The responsibilities of church leaders who promote adoption

featured-image2Today, Orphan Sunday is being recognized and celebrated in thousands of churches, large and small, here in the U.S. and beyond. It’s incredibly cool to see the church “being the church” through enabling the world’s most vulnerable kids the opportunity to experience the love of Christ through a caring family.

One of our priorities for Key Ministry as we move forward is to expand the scope of resources available to share with churches responding to the need for adoptive homes. Our ministry developed as a byproduct of a large church’s attempts to meet the needs of a highly committed group of families who were struggling to stay involved at church in the aftermath of adopting kids from Eastern European orphanages. We’ve already begun to see the fruits of our planning through the incredible response we’ve experienced to the series Shannon is doing on adoption and the church.

My clinician’s perch affords me a unique perspective on the commitment and faithfulness of families called to serve as foster care providers or led to adopt kids who wouldn’t otherwise have a home. My “day job” has also led me to anticipate the challenges families will often face in their adoption or foster care ministry…challenges that far too many families and churches are oblivious to when they commit to an adoption or orphan care ministry. In our practice, our adopted kids are among our most challenging to treat, and the most likely to need an out of home placement. In reality, the church hasn’t exactly distinguished itself by its’ depth of understanding of those with complex mental health concerns.

Dingle Front Door SliderShannon has been discussing how churches can love their adoptive and foster families. I’d like to challenge church leaders to assume responsibility for supporting their families when they pursue adoption ministry.

1. Church leaders have a responsibility to be forthright with the families about the challenges they’ll potentially face. According to this paper in Pediatrics, adopted children are more likely than biological children to:

  • Have difficulties with emotions, concentration, behavior, or getting along with others.
  • Have a learning disability, developmental delay, or physical impairment
  • More than twice as likely as biological children to have special health care needs
  • More likely to have repeated a school grade
  • Less likely to have a very close relationship with the parent
  • Parents of adopted children are more likely than parents of biological children to have felt that the child is harder to care for than most children

Too many parents go into foster care or adoption assuming their love will be sufficient for overcoming the damage resulting from a child’s experiences or upbringing. Love isn’t always enough.

2. Church leaders have a responsibility to commit the time of your church staff and the necessary funding to ensure that your leadership becomes trauma-informed. Shannon said what needed to be said on the subject here.

3. Church leaders have a responsibility to provide tangible supports for families who, as a result of encouragement from church leadership pursue a calling in adoption or foster care. Will you help families access the mental health services they’re more likely to need for an adoptive or foster child? What about the medical services they may require if adopting a child with special medical needs. What about tutoring or advocates who might help families access special education or support services from schools? What about child care or respite care when families can’t find or can’t afford someone when they need a break?

4. Church leaders have a responsibility to put in place the supports to allow the family to maintain no less than their preexisting level of engagement in the church. In my mind this one is MOST important. Are you prepared to welcome their kids into your children’s ministry or youth ministry? What if the parents adopt a child who is HIV-positive? What will the parents need to continue to attend their small group every week? What will they need to continue to serve in the ministries where they’ve grown and matured in their faith?

Are we as church called to care for orphans? You bet. Are we expected to use the gifts and talents entrusted to us to plan effectively to support families after respond to such a noble calling? They should expect nothing less!

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Inclusion Fusion 2014Join keynote speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, Chuck Swindoll, Emily Colson, Barb Newman and 20+ leaders representing the scope of the disability ministry movement this coming November 12-13 for Inclusion Fusion 2014, Key Ministry’s FREE, worldwide disability ministry web summit. Engage in interactive chat with many of our speakers and watch each presentation at the time of day that works best for you in the environment in which you’re most comfortable. Click here to view our entire speaker lineup and register for Inclusion Fusion 2014.

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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4 Responses to The responsibilities of church leaders who promote adoption

  1. Dan Maas says:

    Church leaders are being forced to cope with the children joining their congregations through adoption. I’ve experienced untrained staff who filled holes because it was the right thing to do. I’ve also seen places where the collective wisdom of the parents forced the staff to grow in their understanding of our children. Rarely do the church leadership acknowledge that there is a responsibility on their part to support their families who have adopted children. They just don’t have a clue what to do with the disruptive, nonconventional children who desperately need supported, loved adoptive parents.

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    • drgrcevich says:

      Dan…very well-said. Shannon is making a great contribution to the cause of educating pastors, church staff and volunteers through her current series.

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  2. Brad says:

    Wow Dan Is that irony or sarcasm. Can’t tell.

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  3. Megan says:

    As an adoptive family IN church leadership, I have a few thoughts on this. Let’s talk first about #4 because I can’t get any further until we’ve discussed this one. “No less than their preexisting level of engagement… attend their small group every week… continue to serve…” REALLY??? Any family who has been well-prepared for adoption will know the benefits of pulling AWAY from excess responsibilities and even excess social (yes, “small groups” are social) commitments. Can we all just agree that not all “ministry” happens on Sunday? Their family and caring for former orphans or foster children IS THEIR MINISTRY. Let them step back from their previous areas of service for as long as they need while they focus on the front lines. And don’t guilt them for it. Don’t say they’ve “fallen casualty to their children” (and elder recently told me that about another adoptive family). YES, put all the necessary supports in place so that they CAN be involved as they feel is best for their family, but don’t make them feel like a failure if they don’t take advantage of it. Also, every adopted child’s needs are different. Let the family do some of the educating. Success looks different for kids with trauma and keeping the family involved as possible is not always a marker for success. Backing up to #3, I agree that it is great to help with “tangible supports” but let’s also be realistic. If they had a decent adoption agency, a decent pediatrician, and a great “been there, done that” friend, why do we feel the church has to take pointe there too? There are many great resources. Let’s point them there without feeling we have to be a one-stop adoption support group. #2 I wholeheartedly agree. #1 nice thoughts, and again, the responsibility of the adoption agency and covered in the required classes for either adoption or foster care. I think there is absolutely a responsibility for an adoptive family in leadership to be genuine in sharing our own experiences with adoption (without compromising our child’s privacy), but don’t expect a non-adoptive parent who is the pastor or church leader to be the authority on these things. Don’t expect the local church to fulfill the needs of supporting an adoptive family, help the CHURCH (individuals who love Jesus) step in with practical helps like recommending a good adoption agency or support group, bringing a meal or watching the family’s other children during medical appointments. I don’t think individuals should be expecting their church to step in and meet all of these criteria for them. A successful person knows their many resources within various circles of their community. I”m afriad that articles like this may scare more people away from “adoption ministry” than it helps, and also by officialy “ministry-izing” things like this it takes the humanity out. Let someone take a meal, donate to medical expenses, or make an encouraging phone call and call it love instead of “adoption ministry”. Maybe that’s just because I’m not really sure what an “adoption ministry” looks like since our church doesn’t have one officially… although about 25% of our families (50% of our leadership) are foster/adoptive.

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