Analysis of THE CHILD CATCHERS — Part II

The book The Child Catchers harshly criticizes the Christian orphan care movement.  The Christian Alliance for Orphans a forthright analysis in its new report, “A Frank Analysis of The Child Catchers.”  You can read the full report HERE.

It’s a 16-page report, so we’re also releasing a number of sections individually.  Here is the next installment:

 Affirming Important Criticisms

As I wrote in an article on the Christian orphan care movement in 2012,

Any movement seeking to reflect God’s heart for justice and mercy is highly vulnerable to excess and error. This is as true of today’s Christian adoption and orphan care advocates as it was of champions of Abolition and Civil Rights. The justice of a cause can easily blind us to folly in our tactics. So it’s always best to begin by listening to criticism, even if it carries major blind spots of its own.

This is where we must always begin. The Child Catchers issues a number of criticism shared by many thoughtful Christian orphan advocates. These include:

1) Underestimating the Hazards of Caring for Orphans

Anyone who dares to engage the world at its most hurting must know this: they will inevitably encounter vexing dilemmas to which there are no easy answers.

This is true with all forms of orphan care, and perhaps adoption most of all. So it is absolutely essential that we speak frankly about the dangers inherent in caring for children. We as a movement need to do this more.

The hazards are many. They range from the risk of disempowering local solutions with western “community development” projects…to potential for labor exploitation and sexual abuse in home-based foster care…to the way orphanages can “pull” children from their impoverished families into well-funded facilities.

When it comes to international adoption, the foremost danger is the potential for U.S. dollars to distort decisions in developing countries regarding what is truly best for a child. The promise, or even hope, of a payment (potentially many times the amount an average annual salary) could twist the thinking of almost anyone, even a child’s parents. So although money will always be necessary to cover the costs of adoption, we must do all we can to create a “firewall” between U.S. dollars and any decision-maker who is determining whether a child will truly be best served by inter-country adoption.

Certainly, errors and unintended consequences will always be part of any effort to respond to deep need. So setting perfection as our standard will ensure one thing only: that no solutions are ever provided at all.

But despite the inevitable blend of helps-and-hazards that adoption and other expressions of orphan care will always carry, we must be relentless in seeking to minimize the potential that well-intended efforts might ultimately work ill.

2) Allowing adoptions when poverty may be the sole cause of relinquishment.

A child should never be given or accepted for adoption if lack of financial resources is the only reason for relinquishment. Some agencies, including Christian ones, have not been as aggressive as they should to ensure this doesn’t happen. The worst actors—particularly unscrupulous middlemen in other countries—have even encouraged it.

Of course, when parents considers relinquishing a child, financial poverty is often entangled with far deeper issues that may not be solvable: a new step parent that wants nothing to do with the child; a pregnant teen who desires to continue her education without having to raise a child; sexual abuse within the home; or other painfully complex matters.

Determining what is truly best for a child in such situations is never easy. But Christian adoptive families and agencies should be known in this field as the most vigilant in seeking to prevent adoptions driven solely by poverty. In such cases, every effort should be made to both persuade and empower the parent to raise the child at home.

3) Failing to respect birth parents

There are three parties to any adoption: the child, the adoptive parents, and the birth parents. But sometimes, especially in the past, this third member of the “adoption triad” has been overlooked or even disparaged. For the Christian, that’s unacceptable.

The decision of a pregnant woman to choose life for her child requires bravery and sacrifice that must be honored. The mother deserves both respect and support before, during and after giving birth—whether she opts for adoption or to parent her newborn. Failure to do provide these is always immoral.

4) Highlighting only the beauty of adoption

Christian adoption advocates at times have been guilty of “adoption cheerleading”: highlighting the joy adoption can bring without equally presenting the potential challenges. This can lead to all manner of ills, with families racing to adopt without preparation for what it takes to help heal a child who has deep wounds. This can be especially hazardous when unprepared families adopt older children, sibling groups or children with special needs.

The Child Catchers catalogues a number of such stories that would make any orphan advocate ache. They remind that any discussion of adopting must

consistently emphasize both its beauty and its challenges. This is true of many other expressions of care for orphans as well, from foster care to mentoring. Whenever we open our lives to a child who has known great hurt, we will taste some of that deep hurt as well.

Adoption agencies and church adoption ministries must focus not just on the process of adopting, but the lifelong journey of adoption that demands both strong preparation in advance and support along the way.

5) Savior Complex

Any effort to help others can quickly become about us. We come to see ourselves as noble rescuers, riding into perilous situations on a white horse. Words we use can perpetuate this narrative, such as “rescuing orphans” and “saving children.”

Of course, these words aren’t bad in themselves: the world is full of children who do need rescue. And there is certainly nothing wrong with taking a robust joy in bringing good to those who desperately need it.

But when the dominant feature of our thinking becomes “us as rescuers,” we’re in grave danger. What often follows is the pride, self-focus and I-know-better outlook that has been at the root of countless misguided efforts to help others, both religious and secular.

Christians have no need to find our identity in being “the rescuer.” We are the rescued. And we must not just say this, but know it. Even our best efforts are simply small, imperfect reflections of the way we’ve first been loved.

Of course, none of these errors are unique to Christians. Criticisms of adoption and orphan care written in the 1990s and early 2000s mention many of the same issues The Child Catchers highlights, yet with no mention of Christians as their cause.

But it is accurate to say that the surge of Christian involvement with adoption and orphan care amplified what challenges already existed, and sometimes gave them a religious edge. Having more people who care about orphans, or any issue, tends to increase both effective responses and poor ones.

Wherever the source of problems and whatever their extent, Christians have every reason to be the most active and most honest in seeking to root them out—both within the movement and beyond it.

Read “A Frank Analysis of The Child Catchers.”