Shall Christians Provide Homes For The Homeless?
To answer the question asked in the title of this article the Christian need only to read James 1:27. Basically, we agree on this scripture but we often disagree as to how homes should be provided for the homeless. In this article, I offer for your thinking a solution to our differences in a way which we in the past have not seriously and generally considered. For this reason it may seem radical, but I beg that you give it prayerful thought.
I was prompted to write this by an article which appeared in the Boles Home News, September 25, 1952, under the heading, "Shall Christians Be Home Breakers or Home Preservers?" In case you did not read the article I would like to review the substance of it:
The writer deplored the thinking of those who would rush in and take a baby from a family that had been the victim of a broken home by death, disease, etc., and in this way separate brothers and sisters. By such a practice many would adopt the youngest and choicest of a family group and leave the less desirable of that family at Boles Home. The article stated that Boles Home does not have a legal right to adopt children and would not do it in this way if legal rights were obtained. The article further stated that Boles Home has a moral obligation to preserve the family unit, not to destroy it.
I can sympathize with Brother Oler and his stand against adoption as described in that article. My wife and I were the home parents for the first homeless children in the Christian Home in Mt. Dora, Florida, in 1946. We had the same problem there. It is a problem which we must face realistically. There are hundreds of dependent children in our orphan homes, and thousands of Christian families who for various reasons would like children in their homes. What can we do about this problem?
1. I think we are wrong in assuming that the only way family units can be kept together is to keep them in our orphanages.
2. I think we are wrong in assuming that the needs of all homeless children are best met in our orphanages.
3. I think we can do something about getting these homeless children into Christian homes where they are wanted without breaking up family units.
All authorities agree that any breaking away of children from their real parents is dangerous to the emotional well being of the children. Even if this break is skillfully handled it can leave lasting scars upon children's personalities. It is increasingly apparent that maladjustment in adults is frequently traceable to unhappy childhood experiences. Intelligent planning for the placement of dependent children requires certain skills and knowledge which may be comparable to those of a physician since both deal with the lives of children. Any sound planning for children must be based upon factual data rather than personal opinion. Hazel Fredericksen, an authority on this subject has written in The Child and His Welfare, "If, because of death or incurable unfitness of the parents, a natural home life is not possible, a foster home should be sought which will give the child as nearly normal a home life as possible." This would not rule orphanages out, but would place the emphasis upon what is most "nearly normal home life." I must hasten to add that this same authority writes: "There is a growing recognition of the fact that both the foster home and the institution have a definite place in an overall child-care program." In Wisconsin there are eight dependent children living in foster homes compared with one living in the state orphanage. This is the trend throughout the nation. The per capita cost in keeping children in the Wisconsin public institution in 1950 was over $168 per month compared with $32 in the foster home plan. Among the churches of Christ there is no such plan. I feel that we are not only inefficient in this respect, but are failing to meet the needs of our dependent children as implied in James 1:27. Young children, especially, need the experience of belonging to a family. A small child who does not get much of the mothering experiences, will in theory, try even as an adult to compensate for this lack. Here, too, the authorities agree. Such a child has been deprived of what some of our orphanages overlook while stressing good environments, clean clothing, excellent food and medical care. Nothing in a child's life can take the place of "mothering," affection in a small family setting, and a feeling of belonging to parents who want him. Orphanages cannot, in that respect, take the place of a foster home.
This is not a matter of institutions versus foster home, but rather the kind of substitute care best suited for the growth and development of each particular child. Can we say that keeping family ties unbroken outweighs the individual needs of children? I would like to assert that these needs can be met and family ties maintained at the same time.
The solution to this problem is not an easy one. First, any plan operated as part of the Lord's work must be a scriptural plan; and secondly, an overall plan of child welfare must meet the standards set in each state.
We agree that James 1:27 places a responsibility of meeting the needs of the homeless upon Christians. Christians in Europe sent aid to the elders of the church in Judea (Acts 11:30) to help meet the physical needs of Christians there. Is it not implied that such assistance was under the supervision of local elders? It is my conviction that an orphanage, a foster home program, or a child-placing program could be scriptural if a group of local elders supervised it. I feel that almost everyone agrees that such an arrangement is scriptural.
Meeting state standards offers a more difficult, but not impossible, challenge. These standards differ from state to state just as building safety standards vary from city to city. They are quite alike in that each state requires any child-placing program be staffed by workers who have training in social work.
Texas laws, for example, require that "only a qualified child placement worker select foster homes and place children. To qualify, a worker must have had at least one basic year of professional work training in a recognized school of social work and one of the last four years in successful full-time paid employment in a professional capacity in a recognized public or private social agency. (Minimum Standards, Child-Placing Agencies, State of Texas, 1951, page 4) A degree in social work may be substituted for the one year of experience.
Other requirements could be met with a minimum of effort. Boles Home could readily qualify as a child-placing agency. In April 1952, there were 18 such licensed private agencies in Texas. The Methodist Home, Waco, Texas, is licensed to place children both temporarily and permanently (adoption) on a statewide basis. Home of the Holy Infancy, Austin, serves the entire state for Catholic applicants. The Lutheran agency in San Antonio serves Central Texas for school age children. Can we afford to delay longer in allowing Catholics, Methodists, and Lutherans to make homes for the homeless while Christian couples beg for children?
Let me outline a specific plan to illustrate how this could be done scripturally, efficiently, and in keeping with state standards, in Madison, Wisconsin. The elders could employ a Christian who is a social worker and meet the remaining requirements as a child-placing agency. This worker would receive applications from Christians throughout the state of Wisconsin who would like to keep children. He would study these homes and determine what the home had to offer. Children whose real parents might be temporarily unable to keep them, or who would otherwise be placed by the Catholic Welfare Society, Lutheran Welfare Society, some other private agency, or the State Department of Public Welfare, might be placed in Christian homes in entire family groups, temporarily, permanently or in the arrangement which best meets the needs of each child. Recently such a need did arise among us. The home of one of the members was temporarily broken. The mother placed the three-year-old girl and the one-year-old boy in the home of another member of the congregation and agreed to pay each week toward their support. Doesn't the Bible teach us to provide for our own? But this placement was illegal. Why? In this state foster homes must be licensed. The state took the children and placed them in the home of a non-Christian family in a nearby city. The state pays the room and board and supervises their care. Brethren had we the foresight and will to serve, we could qualify as a child-placing agency, supervise the finding of foster homes and their licensing, etc., and the two children mentioned above could have a Christian home. The Christian parent, if able, could support this arrangement financially and thus meet his divine obligation. If such individual homes cannot be secured because of the nature of the child's needs, he could be sent to one of our orphanages until such time as he could adjust himself in a foster home. In this way family groups could be maintained. Christian couples who cannot have children, can render a service. Adoption may be possible in a few cases, but regardless of whether or not this is possible, the children receive the love and care they need in a home situation where they are wanted. It takes a genuine, unselfish, hospitable couple to volunteer as foster parents, but is that not Christianity comparable to that mentioned in James? Brother and Sister Willeford of Madison have a foster child in their home now — not adopted. Would it not be even better if such placing were under the supervision of elders and the needs of our own brethren filled in this respect? And what would be wrong with collecting food, clothes, and money to be given to those Christians who need such support to make a home for the homeless? The real parents, if still in the picture, could support financially according to their ability. Such a child-care program is much less expensive and much more like the "real home," than any other substitute yet offered.
Brethren, we are neglecting opportunities to serve the Lord. We are maintaining orphanages whose organizational setups are controversial. Some of these deny many children the experience of being brought up in a family setting and thus hurt some of them so terribly that they can never be happy and well-adjusted adults. I refer you to such outstanding authorities as Hopkirk, Hutchinson, Mayo, and Thurston who testify that this is true. An "over-institutionalized" dependent child is often handicapped for life. The trend is for short-time placement for those who need institutional care and for small units of family-size rather than the large group arrangement. A large institution is not in keeping with the advice of those who know the field of child welfare. In keeping with the trends the total population of the state orphanage at Sparta, Wisconsin, decreased from 416 in 1940 to 107 in 1952. It is not uncommon for some children to spend eight or ten years in some of our orphanages. This can be very detrimental to some children who, especially, need substitute parents.
Our orphanages could become receiving centers, and secure homes for the teenage youngsters and others who may not fit into a foster home. These orphanages would place the emphasis upon foster home finding — mostly on a temporary basis of a few months, a year, or until the children could go on their own or back to relatives. Why should they stay until they finish high school? Why should there be huge institutions? Adoption would be possible in the case of infants of unwed mothers and in some other special cases. Such work fits the Lord's pattern and is in keeping with his original idea that there be one man and one woman to love and nurture the children of the home.