By Shannon Dingle
A reader gently asked me this, and I immediately understood what she meant. I’ve written about trauma and attachment difficulties, and I’ve written about permanent brain changes resulting from institutionalization at an early age. I wrote a whole post about how “all kids do that” dismisses the hard histories that have shaped some of the behavioral responses our children show. I’m speaking soon at the Global Access Conference about the special needs of foster and adoptive families.
So, yes, I can see how it might seem like I’m saying that kids in foster or adoptive placements are broken while other kids are whole. That’s not what I’m saying, though, so I want to take a moment to clarify.
We are all broken. In Genesis 1, we see a perfect world in which everything God created was good. In the absence of sin, everything in the garden would have stayed good and pure and right and perfect. In the garden, adoption and foster care would never be necessary because no parents would die or be unable to care for their children or get sick or abuse their offspring or be coerced into giving up parental rights or neglect the ones born to them or give birth to a child outside of a loving and safe family environment.
But then we know what comes later in that book and what effects the first sin and all the ones that came after, including yours and mine, have reaped on this world. The need for adoption and foster care is one result of the brokenness of this world, and those of us parenting children who entered our home through adoption or foster care see daily the impact of that particular kind of brokenness.
But all of us are broken. I see the impact of other kinds of brokenness when the daughter who grew in my womb comes home in tears because someone made fun of her hair and when a healthcare professional rudely said “What’s wrong with him? Get it together, hon,” to my son whose sensory issues were manifesting a meltdown that didn’t seem age appropriate. I see it in the slumped shoulders and quivering lips of my dear ones when I lose my temper and yell at them instead of respectfully addressing whatever issues are at hand. I see it in our marriage, when a disagreement can escalate because I tend to shout more because that’s what my family did growing up while my husband withdraws more because that’s the behavior he learned at home.
It’s true, though, that I often write and speak specifically about brokenness in adoption and foster care. That observation is valid. We at Key Ministry are seeing an increase in the number of families telling us of challenges in church involvement after adopting and foster care, an uptick in the number of churches asking for help in including these families well, and – in Steve’s case as a child psychiatrist – a rise in the number of families seeking professional help for the children who entered their homes through adoption or foster care. At the same time, we’re seeing positive stories shared without the challenges (often because sharing those wouldn’t be respectful to the children involved), sermons about the need for orphan care with no comment on the difficulties that may arise, and memes that romanticize and glamourize the brokenness that leads to adoption or foster care.
Do I love adoption and foster care? Yes. Do I think the church ought to be involved in both locally and globally, as well as family preservation efforts to prevent their need? Certainly.
But I also want to make sure we’re telling the whole story. I’m not saying “don’t adopt” or “stop it with those memes” but rather standing in the gap between Hallmark movie versions of adoption/foster care and the hard realities that sometimes persist after placement. I’m saying “we’re all broken, but it seems like we’re glossing over this kind particular kind of brokenness.”
As Christians, we are people of the Truth, so let’s act like it by telling the whole story and loving children and families in the midst of both the beauty and the brokenness of adoption and foster care.
This week at the Global Access Conference, presented by Joni & Friends, Shannon will be leading a session titled The Special Needs of Foster and Adoptive Families. There she will share five specific ways your church can make itself a safe place for these children and teens, drawing from her experience as a special educator, a disability ministry leader, a church consultant for Key Ministry, and a mom of six children, four of whom joined their family through special needs adoption.
In order to provide you with high quality, current content that is relevant to your journey, we’re proud to announce that we’ve partnered with several child welfare leaders including Key Ministry and their blog Church4EveryChild! You’ll have the opportunity of learning from dynamic thought leaders in Special Needs Ministry.