The Most Significant Challenge Facing Adoption in America

Last month, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute issued “Keeping the Promise,” a highly significant report exploring the state of adoption and adoptive families across America.  Although the report was not written from a Christian perspective, in my view it would be hard to overstate the importance of its conclusion for the growing Christian adoption and orphan care movement.

The report affirms a number of highly positive factors.  It notes that over the past fifteen years alone, Americans have provided homes for over a quarter million children who’d been relegated to institutions abroad.  That same period has also seen nearly three-quarters of a million adoptions from foster care.  The report describes, “[W]e have made considerable progress in finding enduring families for girls and boys who have suffered from abuse, neglect, multiple placements, institutionalization and other pre-adoption experiences…”

However, drawing from serious examination of the post-adoption supports available to families that have adopted children from difficult places, the report urges, “[O]ur priority must be not only to achieve permanency, but also to assure that adoptive parents receive the supports they need to raise their children to healthy adulthood.”

I could not agree more.  Especially as Christians, we have every reason to celebrate the wonder of adoption, explore its theological and earthly significance, and highlight the blessing it can be to both child and parent.  We must keep the Gospel always at the very center, as both our motivation and the wellspring of perseverance in difficulty.   But we must also increasingly place a strong accent on both preparation for potential challenges of adoption and provision of support when challenges do arise.  We must not only affirm this need, but also lead in helping to meet it.

Perhaps it may sound overblown, but I believe there is no single factor with greater potential to derail the growing Christian commitment to adoption and foster care than failure in this point.  This is especially true as Christian families increasingly open themselves to the adoption of older and special needs children.  In short, for every enthusiastic but ill-prepared and poorly-supported adoptive family that crashes on the rocks of unanticipated challenges, dozens of others will permanently write off the call to adopt.

This tragedy would not only diminish adoption.  I believe it would also sap the growing vigor for other forms of orphan care, from fostering to global orphan ministry, which have received tremendous attention and energy through families that first woke to the need through adoption.

Although providing some helpful recommendations, the Donaldson report looks primarily to government to meet the gap in supports for adoptive families.  This is understandable, and no doubt government can play a positive role here.  But ultimately, no government program can provide the personal care and practical help that an engaged church community can provide.  Government agencies simply can’t cry with you, pray with you, babysit on Saturdays or even answer the phone after 5 PM most nights.

What a tremendous witness it will be if five years from now a follow-up Donaldson report concludes, “When hurting adoptive family desperately need understanding, care and practical support, the one place they can consistently find it is at a local Christian church.”  This story has yet to be written, and the current gaps are wide in many places.  But I’m hopeful.  As best I can tell, there’s no more important need for Christians who care about adoption.