All of the world’s major religions and civilized cultures recognize the obligation of caring for orphans. But what exactly does caring for orphans include? To answer what is orphan care, I am using Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a guide.
Orphans have little means for providing for their physiological needs (adequate food, clean water, appropriate shelter and clothing, as well as access to basic medical care). If this need cannot be met, the child will die.
In the U.S. and many other first and second world countries, there are government and non-government (NGO) programs providing for their citizens. In the third world, many countries struggle meeting this need for orphans and must rely on aid from other governments and NGOs.
Meeting Orphan’s Physiological Needs
Through the U.S. welfare program, almost all orphan have their physiological needs met. For the orphans in the third world, you can help by selecting an orphanage or organization to support. It is amazing how few U.S. dollars are needed to feed these orphans. For those who are able and have the skills, go on medical mission trips to provide care not regularly available in-country.
After physiological needs are met, we work to ensure the children are in a safe environment. This might demand the child be removed from a situation, including from their parents. Children also need their environment to be financially secure so there is no daily concern about providing for the physiological needs.
Meeting this need becomes difficult for orphans in war zones or when living in unsafe or inadequate shelters. The boy in this photo is an orphan from the war in Syria.
A true crime is that some orphans are abused while living in orphanages.
Meeting Orphan’s Safety Needs
In the U.S. orphan care system, which is foster care overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services, safeguards are in place to protect the children. Of course, the media jumps on those rare instances when a foster child is abused or when foster parents are deemed unfit because these stories make great headlines. While overwhelmed, our legal system has the authority to remove children from dangerous situations. Because of this, there is always a great need for foster parents. Is that your calling?
In other parts of the world, these systems are not in place. Your support and visitation to orphanages will help calling authorities to accountability. Some of us are called to work through government channels to help keep orphans safe while others of us are called to assist NGOs to protect the weakest.
Prayer is ALWAYS an important part of helping. Not only does it let God know you care about this situation, it changes you to rely more on God and to think about these children as your responsibility.
Love and Belonging
After first two levels are met without fear of losing them, we now turn to meeting the orphan’s social needs. The strongest of these—in particular for children—is a sense of belonging. The power of fulfilling this need is why some children want to stay with abusive parents. These parents provide for most of the first need and give the children the belongingness even though the parents create an unsafe environment.
Adults fill this need within their marriage, by joining clubs, participating in small groups in our churches, and wearing our favorite team’s jersey.
Because of emphasis on meeting the first two needs, there are often no resources left for filling the third need of love and belonging. Since the orphans cannot get pass this need, they are not able to fill the needs of esteem and self-actualization, the highest two on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Meeting Orphan’s Love and Belonging Needs
How can we show a child growing up in a orphanage or foster care that they are loved and they belong? Filling this need cannot always be met with cash; it requires human interaction. This is where we must get involved and overcome our fears to help those who cannot help themselves.
When we were in Guatemala City to get Gemma, I was told at least 3 times thank you for adopting. In talking with Guatemalans while writing Daddy, Come & Get Me, I learned that most Guatemalans regrettably realize they cannot care for all their orphans, and they need help from other countries. To Americans, that might sound strange relying on another country to care for our children. This is why we must respond to Pope Francis call to help the poor: they need us!
Not all in the secular world agree however. Thanks to UNICEF, the Hague Conventions are preventing Americans from adopting Guatemalan orphans as we once did. Tens of thousands of Guatemalan children are growing up in orphanages so that anti-Americans at the U.N. can feel better about themselves.
What Can You Do?
With over 18 million orphans worldwide including 101,000 in the U.S., this can seem like the problem is so overwhelming that it would be better to forget about all this and go to YouTube and watch funny videos. However, one person can make a difference. While few of us have the gifts of Blessed Mother Teresa, all of us can do something for at least one child.
One of the first things you can do is working to prevent a child from ever becoming an orphan.