Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Family-Style Homes?" Idealizing SCH

If you were to visit SCH right now and see that we have nearly 100 children living on one campus and that we have about 20 children per room, you might wonder why we call ourselves "Family-style homes..." Here's the story:

Before SCH started, I had dreams of creating ideal home environments for the children we would receive. Adoption of special needs children was not happening in our state, and international adoption from Andhra was shut down. I wanted our homes to be the next best thing to adoption. They would be "forever foster family homes"--the house parents would be committed to the children long-term, and would raise them as their own. The buildings would be nice-sized homes with a living room, parents' room, kids' room with 5-8 kids max, a dining room with a nice big family table, toys, maybe a dog...

I wanted us to be able to take in every child God intended for us, but I never wanted to crowd and fill the homes and become another orphanage. I simply believed that, as we got more children, we'd just open more homes.  At that time I expected that the children would trickle in one by one as they were found abandoned by police and were referred to us by the government. I did not realize that they had nearly 80 children with "mental retardation" diagnoses, many of them with multiple challenges and very ill, in the government orphanage in Hyderabad.

After awhile I found a foundation that dreamed with me. They wanted to help me build and start many such homes (way more than I had vision for!). They had a single wealthy donor who wanted to remain anonymous, but who wanted to work through this foundation to help me accomplish this.

Just before we got the first ten children, the relationship between the foundation and their donor soured and died. The foundation, and SCH, were cut off, and I could not even appeal to the donor. But just that week the Lord had given me the most amazing promise! He spoke to me through the words of David to his son Solomon, "I have taken great pains to provide for the temple of the LORD a hundred thousand talents of gold, a million talents of silver, quantities of bronze and iron too great to be weighed, and wood and stone. And you may add to them." 1 Chron 22:14  Somehow the temple of Solomon (splendor, glory) and the tabernacle of Moses (the wholeheartedness with which the people gave to build it) have been symbols the Lord has used to speak about these homes. When we welcome the children, we welcome Him, and when you welcome a King, you want things to be nice for Him.

With that amazing promise and other confirmations, we moved forward confidently despite no longer having any promise of support from the foundation (or anyone else). The weekend we went to pick up the first ten children, the house parents for both homes stepped forward, and donations began to come in. We were on our way.

Victory and Angel were pretty ideal when we had just five children in each. We had sofa sets, dining tables, five nice single beds in each home, house parents who loved the children and could easily care for them with the help of a couple of staffers...

So why did we go to an orphanage model? When and how did my vision for family-style, next-best-thing-to-adoption, forever-foster-family homes change? It didn't. It hasn't. But several things happened along the way:

1) I looked into the eyes of over 70 suffering kids and thought, "These kids need what we have NOW, not years from now when we get enough buildings built." The children in the government orphanage needed an advocate, they needed love and affection, they needed to be valued and wanted. They needed medical and surgical intervention, education, physiotherapy. They needed enough to eat! And they didn't have years to wait until we could create the perfect model. There were no other organizations lining up asking to care for them. It was us or it was the government. The government never turned away any abandoned kids--they had to take them all in and just somehow make it work. We had something better--we had God's promises! (And He really has been true to them: We've been able to do amazing things for the children--private mainstream schooling for 26, major surgeries, orthotics, glasses, hearing aids, daily physio, toys and fun outings...).

2) I realized that, even though the overall standard falls to some degree when we take another large shift of children in, that the new children are always worth it. Each new child, however complicated his needs may be, is worth the stress on us volunteer staff as we learn about his needs, fundraise for him, buy more beds, make more hospital runs, train new staff, readjust the budget... The new kids are worth the stress on the employees when the child-to-caregiver ratio goes up temporarily, space is limited, and there's way more work to be done. They're even worth the stress on the "old kids" who get less attention and who have to wait longer for things they may gotten more quickly. The difference SCH has made for Andrew, for Felicia, for Cassia has been worth the adjustments that Hannah, Christopher, and Christina have had to make. And they're not going to have to make them forever.

3). I realized that the medical needs of the children being referred to us were so intense that decentralizing was not an option. We had to stay on top of the medication ordering and dispensing, the therapy, the emergencies. Having homes as far apart as Angel and Victory were was hard to manage, and to think of having dozens of spread-out homes and making sure that each home was equipped with personnel trained to handle status epilepticus or to change a feeding tube, was just not practical.

4) I realized that we were in a rescue phase, and that the idealizing phase would come. And I feel like we're close to entering the idealizing phase now.


Ideally, what do we envision for these kids?

1) Adoption of some into wonderful families. While this is not a process we have any control over, we believe that some of our children will grow up as permanent members of adoptive families, either in India or abroad. Big changes are happening in the area of adoption right now in India. Just pray with us that the changes would work in the very best interests of every child, including our SCH children. None of it is in our hands, but God has the whole situation firmly in His, I know. May everything happen according to His perfect will and timing.

We know that not all of our children will be adopted. (Many are already too old, and for some, God may want them to stay with us!) For those who are not adopted we envision:

2) Forever foster-families (or at least long-term ones). There are reasons that foster care in its traditional sense may not work well with our kids and in our area. I know someone who's running a successful foster care program in an Indian metro, but I just don't see it working here, and especially with our kids' challenging needs.

Now I'm going to explain the vision I've been wanting to share for a long time!

I see long-term miss*onary foster families! Both Indian and foreign. Living here in community. Do you have a devotion to Jesus, a heart to serve India, a passion for orphans and family, a love for children with special needs? Maybe your family's called to do this!

What I envision is an apartment complex (and then two and three). We have land for this complex, and we're trying to get a great engineering ministry team to come design it for us. Then comes fundraising and building!

It will be universally accessible, homey, and nice. Each apartment will house a family (woman or couple, with or without children of their own) and as many SCH children as that family can commit to long-term. The parents will be volunteers who will raise funds from among their own churches, relatives, and friends for the upkeep of their own apartment and for the needs of the children they foster--their education, their medical care, etc. There would be common facilities on lower floors for all families, such as physiotherapy, nursing care, prayer room, etc.

 It will be similar to adoption in every emotional aspect, but legally, you would have no rights to your foster children, just as I have none (except that I'm authorized to make medical decisions). The SCH children are wards of the state and can be removed from our care on the whim of the government at any time (This was written into the agreement by them). I don't think they will remove them if we continue to provide them with a safe and loving environment, but we would have no recourse if they ever chose to. Similarly, you would have limitations: you could not take the children for out-of-state vacations, move them to another home, have them accompany you on furloughs... There would be no guarantees that you could ever legally adopt them if you so desired. You would have to be ok with these limitations.

Living in community, we could strengthen and pray for one another. Friendships would be built with people from around the world, language lessons could be held, family members could be part of other ICM programs...

It would involve a lot of sacrifice, especially for someone coming from another country. But as we sacrifice our countries and cultures and learn to love the children's food, language, and roots, we are also making it possible for the children to keep their country, language, and friendships and still have the love of a family. Again, it's only second-best to adoption, but it could be a real close second...

Not every volunteer will be called to make that kind of commitment. Some could provide childcare for families during their visa-renewal trips, some could serve the children as teachers, doctors, physios, speech therapists, prayer therapists, or in administrative capacities. And before anyone became a foster parent, they would need to live and serve here for a year or two to be sure that it was something they could really commit to for a long time.


SCH looks nothing like this now. We're overcrowded. No dining room space; kids eat seated on the floors. Classroom and physio space are very limited--one of our physiotherapists works on the balcony and one of our classes operates there as well. Our nurse room can only fit two beds. We're now housing the young men from Angel at Victory, because the Angel Home house parents no longer work with us and we haven't found a suitable replacement for them. We don't have a playground area at Victory. Victory isn't universally accessible (no elevator, no ramps), and we wouldn't have space to maneuver wheelchairs in the rooms even if we did have enough chairs so each child could have his or her own. We don't have staff quarters, so the live-in caregivers crash wherever there's space. We sometimes struggle to find employees with the type of passion that our volunteers have. Some kids fall through the cracks (like those with autism--I KNOW there's so much more we could be doing for them!)

Are we being irresponsible? No, it's temporary. If I had seen a vision of this years ago, I would have thought, "Lord, really? We have to walk through this to get to that?" Where we are now is not what I envision, but I haven't settled. I CARE about what would truly be best for these kids, and we ARE walking through this uncomfortable season to get to something more ideal.

Despite it not being ideal, I don't ever regret for a second having accepted any of the children. And even at the sometimes-chaotic stage it's in, it's still inspiring and still very beautiful. Ask many of the short-term volunteers who have fallen head-over-heels in love with the kids and just want to do anything they can to make life better and better for them. They've seen not only the difficulties, but have also seen deeper into the hearts of what those of us who volunteer for this really want for these kids. The kids are very happy and very loved, and have made great strides health-wise. So many of our children would definitely be dead right now if God hadn't brought them to us, and they would have died without a kiss and without a prayer and without anyone shedding a tear. Over twenty children would not be in schools right now of any kind, let alone private English ones. These kids have prayer warriors and supporters all over the world who care big-time about them, whether the kids cognitively understand that or not (We're so GRATEFUL for you!!).

We are all making a difference for the kids, even now. When it gets so overwhelming, remembering the progress we've made by God's grace keeps us moving.

And please do stick with us--because we're moving toward a very beautiful goal!

1 comment:

Cody Lee said...

Sarah, that is a beautiful vision.

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