An All-Too-Rare Example of Contention Moving Toward Consensus

The current Christianity Today spotlights the ongoing shift in orphan care today – from orphanage-centered programs toward solutions that enable care within families. The title reads, “Why Christians are Abandoning the Orphanage.”

As with so many debates today, this topic can quickly devolve into animosity among warring camps. On the one hand, it’s not entirely a bad thing that people are so passionate about vulnerable kids that they’re willing to argue about how best to care for them. On the other, it’s a tragedy if we can’t recognize that every person who cares deeply about children is a kindred spirit, even if we don’t agree on all the specifics as to how.

It is a tragedy if we can’t recognize that every person who cares deeply about children is a kindred spirit…

So I’m truly encouraged by how many Christians are bringing a unique and unifying voice to this contentious discussion. Many Christian leaders are true champions of family-based care…while also affirming the vital contributions of residential care providers and helping them cultivate solutions that move ever closer to the ideal of family.

The Christianity Today article itself – despite its somewhat provocative title – works hard to do just that. It highlights some of the many efforts today led by Christians to grow family-based solutions and affirms why they matter so much. But it also acknowledges some of the subtle challenges often overlooked when promoting family-based care.

This is how the CAFO community – amidst its great diversity – has long sought to approach this issue. As expressed in the CAFO “Core Principles”:

THE PRIORITY OF FAMILY. Both Scripture and social science affirm that the best environment for children is a safe, permanent family.   When this is not possible, the goal for each child should be – as a general rule – to move as far as possible along the “spectrum of care” toward permanent family. Care for children should always be as safe, nurturing and as close to family as is feasible for the given situation.

This principle provides a clear prioritization as organizations seek the very best solution for each child. As described in “On Understanding Orphan Statistics,” this includes family preservation, family reunification, and family creation/expansion (through adoption).

At the same time, the Christianity Today article spotlights how therapeutic group settings can play an essential role helping children heal. It also alludes to the harm that can occur when transition to family care is rushed as a fix-all solution or causes the destruction, rather than improvement, of existing infrastructure currently caring for children.

As the CAFO “Core Principles” also express:

Care within a family is our unequivocal ideal for children.  Yet, we also honor the devoted care and protection provided by many quality residential facilities.  We further recognize the essential role therapeutic group settings can play in the healing of children with extensive needs.  We urge new programs to prioritize family-based care. We also encourage existing residential programs to move as close as possible to the ideal of family, and to promote family-based solutions whenever possible.

Debates over residential care for children will likely continue for years. Amidst it all, Christian leaders can help build a strong consensus that champions family as God’s best for children and models how to enable that … while also honoring and aiding the faithful women and men who’ve lovingly served children in residential care for decades.

I see this consensus vision growing strong in the CAFO community, which just a few years ago was much more deeply divided over this issue. Over time, I believe this respectful, nuanced approach — strong in both clear ideals and realism — can serve as an example to the entire field of what it looks like to grow from contention to consensus.