by Beth Spitzer, member of Bethesda Lutheran Church, Hot Springs, South Dakota and Vice President of Hot Springs Area Right to Life
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
I am “Auntie Beth” to a nine-year-old nephew adopted from Russia and an eight-year-old niece adopted from the Philippines. I love them dearly, and they bring great joy to my husband and me. Because of my experience watching my brother and sister-in-law navigate the adoption process, I have become aware of the plight of orphans and the needs of adoptive families. I hope this article will help to make the Church more aware of those needs.
The first thing I would like to address is the cost of adoption—with international adoption being the costliest. My nephew’s adoption cost around $55,000, and my niece’s adoption was around half that. Expenses include the adoption agency application, home study, dossier preparation, child match, visas, background checks, psychological exams, shots, fingerprinting, passports, and travel. The only way these adoptions were made financially possible was through help from family and friends and a few adoption grants.
Knowing that my sister-in-law was able to get some help through adoption grants led me to create an adoption grant for our county through Hot Springs Area Right to Life. I encourage other For Life organizations to offer adoption grants. Go ahead and use our template—it would be an honor! (All funds are dispersed directly to the adoption agency.)
Through Hot Springs Area Right to Life, I also organized foster care and adoption seminars. We had an adoptive parent and a foster parent talk about their experiences, and a social worker talked about the process for becoming a foster parent or adoptive parent.
The least expensive way to adopt is through the foster care system. Some people who are adoption-minded become foster parents and then end up adopting a child or children whom they are fostering. If international adoption feels overwhelming, foster care may be another option. The need for foster families is great. In South Dakota, for example, there are over 1,500 children in need of foster care.
After the adoption and the child is home, the needs do not end. In the case of my nephew and niece, both have special needs. My nephew has fetal alcohol syndrome along with learning disabilities, and my niece has cerebral palsy, which makes walking without assistance nearly impossible. For these reasons they might be considered unique adoptees. What does not make them unique adoptive children is their history of trauma and attachment issues.
James, brother of Jesus, did not call the need for orphan care a possibility. He called the need for orphan care a fact—a given: “orphans … in their affliction.” It doesn’t matter what kind of loving home the child may be in now. These orphans have a history that can’t be forgotten or ignored. This is true even of newborn babies. Trauma affects the brain physically, and that affects these children’s behavior.
Due to their special needs, my sister-in-law chose to stay home. Both children have needed medical specialists, therapists, and special educators to be involved, all which cost money. But even more than that is the support system that is needed. The journey of adoptive parents is hard. Unless you have walked that path, you will have a difficult time understanding the depth of despair that adoptive families can face.
My sister-in-law feels strongly that adoption is a special vocation. Even if it isn’t everyone’s, everyone can help and support. Christians in the Church can serve the cause in a variety of ways. Here are some suggestions for simple ways you can help: provide meals, ask how you can pray for them (and then really listen and take it seriously), and don’t expect adoptive parents to do extra volunteer duties in the church. Another way to help is to get trained in ways to help foster and adoptive families. Two wonderful organizations that can help with this are Project 1.27 and the Christian Alliance for Orphans.
Attachment issues are among the biggest issues that often come along with adoption. A child’s behavior is greatly connected to healthy attachments. Because that attachment has been disrupted in the life of an adopted child, a healthy adoptive parent will work on attachment with their child for the rest of their lives. When an adoptive child first comes into the home, that family is going to need to “cocoon” for a while to provide the necessary time to bond with that child. Congregational members should not assume they can hold that newly adopted baby, but should be respectful of parents who are trying to build a bond with their child.
In addition, for many children of trauma and/or with fetal alcohol syndrome, negative and positive reinforcement are not effective. Rewards do not work because they cause too much anxiety for the child. Like an adult with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), these children can operate in a hyper arousal state which affects their brain and hormones. Having some understanding of this will hopefully help people realize that they should not judge the parent by the child’s behavior or blame the parent for the child’s behavior.
While I know this article has laid out some heavy information, I pray it has also lit a fire and helped to reveal the need for adoptive families. My niece and nephew are precious. Their giggles are one of my favorite things in the world. As I was interviewing my sister-in-law, she kept telling me how God provides. He has done that over and over again in big and small ways. One December, a man—a stranger—pulled up to my sister-in-law as she was on a walk and handed her a Christmas card through his truck window. When she opened it, there was a $50 bill inside. This was at a time when she needed reassurance that proceeding with the adoption was the right thing to do. She says it was like God was telling her, “Oh, daughter, you have no idea how I can provide. Trust in me. I have this handled.”
For additional resources, my sister-in-law recommends authors Karyn Purvis, Heather Forbes, Sherrie Eldridge, Bryan Post, and Dan Siegel. For specific books, she recommends What Every Adoptive Parent Needs to Know: Healing Your Child’s Wounded Heart by Kate Cremer-Vogel and Dan & Cassie Richard and Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child by Patty Gogen. Also recommended was the Facebook page “Parenting with Connection.”