An article in The Atlantic this month highlights the work of CAFO member Palmer Homes, which provides group homes in Columbus, MS for children who’ve lost the care of parents.
“The Modern Orphans of Mississippi” is more cheery and less cynical than one might expect from the often hard-edged journalism of The Atlantic. It offers a glimpse of a deeply caring community that wraps children with both intentionality and affection.
Still, the article doesn’t entirely side-step hard questions that naturally arise in a country that has moved decisively away from orphanages. Palmer Homes, in fact, was near the front edge of that trend in the 1960’s, shifting from large-scale residential care to small, family-like group homes, each with a mother and father.
Today, although the core of their work continues in these group homes, Palmer Homes also places children in foster care. They are also pioneering a new model in which – at no cost to the state – Christian families provide caring foster homes for children whose mothers are incarcerated, until the mother’s release.
The article hints at the debate to be had by thoughtful proponents and critics of group home settings. On the one hand, most child advocates affirm that a permanent, caring family remains the ideal that can never be replaced by any form of congregant care, no matter how family-like. And social science generally finds quality foster care to be preferable to quality residential care for the development and well-being of children. Yet both the daily experiences and the long-term prospects of a child growing up in a place like Palmer Home are often far brighter than those typical of foster care in the U.S. today.
This, many would say, is yet one more example of the tension that advocates for vulnerable children must face. At many times, we reach crossroads at which there is no perfect pathway forward. It’s a painful place to be, and every individual who serves children from difficult places will faces it many times.
But those who choose to persist in serving most often find great joy – both in themselves and reflected in those they serve. That certainly seems to be the case at Palmer Home.