Vulnerable children come from vulnerable families. You hear me? That's important. It's not necessarily intuitive, but over the years we've learned the importance, in the developing world, of seeing the context in order to direct interventions to the dysfunctional systems that propagate the problem (i.e. seeing the forest as well as seeing a grouping of trees.)
The idea of "rescuing" vulnerable children from their circumstances translates too often as removing children from their God-given, built-in support system - their family, for a plethora of reasons. When we think in these all-or-nothing terms, beliefs are formed, by governments, NGOs, parents, even people like you and me, that children are "better off" in an alternative environment. We reinforce the idea by building children's homes and receiving vulnerable children whose familial poverty coerces their guardians to sacrifice them to an institution in the hope that a minimum provision of food, shelter, and education will sustain them. That should never happen. When we live in a world where parents give away their children because it seems to be the only available intervention, something is wrong.
As Christians, and especially as a Christian development organization, we can not put parents in this horrific position. We have a moral obligation to provide other alternatives that build up families, that allow them to stay together. Things like primary, secondary, and vocational schools that provide two meals a day to its students, as well as quality education and health checkups. Things like creating jobs with dignified wages that empower families to obtain what their family needs. And things like parenting, marriage, and financial seminars that cultivate the formation of long-term goals, not just survive-the-day thinking.
With an arsenal of different interventions, families do not have to break themselves up. We can strengthen the fabric of families instead of tear its threads. Vulnerable children are best protected and cared for when viable family strengthening interventions stand ahead of the last resort decision to give up a child, or to legally mandate their removal. So let's practice talking about vulnerable families, not just vulnerable children, and let's commit to finance many different strategies to support families and increase family resilience.
At Mission Lazarus, we do all of the above. When exceptional circumstances mean that we do provide a child a home, we both grieve the necessity and rejoice at the opportunity, but above all, we conserve, strengthen, and promote each and every child's family ties whenever possible, because family is the fabric that holds our society, whole nations, the entire globe even, together.