Orphan Care: The Long Road

Guest ColumnistCommunity News

By Jenna Hayden

Orphan Sunday is coming on November 8th. At SBCC, we will also take part in this during regular church service times, featuring elements led by Community ONE:27.  Community ONE:27 is an orphan care ministry of Santa Barbara Community Church. The goal is to create an orphan care culture that encourages foster care and adoption but includes every member of the church in some capacity with wrap-around care for these kids and families who stand in the gap. To date, over 50 children have been fostered and/or adopted through our church. Our church has been involved in God’s mandate to all believers through James 1:27: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

There are a myriad of ways to look after orphans. People from the church have committed to fostering and adopting. Members of the church through homegroups, women’s ministry, and individually have supported these families in innumerable and truly beautiful ways. In my role of leadership in this ministry I have seen miraculous things occur that have deepened my love for the church as designed by a wise God. I feel like our church has accomplished well the commitment to take in and love the kids who have been adopted and who are being fostered.  I think of this level of success as “The Acquisition.” It reminds me of people who become birth parents who once were not parents.

Today, I want to encourage the church to see the longer-term picture for our orphan care culture. It’s like the day you, as a parent of a young one, realize that this parenting gig will last 18 long years and even for the rest of your life. I want to encourage the church to be successful in the next level, what I call, “The Long Road.”

You see, kids who come from foster care and those who are adopted from anywhere for any reason have experienced trauma. It is traumatic enough to become an orphan by losing loving parents to sickness and death. Changing primary caregivers or changing culture and language and home environment is traumatizing.  Even more traumatic is the added complexity that occurs when the experiences of abuse, neglect, or abandonment of a child come from the child’s primary caregiver.  Complex trauma at the hands of the primary caregiver creates deep challenges with trusting people in relationship. The process of recovery from loss of relational trust and helping a child who experiences complex trauma can take many years or even a lifetime. Early exposure to chronic or complex trauma has been shown to affect neurodevelopment and has a biological impact. It can impact cognitive, emotional, and behavioral development, social and moral development, and a child’s sense of self value and trust of others.

And yet, each fostered and adopted child is an individual with their own story. Some are by nature more or less sensitive to the trauma that they experienced. Some are more resilient than others. Some were adopted earlier which minimized the trauma of what could have been. Some came from a sterile and less nurturing orphanage while others may have come from a poverty-stricken orphanage with consistent caregivers who deeply valued the preciousness of the individual children. Some foster and adopted children respond with greater trust and flexibility to their foster or adoptive families than others. Some have one foster or adoptive home and others have their trust broken 20 times as they bounce from one home to another. Some are born academically gifted and others are athletic, while others have mental illness. Some of these differences reflect the uniquenesses of an individual born into any birth family. And…the unique challenges that come from early trauma in foster and adopted kids are often an extraordinary additional hurdle for the child and caregiving family to overcome. Local data across the US reports that from 6-26% percent of adopted children are returned to public agencies because the adoption does not work out, child welfare experts say. When children have special needs, including emotional and physical handicaps, the failure rate is even higher. (See http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/933605.) While permanency such as adoption is a factor that benefits foster children, adoption alone does not heal all of the issues that arise from early trauma.

Secular research shows that foster youth have the best outcomes in a family home over an institution like a group home. And the best outcomes, by far, occurred in faith-based homes. The foster and adoptive family that is committed to faith values and supported by an involved church provide the best possibility for healthy recovery from early trauma.

Some families of our church have been involved adoptive parents for many years. Being an advocate for the needs of a child who has special needs due in part to the trauma of their past is an exhausting lifetime calling. It is 24/7 and parenting lasts, in some capacity, forever. It is expensive, time consuming and emotionally complex, and if the child has more extreme challenges they may not live independently at any point. And so I am asking us as a church to lean in and wrap around and commit to the long haul with the families of our church who have fostered and adopted. Many adopted youth are years into their process of early trauma recovery and still need great patience and wisdom regarding their early trauma by teachers, homegroups, family friends, Sunday school leaders, mentors, and others. They still need to develop trust in relationships and they still need to feel safe in all circumstances. The families still need a caring friend and respite, and some still need good trauma-informed trust-based therapy, all these years later. And that is the orphan care culture I’m asking this supportive church to be, even years after adoption, to the families in our midst.

And just for the record, with all the honest challenges that I just relayed, I am still a devoted advocate for recruiting families to foster and adopt the precious waiting children. Almost everyday I ask God if it is time for our family to take in another one. For those who don’t know us, Josh and I are parents to five children right now, two through adoption. Nothing has grown my relationship with God or spiritual perseverance like my involvement in orphan care.

God bless us as we work through the stuff in our church that isn’t tidy. On behalf of foster and adoptive families in our church and community I want to thank you for your prayer, support of orphan care ministries and ongoing effort in so many ways to bring safety, trust, and healing to waiting children in our community. For more information or questions about Community ONE:27 or foster care, adoption or wrap around care please contact Jenna Hayden at or Tracy Wilcox at or Benji Bruneel at .