Why Family-Based Care Makes Financial Sense
In our efforts to understand how to best implement family-based care initiatives here in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, one fact that has been both surprising and encouraging is that in general it is much cheaper than traditional responses to the global orphan crisis (a.k.a. orphanages and children’s homes). Through the family-based care lens, addressing this crisis means starting with its root causes rather than the problems it creates. While both are vitally important, and as we’ve written before first-responders to children and family in crisis are absolutely necessary, the reality is that prevention and intervention before the crisis occurs save lots of money and heartache.
One term that I’ve heard used quite frequently as we’ve delved into all this is “Kingdom dollars” - that is, dollars provided by God through the generosity of His followers to be used to do His will and serve His Kingdom purposes here on earth. This term carries with it the weight of responsibility we have in using our resources as responsibly and transformatively as we can as we look to do justice and accompany the widow and orphan in their distress. I believe wholeheartedly in God’s wonderful provision for all our needs, so when questions of finance come in usually what I’m thinking is not “will we be able to get enough money for this?”, but rather “how do we use this money - whatever amount it may be - to serve the Kingdom in a responsible, transformative, and sustainable way?”
From the outside, large-scale residential options like children’s homes and orphanages seem like they would make a lot of financial sense. You can buy lots of things in bulk, you receive donations, you can have lots of children sharing the same rooms, many things can be shared between children and rooms, etc. In reality, there are many hidden costs that go unnoticed. Upkeep for a large facility is extremely expensive and time-consuming, paying for adequate staffing is expensive, re-hiring due to staff turnover often requires large payouts and time and resources spent re-training these new staff, and making sure the light and water bills are paid can be a constant battle (trust us, we know).
The reality is that through prevention and intervention (family-strengthening) and alternative family-based options (reunification, foster care and adoption), huge amounts of money are saved. This money can then be poured back into these services that work towards reducing the strain on families, the government, the Church, and communities to try to put the pieces back together when a family falls apart. A research study by EveryChild UK on scaling back large-scale residential facilities found that “large-scale residential care is twice as expensive as small group homes, three to five times more expensive than foster care and around eight times more expensive than providing social services-type support to vulnerable families.”
The most cost-efficient strategy in addressing this crisis is to make sure we remember to start at the root: the family. When families are strong, communities are strong. And when communities are strong, countries are strong. By making sure families have all they need to thrive and access to basic services when they fall on hard times, we can save huge amounts of resources to continue to pour into our efforts to serve more and more families like them. Even in looking at alternative options, the reason we are working towards foster care and adoption is that not only are they generally safer, more transformative, and more permanent (in the case of adoption) for a child, but they also save money, meaning we can help more children and families.
The goal here isn’t to villainize large-scale residential care options. In the current state of things, they remain absolutely necessary in the global orphan crisis. However, as we seek to see stronger families and communities, the sort of family-based care options we’ve begun to pursue are more sustainable for these families, children, and communities. Not only that, but they lessen the load and alleviate the financial burden that falls on the Church, the government, and NGOs, allowing them to develop more sustainable models for the services they provide. While there is certainly a need for orphanages now, one day we hope that will no longer be the reality. That’s what we’re working towards, and that’s what we’re putting our resources towards.
So when we look at how to serve vulnerable children and families, it is important for us to ask: “What is sustainable? What is responsible? And what is transformative?” In this way, we can ensure that we are doing all we can to help as many as we can and create ripples of social change in the context we are working in. Whether we find ourselves in plenty or in want, we must always ask these questions. Kingdom dollars are certainly a blessing and a gift, but they are also a divine responsibility.