Mortal-risk children and residential care

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Eventually, eventually, the story gets okay, but it has a lot of twists and turns to get there—and along the way an important lesson about thoughtful care for mortal-risk children. I’ll also introduce you to a debate that impacts the lives of millions of children.

Jaime was a child of the streets. Abandoned by a prostitute mother, he spent his days in begging and thievery—and his nights under an overpass, a piece of cardboard his street mattress. Eventually sent to a shelter, he was adopted for the first time at age seven. By eight, he was back at the shelter, his adopted family rejecting him, because they were not equipped to deal with his dishonesty, his anger, the violence.

Within a year, he was placed again, this time with relatives. Again, failure. Lashing out, spending nights on the streets, verbally and physically abusing siblings. Before his eleventh birthday, Jaime has been rejected three times; by his birth mother, by his adopted family, and by the relatives who took him in.

Maybe we just need to write off some kids.

Or maybe not.

Jaime came to the City of Youth just about the time he became a teenager… and he found something different. Staff who understood him. Boundaries—and houseparents who made the boundaries stick. Brothers and sister who had lived as he had, but who were finding direction in their lives.

Jaime is making it. He’s not there yet, but he’s on the path to get there.

… which leads us to a raging debate about how to care for children like Jaime.

Two years ago I was at major conference of orphan-care practitioners—over 2,000 attendees. The first plenary speaker started her presentation like this: “Let’s get this out of the way. All orphanages are bad; there are no good ones. They must all be closed.”Her opinion is not an isolated one.

Around the world, pushed by UNICEF, there is a movement to shutter all residential care facilities.

But, understand, this movement is not because of what the research says. In fact, it is in spite of what the research indicates.

A lot of really positive research out there, including the groundbreaking work by Dr. Kate Whetten of Duke University, is documenting what those of us in residential care have experienced:

For certain demographics of kids, residential care offers the only hope of seeing their lives transformed and rescuing them from serial failure in adoptive or foster families.  Not for every child, not even for most, but for certain kids, this is the only place they can make it.

Something for you think about this week…  Next week, we’ll address the question:  Residential care or foster care?

One Response to Mortal-risk children and residential care

  1. John McCollum March 3, 2015 at 10:42 am #

    Good call quoting Kate Whetten. Her research is absolutely groundbreaking from an academic standpoint, but it ratifies what those of us working in high-nurture residential care have known for a long time.

    Our team at Asia’s Hope spoke at length with Kate a few months ago, and it was great to hear that her ongoing research projects continue to undermine the narrative that has dominated the “conventional wisdom” of late.

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