Why We Stopped Doing Orphan Care

We stopped focusing on orphan care.

It might sound harsh, but it’s important.

A child with special needs in China is at risk of becoming an orphan at any moment. Even the best-intentioned parents could find themselves abandoning their child due to extreme financial, social, or family pressures. 

One mother shared with our staff Margarete, “Once, I did an unspeakable thing…” Their family was struggling in so many ways, so she quietly gave up her young son with Cerebral Palsy to another family. But she and her husband missed XiaoHang so badly, so after a few weeks they rushed over to get him back. They found him tied up to a bed and sleeping. XiaoHang is safe with her at home now, but that memory haunts her every day.

Hope Station started out as an “orphan care” organization. Our team has been visiting orphanages to provide love, care, and resources to children and caregivers there for over 10 years.

This is good work. But it is not the best work.

J.K. Rowling said it best at a One Young World address, “Despite the best of intentions, the sad truth is that visiting and volunteering in orphanages drives an industry that separates children from their families and puts them at risk of neglect and abuse.” SaveTheChildren UK boiled it down further: “Supporting orphanages creates more ‘orphans.’”

Not only that, but orphanage care is proven to be an insufficient (dare we say inhumane) way to raise a child. UNICEF and other studies claim increased rates of mental illness, physical and intellectual underdevelopment, and that children who leave orphanages are more susceptible to homelessness and suicide. The United Nations’ Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children states that institutional care should be a temporary “last resort.”

We will say this over and over again:

Strengthening families is the key to preventing children in China from becoming orphans.

Hope Station currently supports 13 families through our Family Strengthening Program. That’s 13 children no longer at risk of becoming orphans! And 13 families that actually have hope for their child’s future. New families are signing up nearly every month, desperate for this support!

Children’s lives are changing through therapy and therapy equipment:

“Last week the Hope Station therapist came to us again to guide us in doing therapy. They were very earnest in teaching us the movements and explaining it to me. We’re so thankful!”

Mama of XiaoHang, age 14, Cerebral Palsy

“Last month, LongLong’s walker broke. He can barely walk without it. The Hope Station staff found out and the next day they told us they’ve already helped us buy a new one, and they came over specially to deliver it and help us with it! We were so moved.”

Dad of LongLong, age 12, Cerebral Palsy

XiaoHang + his mama + HS staff Margarete, Rebekah, Talia
LongLong + his grandma + HS staff Margarete

Families are meeting other families like them:

“Talking to the other parents and guardians [at Hope Station], I really think that everyone has hardships, and encounter so many challenges. I also got a lot of encouragement from them. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like life was all that difficult anymore!

Mama of HengHeng, age 4, Autism

“Every family that attended the Hope Station picnic was just like ours; they all have children with special needs. JunHan had a great time and met new friends.”

Mama of JunHan, age 6, Autism

HengHeng + Mama
JunHan + his mama + HS staff Erica

Parents are getting individualized support:

“Sometimes life feels very stressful. I’m very grateful to Hope Station staff for their concern for us. Last week they even scheduled a counseling session for me, which really helped me a lot.”

Mama of JunXi, age 6, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

“We really hoped that FuYin could go to school with the children the same age as her, make new friends, and learn new knowledge. Hope Station is helping us to contact a special needs school, so that she can possibly learn more than she can just by following me at home.”

Mama of FuYin, age 6, Down Syndrome

JunXi + HS staff Erica
FuYin + HS staff Jade

Everyone in the family is getting encouraged:

“LongLong’s best friends are the Hope Station staff. So every time they come visit him, he’s so happy! They even bring him a gift whenever they come, we’re really so grateful!”

Dad of LongLong, age 12, Cerebral Palsy

While the pandemic has made it difficult for us to continue helping children in orphanages, we are not abandoning our work there. But we have shifted the majority of our resources towards strengthening families and preventing orphanhood in the first place.

We believe that a China without orphans, even a world without orphans, is possible. And the way to get there is by helping one child, one family, at a time.

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