Orphan Prevention? AKA–Battle the Problem Upstream

Orphan Prevention – it’s a phrase, a label that has become much more prevalent in the last few years.     What does it mean?

Many people, when first presented with the term “orphan prevention” think that it’s some sort of “ugly” effort to get rid of unwanted pregnancies.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.    Orphan Prevention exists on three main pillars of thought:

  • Most parents want to take care of their children if they are able.
  • Most extended family wants to take care of their “family” if they are able.
  • Many of the crises that “force” someone into giving up their child for adoption, when one or both of the parents are still living, are relatively temporary  and while crucial and life altering, often could be changed with the right help.

Let’s look at each of those statements in more detail…….

Most parents want to take care of their children if they are able.   Keep in mind, I said MOST.   There are some who don’t want to.DSC01231   There are some who aren’t able to.    There are some who even with a WHOLE LOT OF INTERVENTION would never be able to take care of their child.

I’m not talking about those parents.    I’m talking strictly about the parents who are trying hard, who want to be able to care for their children but due to a variety of circumstances aren’t able to.   What kind of circumstances?   Natural disasters, flood, famine, hurricane.   Man made disasters – genocide, civil war, terrorism,  corruption…..   But also more individual things – like the death of a spouse, the loss of a job, extreme illness just to name a few.    When you are already living day to day (or in some cases, hour to hour), any of these types of things can break a family and force some really tough choices.

Most extended family  want to take care of their “family” if they are able.    Your sister is a single mom (dad isn’t around) and she falls ill and dies, leaving behind two children.   Most extended family want to take care of the children who are part of their family.    So they would take in their nieces or nephews if they are able.   But many of these extended families are barely living hand to mouth and therefore can’t add one more mouth to feed – or more of them will starve, quite literally.

Crises – permanent or temporary?    Are the situations that are forcing the parents to contemplate giving their child up for adoption permanent (the death of a spouse with no housing, no education and no means of support?) or temporary – the loss of a job or a temporary illness or damage to housing due to natural disasters?

5_streetside artOrphan prevention isn’t going to replace adoption.    There will always be, unfortunately, in this fallen world, situations where children need new families because their existing one is no longer functioning.   

But orphan prevention says,  “There are some situations where, given some help, some additional resources, given some time, families can remain together.    They can learn new skills, they can get help rebuilding housing, they can get the medical care they need.   IF POSSIBLE, they should be given every chance and bring their child to an orphanage should be the last resort, not the first option.”

How does orphan prevention work?   It’s messy, it’s hard to measure, it’s different for every family.    But essentially it’s about moving upstream in the problem.   Rather than caring for the children once they have been abandoned, orphan prevention moves upstream and cares for families SO THAT they don’t have to abandon their children.

What can this involve?

  • Education
  • Housing assistance
  • Social Justice
  • Quality health care
  • Job training and placement

All of these are ways that the church in the first world can help upstream in the process and help families stay together.


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