, we can all support adoption and advocate for it. I believe we are mandated to do so not just as social workers but as Christians, and as Christian social workers we have the unique position to advocate for Kingdom growth through adoption, and strive to make earthly adoption mirror Heavenly adoption until the time that God decrees that there is no difference because His Kingdom has come here on earth.
Elizabeth E., MSW, LCSW, is a graduate of the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, and the Director of Placement Services for a Gift of Hope Adoptions (www.agiftofhopeadoptions.com), the agency she co-founded. She is passionate about adoption and making sure that children are given the best start in life possible, whether in a biological or adoptive family. She has been a member of NACSW since 2005.