*This article originally appeared in the Better Care Network November 2019 Newsletter
The global church plays a vital role in care reform, as perhaps the largest group of direct providers of care to children and significant funders of residential care. Over decades Christians have unknowingly played a role in the unnecessary separation of children from families every time they built, visited or funded orphanages.
However, since the development of the UN Guidelines on Alternative Care, there has been increased momentum to support quality family care for vulnerable children.
- We are seeing responsible reintegration of children and transitions of Christian orphanages to family-based care, like that of Vision Africa and Beautiful Gate.
- Multiple Christian organizations have risen to the task of providing technical guidance for transitions, such as the work of Casa Viva and Bethany Global.
- Christian organizations are developing alternative family care options alongside their governments, like the work of Identity Mission in Honduras.
- Organizations like the Standards of Excellence in Short-Term Mission and Youth With A Mission Kona, have developed guidance on how to make choices in volunteering that will have a better impact on vulnerable children and families.
- Christians are even taking on advocacy and awareness raising for family-based care, including the work of ACCI Kinnected in Australia, World Without Orphans, and Catholic Relief Services.
We are witnessing a shift of Christian support for vulnerable children from orphanages to efforts that strengthen families, preventing the need for children to be separated from their parents.
However, there is still much to be done. We must address the underlying assumption among the broader Christian culture that mistakenly says, “orphans need orphanages.” If these assumptions are not addressed, we will continue to battle the building of more orphanages by Christians. We must also ensure that reintegration is done with best practices, prioritizing the safety of children, and that Christian organizations work in effective partnership with local and national governments in care reform efforts.
Faith to Action has witnessed the great potential for change among Christians. When their efforts are redirected, they have the ability to bolster family-strengthening efforts, alternative family-based care models, and care reform. Christians have always valued family and cared for the most vulnerable people in society. I believe the church will continue that legacy by reintegrating children into families and strengthening families so they can care well for their children. In 10 years, my hope is to see Christians leading in the effort to see children cared for in safe, loving families.
Elli Oswald is the Executive Director of the Faith to Action Initiative. Prior to this role, she served as Director of Mission and Outreach at Bethany Community Church in Seattle, where she guided Bethany Community Church as they pursued God’s kingdom work daily, through various ministries to the poor and vulnerable in Seattle and around the world, including partnerships in Uganda, Rwanda and Costa Rica. Before being called to Bethany, Elli served as the Children in Crisis Research and Communications Coordinator for World Vision International’s Child Development and Rights Technical Team, specializing in community-based care for children deprived of parental care. She has a B.A. from Pepperdine University and a M.A. in Cross Cultural Studies and International Development from Fuller Theological Seminary. Elli has also worked with a wide variety non-profit organizations in the Los Angeles area, including, Union Station Homeless Services and Habitat for Humanity.