Adoption is NOT “the answer” to the Orphan Crisis

Prior to doing any sort of serious research, I naively believed that adoption was “the answer” to the global orphan crisis. I heard there were some 143 million orphans around the world so naturally, I thought adoption was the solution to the problem.

Oh ye of little knowledge (me).

As I dug a bit deeper, I learned that most orphans have at least one living parent. That’s right – they have a mother or a father who are still alive. And the others who have lost both of their parents? They often have grandparents or aunts and uncles or a close family friend.

Knowing this, why are there so many orphans? The ugly truth is: Poverty. Their parent or extended family simply could not afford to raise them. In many cases, they knew that their child was at risk of dying of starvation, disease, etc. and giving them up was done out of desperate circumstances.

Recently, I stumbled upon an adoption website that was advertising the possibility to adopt 4 girls from the Philippines. These were sisters ages 8-16. The reason they were being offered for adoption? Poverty. Their parents could no longer afford their basic needs. Wow.  I come from a family of 4 girls – it broke my heart and blew my mind to think of us being separated from our mother and father and sent to a far away land due to poverty. I imagine that it would feel like a double death to loose my parents and have to leave my country (everything I have ever known).

It made me wonder, “what if”.  What if instead of those 4 girls being sent overseas for adoption the parents were given financial support to help them make ends meat while they looked for jobs?  I contacted the adoption agency to see if there was any thing that I (with maybe the help of others) could do to help keep this family together.  I received a response from the agency that thanked me for my e-mail, but went on to say that there wasn’t anything that could be done now as the girls were matched with their new American family.

Since poverty is the #1 reason why families give up their children for adoption, it makes me question the evangelical orphan movement . In recent years, churches have advertised that adoption is the answer to the orphan crisis. Yes, adoption can help a few of the 143 million orphans to grow up in a family.  Yet, since adoption does not eradicate poverty, or keep families together, there has to be another more effective movement to help orphans.

What else (besides adoption) may help the orphan crisis? One way to effectively care for orphans is to sponsor a child. Hear me out – I will not even promote one particular sponsorship program in this post 🙂 There are several really good ones out there, I have faith that you can find one. Sponsoring a child helps in so many ways. First, the child receives an education. Many of us know that education can set a person (and future generations) free from poverty. Secondly, the sponsorship program helps to lesson the financial burden for the parents. Often clothing, school supplies, and food are provided to children who are in a sponsorship program. When children are sponsored, the chances that they will get to grow up with their parents, family members, and remain in their community increases drastically. Do you already sponsor a child? That’s great. Really it is. I hope that you will continue to. You are helping with family preservation!

Is child sponsorship the only way to help orphans? No. I won’t focus on all the possibilities (which I wouldn’t even know all of them) in this post. But sponsoring a child is a great way to not only help the orphan crisis but to also help protect children against trafficking. The sad reality is that very few evangelical Christians sponsor a child (often just $25 or $30 per month).

Am I against adoption? No way. Unfortunately, sometimes it IS very necessary.  It’s just extremely unfortunate that there has been an evangelical movement where the biblical verse James 1:27 (where Christians are commanded to care for orphans and widows) is often associated with adoption as “the” solution.  The truth is that there is more than one way to help orphans in their distress. And adoption is not “the answer” like many of us have been lead to believe. There needs to be a new movement among evangelical Christians re: orphan care. One where we put our efforts, passions, and money towards a) preventing a child from becoming an orphan and b) helping orphans return to their biological families whenever this is possible.

If you wish to dig a bit deeper into orphan care and adoption ethics, please check out Jen Hatmaker’s blog series. I’ll point you to her last post of her 3 part series, but I’d recommend starting at the beginning if you are up for it! Click here  for part 3 and as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

** I want to say again that I’m not anti-adoption. I desire to share that adoption is not the only or even the most effective way to care for the global orphan crisis.

5 thoughts on “Adoption is NOT “the answer” to the Orphan Crisis”

  1. You only seem to be referring to overseas adoption…is that correct? my three new cousins very much have family in canada, but for many different reasons (those I’m sure overseas also) can’t go home to their families. It’s not always so simple i guess.

  2. Hi Melodee,

    Yes, in this post I was speaking mostly about adoption that happens as a result of poverty in 3rd world and developing countries. Although, I have heard from adoption social workers in Canada that poverty often has a very significant role in why families fall apart and children are taken into foster care here.

    I agree that adoption is not simple. It’s so very complex. Each case is different. And there are children who have no chance of being reunited with their families (whether that’s because a judge ordered it to be this way or the family fled the country and cannot be located). Also, in some countries stigma around “special needs” is so strong and these children are unlikely to get to live with their parents and deserve to grow up within a family!

    In this post, I was focusing more so on the evangelical adoption message that adoption is the answer to the global orphan crisis. While it may be in the best interest of some children, it cannot be “the answer”. It simply won’t reach enough children, it won’t help address the problem that lead them to be orphaned (poverty), and there are a lot of cases where families are able to stay together with a little help (such as child sponsorship).

    Thanks for reading + commenting! 🙂 You likely remember that I’ve had a passion for orphans for quite a while.

  3. Ethical issues arise in connection with the procurement of adoptable children, as well as their fair distribution. “Orphans are the consequence of war, pestilence, disease, or human tragedy, but the majority are simply born at a time that is inconvenient to others.” —Judith Land, (Adoption Detective, p. 14)

    “There are four kinds of adoption nefarious, forgivable, warranted, and praiseworthy.” —Judith Land

  4. Great blog. I agree with your points (1 – preventing a child from becoming an orphan and 2 – reuniting children with their bio families when possible) but I will add a 3rd, which is – responsibly and compassionately caring for unadoptable children. This is the group of children that I find are often forgotten when it comes to this conversation. There are millions of children today who cannot be returned to their bio families (because it’s not healthy or safe), who cannot be adopted (because of government regulations or other redtape), and who still desperately need care. These are the children we work to care for through our organization The Sound of Hope.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said adoption isn’t THE answer. It is one answer to the orphan crisis, but there have to be other “answers” (ie – different types of care provided) to meet all the needs when it comes to something as complex as orphan care.

    And I would even challenge your readers by saying – it is possible to be involved in all the necessary areas of care! My husband and I are pursing an international adoption from a Hague country right now, sponsoring children monthly who are not orphans (which means we’re providing assistance so they can stay with their bio families) through Compassion, and working to care for unadoptable children through our non-profit The Sound of Hope. I say that – not to “toot my own horn” – but to point out that there are ways people can get involved in every area (even if it’s just raising awareness/funding for each area!) As you said – “there needs to be a new movement with evangelical Christians re:orphan care.” Let’s make sure that movement covers every facet and need to the best of our ability!

  5. Hello,

    I’m not sure what your name is, looked it up and no answer.
    Anyhow, I’m a graphic design senior at Zayed University “United Arab Emirates”. I was always interested in social work and charity, and so I started researching for ideas for my senior project. I ran into handmade dolls business “one to one” as they call it, buy a doll and the company gives a doll to an orphan. Other than the fact the doll was in the price of 3! I thought “wait minute! orphans don’t need dolls”. That led to researching for what they really need and the countries that would need help the most, this led me to your blog that I’m greatly thankful for!

    I wanted to raise awareness about adoption but I was facing an obstacle with making a project that promotes adopting. You see, I’m Muslim, and in Islam we’re not easily able to adopt a child, it is said that it complicates things (honestly I didn’t look into the reasons why), were told we can donate monthly to a child instead. I guess now I understand why (the fact they need financial aid more than anything else). Or maybe not, it’s just my brain’s way of making sense out of all that.

    I would like to proceed in raising awareness of sponsoring, I have done it, my parents have, and siblings as well. I just don’t know where to start or how to. If you have an experience in any of this and can advice me I would appreciate it as long as I live! We haven’t got social workers in UAE, only organisations, and I honestly don’t want to be in contact with them because it could take longer to get paperwork done.

    Thank you for this post. Now you know you have someone across the globe who conciders you a role model 🙂


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