Thoughts from an Ordinary Guy

This journey through life is never boring......

Month: March 2015 (page 2 of 4)

I didn’t think so…… But I see what you mean……

Continuing the train of thoughts on things that I’ve learned in the last 12 years, today, we’re going to discuss why it’s important to discuss things.

No I mean why it’s important for organizations to discuss thing.

Was it important to discuss things 12 years ago?    I didn’t think so.

But now it is…….

With their supporters.    With their staff.   With the people they serve.   With their board.   With social media.

Way back when I was a kid, missionaries and development and aid organizations could get by with publishing a 2 time a year “newsletter” and that would be enough information for their supporters.

That doesn’t work any more.    The age of instant communication changed that.

International aid organizations are no longer “over there.”    Instead, they are now “right here.”  (Points at computer screen).    You can find out about something that is happening “over there” often times almost as quickly as someone who is there.

“Who is your neighbor?”    The list of people who qualify as your neighbor just got a lot bigger.     Your neighbor now includes:

  • Christians in Syria
  • Children in Haiti
  • Kidnapped girls in Nigeria
  • Survivors in Vanuatu
  • Underprivileged kids on the streets of New York – (Thank you HONY)

If we, “back here” have a much greater and closer view of our neighbors “over there” it also means we have a greater view and insight into the organizations that are helping or attempting to help.

Organizations “over there” no longer have the ability to hide things.   They no longer have the ability to tell the story the way they want it told.   There are too many people on Twitter, on Facebook and Instagram who are telling the story of their town in their way.

So what does that mean?   What does it mean for organizations that are working “over there.”   (And over there could be  down the street)……

It means that transparency is a must.   Complete and honest openness about what is happening, the good, the bad, the ugly, the failures, the successes – it all needs to be an open book.

It means that education is more important than ever.   Supporters are expecting to understand what they are supporting.    They are expecting to see accountability.    They understand that realities in Chicago might be different than realities in Midland Kansas – but they want to know.   They understand that priorities change and rule change and governments change – but they want to know.

It means that “I’m the expert, trust me,” doesn’t work any more.   Because if someone is interested in making a difference in what your organization is doing, they are probably also watching and caring about what ____ and _____ are doing.    So, if you just say, “trust me” then you run a big risk of them moving their support down the road and helping another organization.

Was communication and transparency important 12 years ago?   I didn’t think so.

But I do now……..

Tom

 

So…….

So, there’s this family in Arkansas that tried to adopt a couple of girls from the foster care system.   If you don’t know anything about it, Google “Arkanas Adoption” and you’ll read a lot about it.

And there are a lot of facts and a lot of fiction going on.  I don’t know what  the truth is.  

But I do know that the “guy” who “took” the girls when this family couldn’t handle them is now in jail for doing really bad things – to the girls.

And there are people that are saying, “We need to pass a law.”

And there are other people saying, “We tried to prevent this but they wouldn’t listen.”

And there are other people who supposedly said, “If you abandon these girls back to the state of Arkansas, you run the risk of losing your other children too.”   And those people supposedly were part of the department in the government that has the authority to do that.

And there are other people who saying,  “If they had asked for help……”

Here’s what I do know about this whole sad “problem:”

  • Just like with biological children, there are no guarantees on how an adopted child will grow and “turn out.” 
  • There is a higher likelihood, given the losses and trauma that an adopted child has been through, that they will have struggles and will struggle more than most biological children.
  • Parents are human.    We can only do so much.
  • Adoptive parents are not super heroes.   REPEAT AFTER ME, “ADOPTIVE PARENTS ARE NOT SUPERHEROES.”
  • When an adopted child “acts out,” it is not because they are bad, it is because they are wounded.   They suffered, in most cases, more losses, abandonment and abuse than anyone other than war survivors will ever have to endure.
  • “Coming home” is not the “end” of the adoption story, it’s the beginning.    That’s when the real work – the work about becoming a family, learning trust, learning what it means to love and be loved – that’s when that starts.
  • This was a tragedy that could have been avoided.

It really bothers me when people write blog posts, articles etc. and all they do is complain or talk about what the problem is – without talking about solutions.   I had a boss many many years ago who refused to listen to a problem UNLESS we also had a resolution to the problem that we were proposing.    “Here’s the problem _________ and here’s what I think we should do about it __________________________”

With that being said, here’s my suggestions on what “we” should do to prevent these type of tragedies from happening again:

  • The  government should make it illegal for a state to remove a child from a home if the only evidence of a problem in the house is problems with another child in the home.   In other words, if Joe Smith has 3 kids and two are doing relatively fine but the third one is a hazard to the lives of all in the home, the state can only assist in providing residential care for the troubled child.    Coming to the state for assistance in times of desperation can not cause a parent to risk losing their other children.
  • Practical trauma education needs to happen in schools, in adoption agencies, in government foster care licensing programs.   We have to do better at teaching parents, prospective parents, teachers and social workers on the practical every day impacts that early childhood trauma can have to a child as they grow up and move into middle school, high school and beyond.    This can not be merely education about brain development, it has to also include practical,  “Here’s what it could look like” and “here’s some ideas in how to help kids through it and how to help them grow so they can manage it.”
  • Everyone involved in adoptions and orphan care need to acknowledge and promote the concept that we can no longer live with the “Happily Ever After” Stigma.   It has to be okay to admit that there are struggles and we have to stand united with those who are suffering – and encourage them to be open about their needs and their pain.
  • Adoption agencies and foster care licensing programs need to be a lot more blunt and a lot more open about the struggles in adoption and foster parenting – and be prepared that there will be a substantial number of parents who will say, “I can’t do that” and will walk away from the program.    That’s actually a good thing – because if a parent doesn’t know their limits, then the likelihood of problems increases.   If this particular couple in Arkansas had listened to others who told them that they had concerns about whether these two were too troubled for them, would it have changed the outcome?    I believe it would.
  • The church needs to change its message.   No more of the “adoption is the answer and everyone should adopt.”   Instead the message should be –  “Everyone should care about orphans and disadvantaged children – but not everyone should do everything.”    The church should then present ways “beyond adoption” to help – orphan prevention, supporting adoptive families, respite care, the list is endless.

Was this mess in Arkansas a tragedy?   Yes it was.   The system failed these kids, adults failed these kids and the stack of “bad things” they need to work through grew higher and higher.

Does this have to happen again?  

No.

But it will.  

But you and I can do something about it.   Want to help?  Got ideas on how we can change things?   See that “contact me” button the right side?    Fill that in and let’s talk.

Tom

Four Siblings, Adoption and a Story

I’m going to tell you a story about 4 siblings who I’ve never met.

A friend of mine, upon hearing that I’m now working with The Adoptive Family Support Network, told me the story of his wife’s siblings.    Here’s how the story goes……

For a number of years, she (we’ll call her Sue) was an only child.   She was appropriately spoiled as the only child in a “middle class” American family.     Her parents then decided to adopt one child from another country.    A relatively short time after that, her parents were approached by the adoption agency – they had a sibling group of three from the same country that they needed a family for.   Would they consider taking these  kids as well?

They did.    So, Sue went from being an only child to being the oldest of 5 children.

Four of whom had to learn a new language to fit in.    Who had to adjust to a new culture.   Who had to figure out a new society, city and family.

Overall, the process went relatively smooth.    Big adjustments were made on all sides.   But everyone settled in and life went on.   Crazier, noisier, busier but life went on.    From all sides, life seemed to be “okay.”

And then the adopted kids hit their 20s.    And the wheels fell off.

Problems surfaced.   Struggles ensued.   Identity issues, birth family questions, abandonment feelings.   They all bubbled to the surface.    And the kids (now adults) all chose to deal with the issues differently.    And many of the choices were not therapeutic and not productive.

So why am I telling you this story?   My friend, let’s call him Fred, told me this and said that Sue’s “takeaway” from the experiences of her siblings and her whole family can be described in one sentence:

“If you, or your family, find yourself in a situation where the likelihood of mental or emotional struggles are greater than average, don’t wait until it’s too late to seek professional help.”  

If there is anyone in your family who has been adopted, you fit that category.

If there is anyone in your family who has experienced any other significant trauma, you fit that category.

If there is anyone in your family who has been the victim of or witnessed significant violence, you fit that category.

If there is anyone in your family who has been through significant medical illnesses or conditions that require significant hospitalizations, you fit in that category.

Don’t assume that everything is fine.

Don’t assume that there are no scars.

Assume that there are scars and treat them.    You’ll be better off if you do…….

TJV

 

I Didn’t Think So – it’s only 8/147th’s of the answer

One of the many things that I’ve learned in the last 12 years is about how churches should care for orphans.    And my thinking on it has changed 100%.

I used to think, “We need to get more kids adopted – there are way too many orphans in the world.”   At one point, I even had a T-Shirt that said,  “147,000,000 Orphans” on the front and “feed one” on the back.

And guess what – there are way too many orphans in the world.    There are way too children who don’t have families.     And we need to find families for them.

Absolutely 100% that is true and I still believe that to be true.

But I stopped wearing the 147,000,000 orphans shirt.

Why?   Because there really aren’t 147,000,000 orphans.    A substantial number of those orphans aren’t really orphans.

They have at least one living parent who is willing to love and care for them.     But in many cases, that living parent can’t take care of them and that’s why they are at an orphanage.

“The Church” (huge generalization) seems to want to ignore that fact and look at it in a way that says, “There are 147,00,000 orphans in the world that need families.”  “If every church in North America would adopt ____ children, the problem would be solved.”

I don’t think so.

Estimates are that only 8 to 13 million of them are true orphans who lost all family and need a new family (or for a variety of reasons, there family is not willing to care for them.)

What’s up with the rest?    The rest of them are “poverty orphans.”

These are children who have a family.   They have someone who wants to take care of them, they have someone who is related to them who wants to keep them.    But they are struggling and need some help.

But that help is messy.   It’s hard to measure, it’s hard to quantify, it’s hard to see.    If you have two cute little girls from Ethiopia in your church every Sunday morning, you can see, talk to and watch the difference.   It’s not so easy with orphan prevention.

It’s hard to see how a job training program helps prevent orphans.

It’s hard to see how a recycling program can provide food and medicine for children.

It’s hard to see how……..

It’s great that many churches have “adoption ministries.”     But using the numbers above, that’s only 8/147th’s of the problem.   For every 8 children who are actually orphans, 139 more have family, they just need help.

Remember what Jesus said about the cup of cold water?   Yeah, that.

To 139 million children.    That would be true orphan prevention.

Is it easy?

I don’t think so.

But it’s important.   Because these children and their families depend on us.

I used to think that adoption was the whole answer to the problem of children who are “orphans.”

I don’t think so any more.   Now I think it’s part of the answer – but God calls us to so much more.

And families depend on us.

Churches – change the name of your adoption ministry to an “orphan care” ministry.   Because adoption is part of the answer.

But it’s not the whole answer.

Tom

 

 

I didn’t think so – Part 2 – Adoption Agencies

As I continue this series of looking back at what I’ve learned over the years, today I’m going to pick on some people that I know and love and a lot of them that I really respect.     So, take this in the manner it’s intended – some honest thoughts about struggles and weaknesses that many organizations have.

Let’s talk about adoption agencies.   12 years ago, if you had asked me this question,  “Do adoption agencies ever do things that aren’t in the best interest of the kids they are supposed to care for?”

My immediate response would have been,  “I don’t think so!”

I thought, at that point, that adoption agencies are totally selfless, always looking out for the kids, always doing what’s right, always putting the needs of the kids first.   I thought, also, that adoption agencies and the people who work at adoption agencies were the experts.   They always knew what they were talking about, they always knew what was the best thing to do for the kids and also knew how to navigate the system in the best way possible for the best outcome.

Let’s face it, I was naive.  I didn’t have a solid view of what was really happening.   I know a lot more now than I did then.   And I know that there are a lot of really good people who work for adoption agencies.    And there are a lot of really good agencies who are doing a lot of really good things.

But, I’ve also learned some things that aren’t so positive about adoption agencies.   Things that I didn’t know about when I started down this road of life.   Please note, these are general thoughts and are not aimed at one particular agency or any person in specificity…….

  • Adoption agencies quite often focus on only two thirds of the parties involved in an adoption – there are the birth parents, the child and the adoptive parents.    For the adoptive parents to be able to or need to adopt a child, something has to happen to the birth parent.    That “something” is either death or extreme sadness and tragedy.    Adoption agencies don’t do nearly well enough in acknowledging that portion of the triad and helping everyone deal with the issues and the ramifications that might have in the future.   This is most common in international adoptions, less common in foster care adoptions and even less of an issue in domestic infant adoptions.
  • Adoption agencies want families for “their” children and tend to under prepare their adoptive parents for the challenges that adoptive parenting might bring.   I couldn’t tell you how often adoptive parents have told me, “My agency never warned me that………. could happen.”    That’s not fair to the parents, that’s not fair to the child and it causes a lot more heartache and wounded souls than it should.
  • Sometimes money causes or encourages adoption agencies to do things that are, in the long run counter productive.
  • Adoption agency staff don’t know everything.    Well, that’s a pretty obvious one, isn’t it?    I mean, they aren’t perfect, they are human too.
  • Adoptive parents who are waiting for their child(ren) would rather hear, “I don’t know, let me find out and get back to you” than they would to hear a “guess” that ends up being wrong.
  • Adoptive parents in process would also rather hear,  “I don’t have anything new to report” than to not have their questions responded to.
  • Adoption agencies should stop talking about unicorns, rainbows and butterflies.    Happily ever after rarely happens.   Deal with it, prepare for it and go make someone’s life better.
  • Adoption is only one piece of the puzzle on how to solve the orphan crisis.    It’s a crucial piece of the puzzle but it’s not the whole answer.    So adoption agencies should not act like they are the total answer to the entire problem.

Am I against adoption?    Absolutely not.   I believe that every child needs a family, every child deserves a family and there are many times where a child’s biological family is no longer able to be that family for them.   That’s when adoption is needed and is a wonderful thing.

Am I against adoption agencies?   Absolutely not.    They do very important work and the vast majority of them do it extremely well.

But there are many things that I know about adoption agencies now that I didn’t know 12 years ago.    And most of those things would have been good to know.

Tom

 

 

Older posts Newer posts