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Let’s Talk About Orphan Sunday

Globally, November is recognized as World Adoption Month and Orphan Sunday is a day, observed on 13th November 2022, in many church calendars this year.  It is usually a day focused on children needing care in the form of families and people are often encouraged to consider adoption.  The biblical reasoning for this is often that God adopted us into the family of God and so as people created in the image of God we should be doing the same for others.  This begs the question though – is spiritual adoption the same as adoption of children into a physical family? 

What would happen if we acknowledged that perhaps the right questions have been missed in a quest to confirm or endorse this spiritual way of thinking? What if we started the conversation before adoption? What if we centered the conversation, within the church specifically, to reconsider what role we have in caring for vulnerable children and families?

You see over 80% of children who are deemed orphans are not actually orphans. Orphan in the legal definition means that both or one parent is dead. But we know many children, if we put in the effort to find biological parents and extended families, these so called orphans are not in fact orphans- they have roots, and that they have belonging. 

In South Africa, many adoptions are brought on by poverty which is incredibly sad given the history of our country because we know that should we give the support to biological parents and/or extended family members they would choose to parent that child. 

Cam Lee Small from @therapyredeemed poses the following reflecting question: 

If family preservation and reunification was important to the local church, I suspect the way we ‘celebrate’ adoption would look very very different. 

When we look at many adult adoptees responses to their adoption story and particularly those adult adoptees who have been brought up in church; many adult adoptees are offended by the celebration of orphan Sunday. This is because as churches we focus on the adoptive families and not the families that they have lost and the families that our children grieve for. As adoptive parents we should NEVER EVER celebrate the day our children have legally lost their connections because when we adopt we don’t just adopt a child but their family too which is a part of who they are. 

Here is a quote from an adult adoptee and an adoptive parent, from blogger

“As an adoptee, thinking about a day where I lost everything and didn’t have contact with my family growing up, I want to just throw up. Why would a people group (usually white) celebrate a time when kids were orphans. Wasn’t that celebrated within the orphanage?”

As Arise we encourage all to really rethink your stance on “Orphan Sundays”. Let’s not exploit adoptees telling their adoptive testimonies to fit into a narrative we know is broken, let’s not highlight adoptive parent either. What we need to be highlighting the failure of our welfare system that keeps children in need of care. We need to be highlighting the failure of support for women experiences crisis pregnancies and the failure of including the whole family. We need to be highlighting that adoption does not fix the problem because adoption is traumatic for EVERY child. 

We do acknowledge there is a need for permanency for our most vulnerable children who are in need of care but families need to be equipped properly with the right tools and skills to parent children in alternative care (adoption, foster care, safety care) because we know love is not enough. 

The reality in South Africa is that the majority of children in alternative care, are not eligible for adoption, nor do they fulfil the parameters of the interests of parents wishing to adopt.  The majority of people in South Africa wishing to adopt are hopeful of being matched with a child under the age of 6 months and numerous social media discussion platforms will see people asking the question of “Is it possible to be matched or receive a new born” which reinforces the following statement by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 2003: “Regrettably, in many cases, the emphasis has changed from the desire to provide a needy child with a home, to that of providing a needy parent with a child. As a result, the whole industry has grown, generating millions of dollars of revenues each year.” 

None of these children chose to be in need of care or asked to be adopted and so when we look at the stats above, as well as the UN comment on adoption, we need to ask ourselves, what is the narrative that we are telling from the pulpit and discussing in the pews – literally or figuratively. What is the message being given to people who were adopted, or are children ‘waiting to be chosen’? What is the message being given to families, to mothers and fathers in the throes of circumstantial crisis due to economic or relational hardship, that are considering placing their child for adoption? We propose that it is necessary to consider not just the intent of an Orphan Sunday morning focus, but also the impact on children in alternative care, and members of their biological families, known or unknown when preparations are made for a day that is said to be all about children, but too often ends up being about the adults who have choices, while the children don’t.  

We would propose the need to deeply reflect on what it would look like if we were to consider preserving a family unit rather than removing a child to an alternative family.  And that we need to focus more perhaps on the possibility of caring for children by working out how to care for their biological families too.  We acknowledge that this will require us to ask ourselves what we believe about who is best equipped to parent a child.  It requires reflecting on whether we believe that our socialisation and worldview is the exclusive and correct one for all children to thrive, or whether we can see how others, different from ourselves, might also be best placed to care for their kin. 

Imagine we had community forums focused on empowering caregivers –  grandmothers, aunties, mothers and fathers – to strengthen their family units.  Imagine if every caregiver felt that they weren’t alone and that there was support to parent the children in their care, how much disruption and reduction in trauma, grief and loss would exist for these families. What an incredible opportunity for the church as a whole to partner with children’s families in strengthening them to remain intact rather than seeing adoption as a solution to what in South Africa is too often only an economic crisis.

We have seen the fruit of these forums, and seen the impact of support offered to caregivers in crisis to navigate the hurdles that feel too overwhelming to choose to parent.  What would this mean for the church if we took up this challenge?  What would this mean for children and families in our country?

Imagine the possibilities.

** Arise recognises the role of adoption in alternative care – we know we don’t live in an ideal world and so we do advocate for permanency for children when they cannot be with their families for whatever reason.  However, we don’t believe that adoption should be seen as the solution when we know that there are other strategies that also need to be explored in strengthening families

* Cam Lee Small is an adult christian adoptee who practices as a therapist & was adopted transracially and internationally. 

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