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Reforming Orphan Care: Placing Children and Their Flourishing Back at the Center of our Care

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

As a fourth grade teacher in South Carolina, I remember one student who would behave erratically in the classroom until, as a last resort apart from calling school administration, I would threaten to call her mother. Fear came across her eyes, and her back would straighten immediately at the mention of her mother’s name. I assumed there was likely physical abuse going on in the home, but there was no evidence for me to report. I did know, though, that their emotional bond was strong.

On an overnight field trip (I think back on that now and can’t believe we were allowed to do that in 2010), a parent grew afraid when this student snapped at her for asking her to come down from the rafters of a bunk room on a WWII aircraft carrier. Yes - we slept on a warship with a hundred 4th graders and a handful of parents - and I have stories to tell.

Gosh, I loved this kid. She gave a sideways apology and then came to me begging to call her mother. We had only been away from home for about 10 hours, and this girl was longing to have her mom steady her heart and mind. Her mom — who didn’t hold a steady job, couldn’t provide balanced nutrition, and offered questionably abusive correction—was who she needed.

I will never forget that night, or forget listening to their conversation after I handed over my phone. It was blatant proof to me that familial ties are often stronger than any kind of outside support network and the way I perceive the ‘most wholesome environment’ for a child shouldn’t be determined by me or my worldview.

I share all of this to say that when those who are resourced and educated in a vacuum of academia make the rules about child protection, policies and practices can get wonky really quickly.

There are some lovely people who love Jesus. Unfortunately, pure hearts don’t always lead to pure outcomes. The Upwardly Dependent podcast is an invitation for those of us who are courageous enough to explore our blind spots as we enter into the challenges of supporting families and keeping children safe.

Several years ago, my husband and I were speaking at a Missions Day at a Christian school in Alabama. As we were being introduced to a couple there, I showed a family photo…as a proud mother does.

The wife immediately caught her breath and said, “Awwww! I always wanted one!”

I was honestly unsure of what this woman meant, but I had a hunch and felt compelled to make her say it out loud.

“What do you mean?” I asked her. To which she replied, “A Black child. I always wanted one. I really connected with this little girl on our mission trip last year and I just wanted to bring her home with me in my suitcase. Unfortunately, she had a mom and a dad - and her dad was the preacher there!”

She said it. She said THAT quiet part our loud.

There is a pervasive self-righteousness that flows through our Churches when we see ourselves as better, smarter, and more equipped to parent the world’s children than…their actual parents.

It is not only immoral, but it is perpetuating a crisis of institutionalizing the children in the Global South and separating them from their loving families.

You’ll hear many people share that an estimated 80% of children in care around the world are NOT orphans - they have been wrapped up in an impossible system of foreign aid (mostly from North American churches) that has driven the construction and the management of thousands of orphanages worldwide.

In this season of the podcast, we are tackling some of the hardest questions around family preservation and child protection. We will also look at how families are grown not just via adoption, but also foster care, infertility treatments, and surrogacy. These are deeply intimate stories to navigate, where the ethical missteps feel rampant and tricky to avoid.

We’ll talk about transracial and transnational families. We’ll talk about the cracks in our mental health systems and the tragic approach we have taken to policing those with childhood trauma.

And, we’ll talk about theology. Where does empirical, academic evidence line up with biblical mandates to welcome us into the heart of God?

This season is so personal to me. My own journey of learning and questioning is wrapped up in the theme of every episode. I find it important to listen to leaders from both within the Christian community and to experts who may not share our faith.

As an academic, as a Christian, and as a mother - I can humbly share that stepping into the commitment of adoption has revealed some of the darkest parts of my heart I would have never accessed without following an invitation to love children (and adults) from hard places.

I hope the episodes you choose to listen to with push you, challenge you, and evolve you. I hope that the North American church will wrestle with its previously held thoughts around the care of orphaned and vulnerable children. And I hope that we will finally be courageous enough to perfect our love for others in a way that is led by THEIR voices instead of ours.

As always, these conversations will be impossible to have well unless we are "Upwardly Dependent". I look forward to meeting you here.


This excerpt was edited for clarity. Listen to the rest of the episode here and follow the Upwardly Dependent podcast on Spotify.

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