A World Without Orphans—it’s a huge dream that lives in the hearts of thousands of people who believe that every orphan should live in a loving family and work toward this great goal daily. I sincerely believe in it too. And I know that the church is capable of solving this problem through welcoming the fatherless and motherless into their homes and working with crisis families. Although the idea of a church caring for every orphan (we like to call it one church, one child) is simple and clear, it’s not so easy to make it a reality. Behind each statistic is a unique child, a story. And unfortunately, too often, trauma.
Children who have been traumatized through separation, neglect, abuse, multiple placements, losses, and institutional living are different. Their brain works differently, their worldview can be different, the way they process information and respond to it can be different. When it comes to adoption or foster care, very few parents are aware of the challenges they might face and the ways they can help a child who has been traumatized to be successful. It is critically important to train and provide support for families who welcome orphans into their homes, to empower them for successful parenting, and to inspire other families to respond to the call.
A few weeks ago, I did a series of trainings for Ukrainian adoptive and foster parents on child trauma and successful parenting that are based on Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI). TBRI is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. Parents said it was eye opening and life changing and were sorry that they hadn’t learned these skills earlier. As a foster and adoptive parent myself, I feel their pain of being in a desperate place, not knowing what to do to help a child.
Manipulation, lying, stealing, and odd behaviors can be survival skills traumatized children may have learned if no one has met their needs. Without “safe” adults present in their early years, they had to figure out how to survive and protect themselves. Some children cling to unhealthy coping strategies, genuinely fearful that if they give them up, they won’t survive. Understanding brain chemistry and why children do what they do can help parents to see that bad behavior doesn’t equal a bad child. It is critical to be able to understand where these behaviors stem from and then become allies with your child against problems he or she faces instead of positioning yourself against the “bad” child. You don’t want the child to see you as an enemy who tries to take the child’s weapons away; it will not work. These dynamics are more complicated than that. Instead, we should stand shoulder to shoulder with our children and give them new tools that will work even better than the old ones, tools that will truly help meet their needs! We should give them a voice, to assure them that their opinions and feelings matter and that they can have an appropriate level of control in their environment and life. Giving children a voice can be done through providing choices and acknowledging their desires and needs. They can be heard, and it is such a joy to see children heal from trauma and develop healthy attachment and trust.
Adoption is not a final destination—it is the beginning of a big, exciting, and challenging journey that lasts for life. My heart is to support foster and adoptive families and spread their stories of success so people will see adoption as a blessing. I know we can do it together. I tip my hat to the families that say, “Yes, here we are, Lord.” Let’s not give up! We have an Almighty God—our light, hope, and love.
Adoption is not for everyone, but let me tell you that everyone can do something to make a difference. A prayer, a helping hand for adoptive and foster or crisis families, a supporting orphan care ministry—we all can do something. Informing, mobilizing, and equipping every church and family to answer God’s call to care for the fatherless and motherless—what a great start at making a huge difference in every country and ultimately, the world!
I believe that someday Ukraine will be the first country without orphans and each and every child will live in a loving family. And I believe that Christ’s church will unite and step up to be the answer. Let’s have faith and move forward toward a world without orphans by taking one step at a time.
Raya Shelashska is the Program Director for Eastern Europe for A Family for Every Orphan. In 2006 Raya and her husband became a foster family at the Center of Family Care in Ukraine. They provided 10 children with the opportunity to live in a family until they were reunited with their parents or adopted. Raya then became the Director of the Center for six years. Within the last seven years she has accomplished a number of educational trainings provided by the Institute of Human Services, OH, and Texas Christian University, TX. Since 2009 Raya has been a National Trainer for foster and adoptive parents and professionals working with traumatized children. In 2006 she graduated from Kiev National University with a major in management and is now getting her second degree in psychology. Raya and her husband Oleg live in Ukraine and have four children: three sons and an adopted daughter.