Saturday, January 16, 2010

Breaking the Orphanage Stereotype

I was thrilled to see an essay in the Wall Street Journal yesterday praising the merits of and setting the record straight on orphanages. One of the first movies I saw in a theater was "Oliver." I'll never forget the emotional impact of watching Oliver stand, his grey bowl raised up in his hands, in front of the grim authoritarian figure and ask "Please sir, I want some more." From that day on the word "orphanage" brought nothing but a feeling of depression.

Then, about two years ago, a wonderful feature story ran in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel covering a reunion of adults now in their 50's on-up who had been raised by nuns in a Catholic orphanage. All of the reunion-goers shared the warmth, guidance and care they'd received in the orphanage. This place that was their home had recently closed, and if I remember correctly not one of the alumni was happy about it. In fact, they were quite sorry to see the orphanage shut down. That article was the beginning of basing my opinion of orphanages on fact instead of hollywood fiction.

As I got involved in various mentoring programs over the years, and served on the board of a group home, I became even more convinced that foster care and group homes and keeping families together cannot be the standard. Orphanages need to be added to the mix of options in caring for children. As wonderful as some foster care is, sadly it can be highly inconsistent and unprotected "care." Being shuffled from one living situation to the next, and changing schools a dozen times a year is not the ideal way to "care" for children. Nor is the herculean attempt by social service organizations to "keep families together" when those families are highly dysfunctional and downright sick.

I think the people most qualified to tell the truth about orphanages are those who grew up in one themselves. Richard B. McKenzie is one of those people, and he is the author of this Wall Street Journal article, "The Best Thing About Orphanages."

To hear a thoughtful and fact-filled take on orphanages, click on this link to hear an interview featuring McKenzie and others closely involved with orphanages, including a woman who runs a very contemporary orphanage in North Carolina. This residential living center, as they call it, is not the orphanage of "Oliver." Listen to the enlightening interview here:

"Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Matthew 19:14

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