A Case for Older Kids

It is understandable that many families are hesitant to adopt older children.  By “older,” we typically mean children over 6 years of age.  But speaking from my own experience, and our agency’s experience, we know that adoption of older children can be very rewarding and successful.  I adopted a boy when he was 7, and he is now a 23 year old successful and well-adjusted young man.  In the last 20 years, our agency has placed over 1000 children over the age of 6 with families who are thriving.  Let me make a case for the adoption of older children.

#1, Older kids give you the benefit of observed behavior

Many problems that children face that are associated with institutional care begin at a very young age, but are not fully observable until kids get older.  For instance, oppositional defiance disorder, reactive attachment disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are nearly impossible to diagnose in a 2 year old.  Autism is also not typically diagnosed before a child is age 4.  But by the time a child is 6, we can observe whether a child has these disorders.  The childcare workers who live and work with those kids can vouch for their behavior and emotional health.  In a sense, you are actually taking on less risk when you adopt a child whose emotional health is observed and whose history is long enough that it can be documented.

#2, Older kids attach differently, not less

A compelling reason that parents want to adopt children as young as possible is that the strength and health of attachment is correlated with age.  People assume that a baby will attach sooner, and have a stronger attachment than an older child would.  But we have a saying, “Older kids don’t attach less, just differently.”  It’s true.  If you adopt a teenager, your relationship will be more akin to being a friend, than to being a care-giver.  It would be a mistake to think older children are any less dependent, however.  They still need love, friendship, direction, modeling and support.  Parents who adopt tweens and teens often express how satisfied they are in the relationship they build with their children.

#3, Older kids are still very young

Every summer when we bring a group of older children to the US for our orphan host program, we are amazed at how young these older kids are!  Age 6 in an orphanage is not equal to age 6 in a healthy home.  Children from institutional care are almost always smaller.  They look younger.  They act younger.  They are socially and academically behind.  They missed out on their infant years, and they long to be held, babied, carried, and make up for the nurture of which they were deprived.

#4, You are a parent for life

Some parents erroneously think that when they adopt, they are counting down the years until the child is 18.  They think they are adopting a remaining number of years, rather than a person who will live along life and be in their family forever, with a legacy lasting generations.  Children nowadays are living with their parents into their late twenties and thirties.  You are not only adopting a child, but the future grand children and great grandchildren.  You are not only making a difference in their childhood, but you will be there for them when they need parenting advise, help transitioning careers, or someone to walk them down the aisle at their wedding.

#5, Older kids need parents too

It’s not all about us, after all.  We are not adopting to fulfill our needs, but to meet the needs of God’s children.  Older children are no less in need of families, and our calling to care for orphaned children extends to all kid who lack a mother or father to care for them.

Dr. Daniel Nehrbass, President

Asking the Right Questions

It occurs to me that many adoptive families ask the wrong questions. For instance, they may be short-sighted when they decide on their criteria for the types of child profiles they are willing to consider for adoption.  It is understandable why many couples initially think of race and age.   For some, it is important to have a child who looks like them.  And many assume that younger children attach better, have fewer behavior problems, and that parents have more years with them.  But looking back over our 30 years of international adoption, we have seen thousands of kids adopted at all ages and from every race.  We have also brought over 500 children to the United States on orphan host programs and observed their behavior and adjustment.  Knowing what we do now, we have begun to encourage families to consider a different criteria for assessing their openness to child profiles.  The best predictor of child behavior and adjustment is not race or age.  It is past behavior and adjustment.

Couples vary greatly in their ability and willingness to parent children with behavior problems or a difficult past.  If a couple told me they were hoping to adopt a child who will attach easily and not have behavior problems, I would recommend they look beyond race and age, and instead focus on indications of emotional health.  Emotional health can be observed now.  It is often documented over the past couple years.  And it is the best indication of future emotional health.

Dr. Daniel Nehrbass, President

A Defense of Adoption Fundraising

Not surprisingly, the anti-adoption voices are also anti-adoption fundraising. They have a series of charges to which I’ll respond below.

#1 Adoption fundraising is tacky.

Some may see it that way, but it’s important to note that those raising funds are not trying to impress people who aren’t likely to give. They’re reaching out to potential donors, who don’t see adoption fund raising as tacky. They’re reaching out to people who enthusiastically support their endeavor, not those jeering on the sideline. The people who donate love to give. They are happy about their donation and excited about the outcome. They are not turned off by the request, they are glad for the opportunity.

#2 Adoption fundraising dollars could be spent better

Critics say that the $40,000 for an international adoption could be better spent on community development among orphans and vulnerable children. This is reminiscent of when Judas complained that expensive perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Yet Judas was not known for giving to the poor. I wonder how much money these critics are themselves giving for orphan care. Our experience is that families who adopt are the most likely to also be generous in financial giving for orphan care as well. Churches that support adoption are also the donors for orphan care. Adoption agencies are big financial supporters of orphan care. The two go together, because people personally visit these kids and have a heart for the ones who are adopted and the ones who are left behind. The motivation behind adoption and supporting orphan care is the same: obedience and passion for God’s call to care for the orphan. These works do not need to be exclusive, we can do both: adopt and care for children abroad. Finally, adoption is far more effective at making permanent change than orphan care. Adoption permanently removes a child from poverty and places them in a family, completely and effectively solving immediate problems. For that reason, adoption presents the “biggest bang for your buck” in orphan care.

#3 Adoption fund raising is offensive to the children or birthmoms

While we’ve seen this charge on the internet, we’ve actually never heard this from any of the birthmoms or children that we have worked with. This charge does not match our experience.

#4 If you have to raise funds, then maybe you can’t afford another kid

Adoption fundraising is an opportunity for the community to be involved in a work they support. Many people who cannot or choose not to adopt still want to have a part in making a difference in the life of a child. The cost of raising a child so far exceeds the cost of adopting, that the fees will be a drop in the bucket and long forgotten years later. But the mobilizing of a community around the adoptive family can be a blessing for a lifetime.

Dr. Daniel Nehrbass, President

A Leap of Faith: Overcoming the Labels

Often we receive medical and social histories for waiting children with a long list of diagnosis.  These labels can make it very difficult for families to accept a child into their home.  Often children in institutional care will receive labels such as developmental delays or autism.  These diagnosis are many times given due children going up in less than optimum care and may or may not be long term issues.  For Jim and William, these labels were definitely a barrier to finding them a family, but one family was willing to take a leap of faith.  Mel and June Abordo discovered that labels can sometimes be misleading.  Mel and June share below:


It does not seem possible that a year had already passed since we welcomed Jim and William into our home and our hearts.

Had it only been a year from the time we first looked at their profile from Nightlight’s Hong Kong adoption program, and thought to ourselves, “Are we ready for 2 boys, brothers, from a different culture with a foreign language neither of us knew?”

Our answer…why not? We chose them, an act of will, not of chance nor consequence. Has it been as we expected? Yes, and more… It has been hard and easy, challenging and sobering, humbling and uplifting, all at the same time.

We have often been asked why we chose to adopt. Our answer can be summed up in one great truth: That we are ALL adopted children of our Father in Heaven, and we should do our part to make these abandoned children realize that they are children first and foremost of a good God.

To all that have helped us in this adoption journey, we thank all of you.

-The Abordos

Adoptee Identity Search for birthparents

Answering Questions for Adult Adoptees

Rhonda Jarema

Nightlight Christian Adoptions

Today I received yet another call from an adult adoptee, questioning whether as the agency of her adoption almost 20 years ago, could we provide her with her original adoption documents. She wanted to find her family.

Whether adopted domestically or internationally, the interest in genetic origins is a fascination or even an obsession. Developmentally, late adolescence or early adulthood is a time of separation from the family and increasing independence. It is not unusual as adoptees go through adolescence and become adults to wonder about their family of origin. One adoptee wanted to know why her biological parents made the decision to place her. Another adoptee wanted to know why she was so outgoing, a characteristic she definitely didn’t get from her librarian mother and accountant father. An international adoptee wanted to join the army, but her parents couldn’t find her original adoption documents. Another international adoptee was estranged from his adoptive parents and only had his US driver’s license to prove his identity.

Although the desire to find out more information about their origins may be similar, the reason behind that interest may be different. In addition, the information available and how to access additional information is very different dependent on what type of adoption took place.

Adoption was very secretive through the 1970’s in the United States. Gradually it became understood that it was important to at least offer open adoption. By the 1990’s open adoptions were more common than closed adoptions. However, the amount of information shared still varied from very limited communication through the agency to relationships among the adoption triad of biological and adoptive parents and adoptee. Even today, despite encouragement about open adoptions, there are expectant parents who chose a closed adoption.

With open adoptions, at least at the beginning, there is a sharing of information. The biological and adoptive families share information with one another. However, often by the time the adoptee is a young adult there may have been years between when information was last provided. It is typical for the contact to drop off after a few years as the birth mother moves forward with her life.

For US adoptees there are a few options available in order to track down information about their genetic family. The first step is to read what information was provided at the time of birth/adoption. Taking the available information, the adoptee can then determine what information is available in each State. The ‘Child Welfare Information Gateway www.childwelfare.gov/topics/adoption/search/searching is a great way to start. The adoptee can go on this site and determine what is needed to file for information from the State where they were born. They can access some limited information at age 18 and more information potentially becomes available at age 21. Some States have registries that allow both the genetic parents and adoptees to register and share information.

Even if personal contact information is not provided, registering allows the adoptee to access material that might not have been available in any other manner. It is not unusual for an adoptee to have questions about their adoption and genetics. Tracking down their biological parents can help them answer some of those questions. Although the adoptee may or may not be able to track down their biological parents, they may be able to obtain some answers to their questions.

The international adoptee has those questions and additional ones. International adoptees are the product of primarily closed adoptions. When my family adopted from Russia in 1995, we watched as the official took down a large leather encased book among shelves of similar looking books. She scratched out the names of our daughter’s original birth parents and inserted our names, written in an old-fashioned quill pen. We were provided with very limited information and signed a document that we would not seek out the genetic relatives of our daughters. Although we knew from US best practice that such ‘closed adoptions’ were not in the best interests of our children, we accepted it as that was the expected standard in that country.

With international adoptions, there is often just one original of the adoption documents and birth certificate. Unfortunately, there are limited ways to replace the documents making it difficult for the international adoptee to prove their origins, if they’ve been lost or destroyed.

For the international adoptee, a certificate of citizenship and US Passport can make all the difference between proof of their identity and being stuck in the quagmire of not being able to prove US Citizenship. For some international adoptees, they are finding out as adults, that their adoptive parents never even finalized their international guardianships with an adoption here in the US, leaving them without US citizenship.

Individuals who came to the US under a guardianship, needed to have their adoptions finalized here in the US. It is likely they came to the US under an IR4 VISA, meaning that the adoption needed finalization in the US, prior to US Citizenship being conferred. When inter-country adoptions are finalized in the child’s country of origin, the child likely came into the US under an IR3 VISA. This type of VISA signifies that the adoptee is eligible for US Citizenship. With the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, international adoptees with US parents became eligible for US Citizenship. As of 2004, these Certificates of Citizenship were automatically sent to families whose adopted children entered the US on IR3 VISA’s. However, if an internationally adopted child enters the US on a guardianship and IR4 VISA, they can obtain the US citizenship following the finalization of their adoption in the US.

In a few cases, the adoptive parents may have provided copies of their adoption documents to their adoption agency. However, this is rare unless it was required by the agency. If the adoption records are missing or destroyed, adoptees can apply to USCIS to obtain copies of their original adoption documents. It is form G-884. The website application is http://www.uscis.gov/g-884 They can also apply to the court in their country of origin, for certified copies of their original adoption documents. This is more costly and time consuming, as it would require contracting an attorney or an Intercountry adoption coordinator in the city where the adoption took place.

Of course beyond the desire for the proof of the adoption and US Citizenship, is the desire to find genetic family members. The easiest approach would be to take whatever information the adoptee has whether from memory or taken from the adoption records. With a name and a city, often relatives can be found on Facebook or for those from Eastern European countries, V’Kontakt. There are also ‘searchers,’ individuals who work as detectives to help adoptees connect with their biological family members. They are not formal detectives typically, but people who for a fee will help track down family members and make contact, then providing letters, photos or assisting with contact, depending on what is desired from all parties.
Social Media makes contact much easier whether the adoptee is domestic or international. It is fairly easy to put in a name and do a search. This may be a way to begin a search. However, as with anything, it is important to do it with caution. I’d encourage any adoptee beginning a search to first determine what they want out of the search and discuss it with trusted family members or a therapist. It helps to have a goal. Such a search can open ‘Pandora’s box, bringing up additional issues or it can be a beginning step towards healing and finding answers to previously unanswered questions.

Hobbs’s Story

Mommy! Daddy! – For a decade we dreamed of hearing those words.  In 2005, our beautiful Guatemalan born daughter, Kaili, made our dream a reality.   Parenthood was all we had imagined and more.   In 2010, we began the process again with the country of Panama.  The program was newly formed so we expected a slower process.   What no one could predict was the amount of time it would truly take.  As the years rolled by, we prayed continually for the child we knew God had planned for us.   I will admit there were times we questioned ourselves, wondering if we should keep up the hope of another child. We finally made the heartbreaking decision to stop the adoption process. We decided no more home study updates, no more fingerprinting, and no more expense.  On September 22, 2015, a few short months after we had decided to discontinue, God revealed His plan.  We got the miracle call!  After 4 years of waiting for a referral, when we had decided to discontinue, when there was no “reasonable explanation” for how it happened, we learned that there was a child in Panama waiting for us.  We sobbed as we soaked in the miracle of our new daughter.  As if time hadn’t taken long enough, another 5 months slowly passed before we could kiss her sweet cheeks in person.  It had been such a long wait but our journey was far from over.   We were expected to stay in country 3-4 months to finalize her adoption.  However, on numerous occasions foreign politics prevented our case from moving forward.  We would take one step forward and 2 steps back.   Eight months later, we finally returned home with our beautiful 2-year-old, Kaya.    In all, our journey spanned six and half years.  It wasn’t what we had planned but in the end as we peer into her smiling chocolate eyes, we know God’s timing is perfect.  …….Damon and Meridith Hobbs.

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:14








On September 8, 2016, the US Deprtatment of State issued new rules that will severely limit intercountry adoption.  So far, over 30 Hague accredited agencies have signed a letter expressing that they wish these rules to be abandoned.  You can sign the petition and read more at www.saveadoptions.org 


September 20, 2016
The Honorable John Kerry, Secretary of State
The Honorable Michele Thoren Bond, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Consular Affairs
Department of State, United States of America
Washington, DC 20522

RE: 81 FR 62321; 22 CFR 96; Document Number 2016-20968

Dear Secretary Kerry and Assistant Secretary Bond,

The undersigned adoption agencies, accredited by the Council on Accreditation under the Hague standards on intercountry adoptions, respectfully request that the proposed rules published by the Department of State on September 8, 2016, be withdrawn immediately. The proposed rules, which we believe are unnecessary and discriminatory against accredited adoption agencies and foreign child welfare officials, represent an attempt by representatives of the State Department to exercise subjective and anti-adoption influence and control over the field of intercountry adoption. The rules fail to identify what problems or issues they seek to address, are an effort to control rather than regulate intercountry adoptions and create conflicts in law that cannot be resolved.

We have seen the number of intercountry adoptions decline by 75% since 2004 and the proposed rules would further restrict adoptions, leaving hundreds of thousands of children who may otherwise be adopted with no hope for a family. These proposed rules hurt orphan children and remove what little hope they have for a family. The Department of State should be an advocate and champion for these vulnerable children around the world and not promulgate regulations that will leave these children in a worse position. We favor sound, ethical and transparent intercountry adoption practices.

Our primary objections to the proposed rules include, but are certainly not limited to:

1. Through the Country Specific Accreditation (CSA) category, the rules create a two-tier accreditation system with a “super accreditation” for certain countries with as-yet undefined subjective standards to be determined at a later date and subject to discriminatory application to favored agencies. Foreign countries have no input into whether their country would be subjected to such a “super accreditation” process for agencies which have already been accredited here in the United States and may have also already been licensed to work in their countries. This rule is a blatant abuse of power.
2. Requiring prospective adopting families to complete foster family training at the state level, with no cost to the family, is a naïve and ill-conceived approach to improving current training requirements for families. Just a few calls made to foster care officials across the nation reveal that opening foster family training to intercountry adopting families at no cost is an entirely unrealistic expectation and the uniform reaction was shock at yet another federal government mandate with no funding. Moreover, the lack of access to foster family training provided by the states will certainly extend an already lengthy adoption process, thereby extending the time period that vulnerable children remain institutionalized causing them further harm. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the kind of additional child specific training which would benefit families is not even available through foster family training.
3. The Department of State seeks to impose potentially unlimited and uninsurable liability on agencies for supervising individuals in foreign countries when the level of supervision and control is neither legally allowable (in the case of foreign attorneys or government-run orphanages) nor possible. The current regulations require agencies to carry a minimum of $1 million of professional liability insurance. Discussions with insurers have verified that the cost of insurance for expanding coverage to include individuals or organizations in foreign countries is more than financially prohibitive but would drive the cost of intercountry adoption higher and would probably not even be available.
4. In an attempt to further control the activities of agencies in foreign countries, the proposed rules seek to broaden the activities which are subject to agency supervision to include individuals such as interpreters, guides and drivers under the guise of the word “facilitating” an adoption. “Facilitating” remains undefined in the proposed regulations and leaves it open to the broad, unfettered discretion of the Department and the accrediting entity.
In an unprecedented overreach, the proposed rules also seek to fix the compensation of in-country workers assisting the adoption agencies and adopting families. Rather than simply requiring disclosure, so that prospective adopting families can compare the amounts due for all parts of an adoption, the Department of State seeks to determine what is “reasonable” without any prescribed methodology, guidance, input or supervision, again giving the Department discretion exceeding the scope permissible by law. There is no assurance that foreign workers assisting one agency will be restricted to the same compensation of workers assisting another agency; another path for the subjective, inequitable treatment of agencies. Nowhere else in federal regulations does the government seek to set a maximum level of compensation, and it should not be permitted here.
5. Unlike the initial Final Hague Rules, published February 15, 2006 after 2 ½ years of consultation with the adoption community, adoption agencies, and experts from a wide variety of disciplines, the proposed rules issued on September 8, 2016 offer no rationale or need for rule changes and demonstrably will result in the further decline in the number of intercountry adoptions. It is a proposed solution for a problem that either has not been identified publicly or simply does not exist.

Orphaned children face a dismal future and those remaining in orphanages are the demographic most at risk for trafficking. We ask that the Department of State demonstrate a commitment to adoption as an effective means of protecting vulnerable children and keeping their hope alive by immediately withdrawing the proposed rules.


Signed and endorsed by the listed Endorsing Agencies Below

Cc: Office of Legal Affairs, Overseas Citizens Services, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/L, SA-17,

Floor 10, Washington, DC 20522-1710

Endorsing Hague Accredited Agencies

ABC Adoption Services, Inc.
Across the world Adoptions
Adoption Associates
Adoption by Shepherd Care
Agape of Central Alabama
A Helping Hand Adoption
Amazing Grace Adoptions
America World Adoption Association
Building Arizona Families
Carolina Adoption Services
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, Inc.
Catholic Charities Center for Family Services, Baltimore
Christian Adoption Services, NC
Cradle of Hope Adoption Center
Embracing Children Adoption Services
Embraced by Grace Adoptions
Family Connections, Inc.
Generations Adoptions
Great Wall China Adoptions / Children of All Nations
Homestudies and Adoption Placement Services
Hope’s Promise
Hopscotch Adoptions, Inc.
International Child Foundation
Joshua Tree Adoptions
Little Miracles Adoption Agency
Michael S. Goldstein, Esq
New Beginnings International Children’s and Family Services
New Horizons Adoption Agency, Inc.
Nightlight Christian Adoptions
Open Door Adoption Agency, Inc.
Premier Adoption Agency, Inc.
Small World, Inc.
The Gladney Center for Adoption
Vista Del Mar Adoptions
Wasatch International Adoptions
West Sands Adoptions
World Links International Adoption Agency
More agencies to come soon…we’re just getting started.

Other Endorsing Organizations


Harvard Law School Child Advocacy Program

A Different Perspective on Disruption

A Different Perspective on Disruption


When I began working in the field of adoption, I brought with me my experience as a father of two adopted children.  That experience told me adoption is forever. In fact, I swore this to the judge.  I had difficulty with my children adopted from the foster care system, but I never wavered in my family-forever mindset.  With that mindset I began leading an adoption agency and heard about families who were disrupting, dissolving, or re-homing.  My understanding of the matter was simple…it’s wrong.  My adoption was forever, my promise to the judge was forever, and my definition of adoption means forever.  I harbored only judgment and resentment for families who would disrupt.  It was not a complicated issue.

I am a pretty opinionated person, and I can’t recall many issues where I have reversed my thinking.  But I heard John Bergeron speak at a conference about disruption. His words etched in my memory, “there are times when the needs of the child are not a good fit for the abilities of the parents.”  John reversed my thinking on disruption.

You see, I not only entered the field of adoption as an adoptive father, but with a Ph.D. in pastoral counseling.  John’s words matched with my experience in family counseling.  In our democratic society we would like to think that all couples have equal parenting abilities.  But this is simply not the case.  We speak of people having “their plate full.”  But the truth is, people have different size plates.  Some parents are simply more skilled than others.  Some children present more difficult than others.  Not every couple is skilled enough to meet the needs of every child.

Now some may object that “biological families don’t dissolve just because the needs of the child aren’t a good fit for the skills of the parents.”  But this is not the case.  The instance of international adoptions dissolving is lower than dissolutions of other types of families.  Every foster placement involves the dissolution of a biological family…where the biological parents are not prepared to parent.  Every voluntary domestic adoption involves a birthmother and birthfather, who recognize that they are not prepared to parent and make a decision regarded as heroic.  Parents often foster children with the complete intent of adoption, but as the adoption progresses over the next year they decide the placement is not a good fit. This is a disruption.

Some may say that John’s statement that “the needs of the child are not a good fit for the abilities of the parents” is a euphemism.  Perhaps a euphemism for “horrible parents” or “horrible kid.”  But in our work with dissolution, we have made a surprising observation.  Dissolution often causes children to thrive.  It is a tragedy, but it is not the type of tragedy people think or assume.  There is a tragedy in a family’s hopes and expectations being shattered.  There is a tragedy in a child failing to find permanence.  But in EVERY case where Nightlight has participated in dissolution, the child has found a better placement.  We wouldn’t participate if this were not the case.   In other words, dissolution can be in the best interest of the child.  Who would want a child to remain in a situation where they are despised, or misunderstood, or unable to have their needs met?

A simple observation illustrates that dissolution can be not only a “comparative good,” (the lesser of two evils) but a great improvement for children.  Many dissolutions begin with an adoptive family no other children at home, and the new adoptive family has four, six, or more children in the home.  A typical dissolution involves an older couple who becomes accustomed to living alone, but grieve over being childless.  The presentation of a child in their home comes with a “reality check” that their expectations about parenting were unrealistic.  Having children turns out not to be what they envisioned.  The typical replacement family has several children, often by adoption, and finds parenting the child to be less challenging than the previous family.  This is for several reasons: the second family is more experienced, they have “a larger plate,” (more parenting skills), a distinct calling, more realistic expectations about children, and a lifestyle adapted to having children.

At Nightlight, we have a dissolution prevention plan.  We believe dissolution should be prevented. This plan includes actions before the adoption occurs, such as extensive education requirement, creation of a post-adoption support plan, discussion of realistic expectations, and gaining knowledge about the specific child to be adopted.  The dissolution prevention plan also includes actions after the family begins to struggle, such as offering respite care, connection with doctors, counselors, and special educators, offering free counseling with our social workers, connection with other experienced adoptive parents, adoption support group, and provision of other educational materials.

But at times it becomes clear that a child is far more likely to thrive in a replacement family.  For this reason, we do not have a conviction that dissolution is always wrong, or that it should never occur.   If people assume that “the child is the problem,” then they also mistakenly assume that the dissolution could have been prevented if the family had more preparation or more information about the child in advance (and perhaps weeded out the child from eligibility for adoption).  And if people assume “the couple is the problem” then they mistakenly assume the dissolution could have been prevented if the home study weeded them out.  But what if the FIT is the problem?  What if the child is likely to thrive with one couple, but not with another? In rare instances it will only become clear after the placement that the skills of the parents are not a good match with the particular needs of that child.  In these cases, surprisingly, you will see social workers who advocate FOR dissolution.  Tragic in one, regard, but a great opportunity for the child and improvement in their welfare.

Daniel Nehrbass, Ph.D. | President

Why not apologize for “Rescue”

When my wife and I began the adoption process, we learned from social workers about the dangers of “rescue” language in connection with adoption. Our social worker wanted to ensure that we were not setting out merely to do a child a favor, but that we had a deep need in our heart for a child. This need, we understood, would ultimately provide a healthier basis for bonding than would be afforded by rescue. While I wholeheartedly agree with that rationale, I think we should not apologize for using the word “rescue.” Let me offer a few reasons why rescue is appropriate.

First, to rescue the vulnerable is a biblical concept. In fact, it is a mandate: “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it?” (Proverbs 24:11-12). Many of us are familiar with the fact that the Bible speaks of the fatherless forty-four times, nearly always in conjunction with a command to rescue or provide. These commands to rescue are even accompanied with a warning if we fail to do so. For example, “Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless, for their Defender is strong; he will take up their case against you” (Proverbs 23:10). If God is unequivocal in His command to rescue the fatherless, we should be unashamed to name this as our mandate.

Second, the needs of orphans deserve and demand rescue. The need for rescue is evident in the reasons that children become orphans in the first place. Children become orphans because of abandonment due to poverty, disease, gender inequality, or stigma of disability. They are orphaned by death due to war, natural disaster, or disease. Children become orphans due to legal action from abuse, neglect, or incarceration. They become orphans when their parents are unable to care as a result of drug or alcohol abuse, or mental deficiency. The need for rescue is also evident when we consider the dangers orphans face, such as unclean water, malnutrition, lack of shelter, and lack of education or opportunity. Orphaned children face a much higher prospect of disease, becoming victims of sex trafficking, or being conscripted as child soldiers or slaves. As orphans age, they have increased mental health problems and self-destructive behaviors such as drug use, crime, and turning to prostitution. This litany of dangers and tragic circumstances warrant a strong determination to “rescue.”

Third, rescue language can counteract the risk of adoption exploiting children in the effort to “find kids for families.” Adoption organizations and agencies are clear that their role is not to find kids for couples, but to find parents for children. The hesitation to find kids for parents is well-founded, and based on a concern that over-zealous parents, attorneys, and agencies will do “whatever it takes” to find a child. If finding a child were the only motivation for adoption, then there may very well be an increased risk of inadvertent or malicious exploitation. On the other hand, when couples are more occupied with rescue, they will look for children who are truly in need, not who fit their needs. In this sense, rescue language may provide the extra patience, time, and investigation to determine that the child adopted was truly in need of parents (and of rescue).

Fourth, “rescue” is how adopted children speak of their experience. Our agency asked adoptive children, once they became adults, to write and tell us about their experience. I have a stack of these letters in my office. In nearly every one of these letters the adult adoptee speaks appreciatively of the fact that he or she was rescued. They recount the immediate problems from which they were rescued, and they speak of the gloomy future from which they were rescued. Based on these letters, I am beginning to wonder of the people who eschew rescue language have lived too long on university campuses.

Fifth, rescue language is appropriate because it is true. Most children who are adopted were in the midst of dire circumstances at the point of their adoption, and also were facing a bleak future. I have a friend who unashamedly admits that he adopted purely for selfish motives. He adopted a young boy with disabilities from Russia. People often tell him he “did a good thing” but he flatly rejects that compliment, because he only wanted to have this boy as his son. The truth is, however, it is irrelevant whether this benevolently selfish father recognizes or accepts credit, because either way, his son was rescued from a future as an orphan. Rescue is what he did, regardless of whether this was his motive or whether he was conscious of the fact.

Daniel Nehrbass, Ph.D.

President, Nightlight Christian Adoptions