The Biblical Basis for Family-Based Care
“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
Is God in His holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families…” Psalm 68:5-6
“Man made orphanages for children, but God made the family for children. - Johnny Carr, Orphan Justice
A buzzword like community, diversity, and love that is used so often that the significance it carries has been lost. We’ll have to define it before we dive into family-based care. So what is family? What does this word really mean for vulnerable children and orphans?
Family means the lifelong care of one or more loving adults (biological parent(s), extended family, or adoptive parent(s)). Family means permanence. Family means consistency. Family means provision, both physical and emotional. Family means unconditional love, guidance, discipline, and support.
That is why God’s original plan was that a child would grow up in a family environment. With parents to hold them, feed them, nurture them, and love them. Not just until they turn 18, but for as long as they are alive (remember that children’s book Love You Forever?). There is a permanence to family that is unique. Within biological family, this looks like the responsibility of parents to love and care for a child as they grow up and continue to love and support them once they move out and into the world. This love is not dependent upon what a child says or does or even on how the parents feel. Parents love children because they are. Their mere existence and connection is enough reason for most parents to love their children deeply. They share the same blood, and their stories are inextricably woven together. Loving anyone is costly. Within a family context, these costs are not just financial but also emotional.
Consider what it cost God to bring us back into his family - yet He loved us so much that he was willing to do it in order to adopt us, so that we might be called sons and daughters. Beloved children. He was willing to pay the ultimate price to call us family. Not because of our behavior, not because we deserve it, but because God is good and He loves us. He says we are worth it. We see the ultimate picture of love in the death of Jesus Christ, and because of this we know that our God is love (1 John 4:8).
With family - biological or adoptive - there is a vital piece of identity that cannot be denied. The shared life, shared time, and shared connection cannot be replicated. Being a parent means loving a child no matter the costs, because they are worth it. In a biological family, shared blood, shared culture, and shared life give a child a sense of belonging. While an adopted child does not share these things with their new parents, the costs, process, and intentionality of adoption demonstrate to a child that they are worth it, so they are being welcomed into a home - for life - despite the costs and challenges. Welcomed to be loved, disciplined, guided and supported as if they shared the same blood. Permanence and identity; unconditional love no matter the cost.
This is what family looks like and why we strive to see others come to know the love of Christ and see them set into permanent families. The concept of family-based care holds that care in a permanent, loving family- ideally the biological family- is the best outcome for every child. When this is not possible, extended family and adoptive families become the next best options (or in some cases, short-term foster care if it is not possible to send a child back until things change in the home or in the family’s situation). While this is a high and difficult calling, these challenges do not give us permission to stop striving for the best for every child. Unfortunately, in the realities of our broken world, the ideal of family is not always the reality for children. Sometimes the best that can be achieved, at least in the moment, is foster care or care in a high quality family-style small group home.
Permanence. Identity. Unconditional love. This is what family means. Modern psychosocial science (we’ll cover this in a future blog post) and Scripture both point to family as the environment in which a child thrives. As we’ve examined in earlier blog posts, there is significant need for prevention and intervention work on behalf of “widows and orphans” (check out these posts here and here). This work is difficult and costly. Yet every dollar and every minute fighting for a child’s right to family is worth it. Because family is worth it. God showed us how much we are worth in His eyes by bringing us into His family, and He calls us to share His love for others in the same way.
We believe that our God is a God who desires to see every child know the love and permanence of family. There are many battles to be fought in family-based care. Some must work to intervene and prevent children from being separated from families by providing social services to vulnerable families and communities. Still some must do the important transformative work of advocacy and education, pushing for adoption and foster care in local churches to see the lonely set in families. On top of that, some must respond to the immediate needs of thousands of children in institutions, by ensuring that their care is excellent and their stay is temporary.
Everyone has a role to play in the fight for family, and God invites all of us to seek justice, defend the oppressed, take up the cause of the fatherless, and plead the case of the widow. While there is a long, uphill battle in front of all of us working in orphan care both globally and in Guatemala, all of it is worth it, because every child is worth it and family is worth it.