By / Dec 20

Since its creation 12 years ago, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) Unaccompanied Child (UAC) program has helped 410,000 children who have arrived at our borders without a parent or legal guardian by providing basic services and placing such children with foster families. Federal law provides that the ORR through the UAC program is responsible for “coordinating and implementing the care and placement,” “identifying a sufficient number of qualified individuals, entities, and facilities to house,” and “overseeing the infrastructure and personnel of facilities” as needed to ensure these children are placed in safe environments, free of exploitation. In November, the ORR released proposed rulemaking that both provided helpful updates and added concerning measures regarding abortion and “gender transitions” to ORR’s guidelines.

The ERLC responded to this proposal by submitting comments in response to the proposed rule, requesting that the ORR review and revise the rule and remove concerning elements that violated religious liberty protections, conscience rights, and endanger the preborn.

Southern Baptists have stated our desire to see meaningful government policy enacted that ensures clear borders and clear legal pathways while protecting the lives of children made in God’s image and worthy of protection and care. In the resolution “On Wisely Engaging Immigration” earlier this year, Southern Baptists committed to “urge our government to take swift and bold action to protect and prevent the exploitation of unaccompanied immigrant children arriving to the United States.” 

Beneficial proposals

The ORR states that under this proposed rule,

“ORR would be required to plan and provide care and services based on the individual needs of and focusing on the strengths of the unaccompanied child … these collaborative approaches to care provision allow for the recognition of each child’s specific needs and strengths while providing opportunities for unaccompanied children to become more empowered, resilient, and self-efficacious.”

This shows a shift toward a more individualized placement approach within the ORR, leading to better care and protection for these children who may have undergone trauma, abuse, or various other forms of neglect prior to arrival.

As we stated in our comments,

this proposed rule does much good in establishing stronger standards to ensure that these vulnerable children are not exploited and receive proper care. This proposed rule helpfully codifies many standards and practices established in the Flores settlement, individualizes assessment in placements to prioritize the best interest of the child, improves standards for placements that will assist in preventing trafficking, and increases legal representation for these unaccompanied children.

Three primary concerns

The ERLC flagged three primary types of concerns related to abortion, religious liberty, and “gender transition” issues.

Firstly, the ORR explicitly states that the office would continue to fund abortion-related travel for minors in the UAC program. While the ORR claims this is permissible under current appropriations law, the ERLC and pro-life advocacy partners have argued that it is not permissible, with the ERLC stating in the submitted comments:

As the ERLC has repeatedly advocated, abortion-related travel is inherently included as a prohibited measure under the Hyde Amendment since doing so subsidizes the abortion industry with federal funding. There is no meaningful argument the ORR can make to separate abortion from abortion-related travel, and this type of argument has not proven successful in circumventing other federal appropriations restrictions.

Additionally, the ORR does not make any attempt to retain conscience and other religious liberty protections for ORR staffers and foster care parents whose deeply held beliefs may be infringed upon as a result of these newly established guidelines. For example, ORR staffers and foster parents will likely be required to aid in ensuring unaccompanied minor children have access to abortion under the proposed rule. Although the rule states that the program is operated in compliance with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), it is not specified how the agency actually intends to navigate conflict between this proposed rule and the religious liberty protections provided in RFRA.

Lastly, the ORR includes a provision whereby an unaccompanied child is able to request medical services “requiring heightened ORR involvement” and potentially requiring transport across state lines. While the rule does not specifically state “gender transition” procedures and prescriptions are included within this definition, it also does not specify which types of medical services would require such heightened ORR involvement. In keeping with a larger agenda of the Biden administration, it is clear that such language is intended to circumvent laws prohibiting such “gender transitions” in some states.

How does this issue affect Southern Baptists?

Thousands of Southern Baptists have fostered children, launched foster care organizations, and created ministries in their congregations to support the physical and financial needs of foster families. Additionally, congregations across the country have hosted training for foster families to ensure they are trauma informed and have all the knowledge and resources they need to be “safe and appropriate” placements for children in crisis.

Since these unaccompanied children will be placed into foster care, it’s likely this issue will directly affect the religious liberty of Southern Baptists faithfully living out our deeply held religious convictions.

As Southern Baptists, we believe that caring for the vulnerable, including unaccompanied children, is deeply connected to our faith, and we desire to see these children provided with proper care. The necessary and helpful work the ORR does should remain so without capitulating to an agenda that harms the very children we desire to see protected. We encourage fellow Southern Baptists to join us in praying that this rule is revised, for opportunities to equip and care for the foster families serving these children, and for God to continue to grant his wisdom to the staff members of the ORR in ensuring safe and protected environments for these children.

By / Jun 29

Parents have the opportunity to disciple their children to be ambassadors of racial unity by providing them with a biblical understanding of the imago Dei and what this means about the value of others. Part of this family discipleship involves modeling cross-cultural relationships and being willing to engage hard questions for the sake of gospel unity.

For more resources like this about how you can take steps toward greater racial unity, visit ERLC.com/racialunity.

By / Dec 27

As children fill their time during Christmas break and are exposed to their friends’ new devices, many parents are thinking anew about the gaming and technology options for their kids and how the digital world is shaping them, for good or ill. Brent Dusing, founder and CEO of TruPlay, answers questions below that help Christian parents think through bringing video games into their homes.  

Jill Waggoner: How does time on devices affect kids?  

Brent Dusing: On average, children are on their screens for 52 hours a week. Anxiety, suicide, and depression rates are at all-time highs for kids, which mirrors the rise of social media. The average age of males exposed to pornography is 11. While 62% of Americans over 40 believe in God, only 33% of Gen Z (the youngest generational cohort) do. That is a crisis. And it all has to do with the messages and intake they’re getting on screens. 

Devices are mobile, and kids are everywhere with them, so parents have less and less oversight and input. Content can also be exposed to children from their friends. You might have your own household rules, but once your child gets on a school bus and goes to school, you have little to no control over what they see. Your kid could be over at a friend’s house or at a sports practice when they are exposed to inappropriate content from someone else.  

This should be a growing concern for parents, as children in today’s world spend more time online than ever before. In a survey of 1,600 U.S. teens and tweens conducted in May 2022 by The Institute for Family Studies and the Wheatley Institute, the data revealed that kids ages 11-18 play online for an average of 10 hours per day, not including watching television. When the content children are engaging with is not age-appropriate or safe for their developing minds and hearts, this can have a profound impact on their mental wellness. And yet, many parents are still not closely monitoring which games and apps their kids are using. Most have good intentions, but don’t know how to effectively shield their kids from harmful content, nor do they know where to find healthier options. 

If you’re an adult and you care about the next generation, you feel an obligation to act like an adult and protect children. We are supposed to do our best for children and that is not the way society is going today. As a Christian, you should care about the health, well-being, and spiritual maturity of children. There’s a lot wrong with our society, and children are always the victims. They are always the ones at the bottom as these negative effects trickle down. 

Our mission at TruPlay is bringing positive, awesome, world-class, fun entertainment to kids right where they are on a screen just like Jesus met people where they are. There’s a real God who loves them and wants children to know they’re special. There is real value in the Bible inspired by a wonderful God, and there’s hope and truth to be found. There is truth in Jesus Christ and that’s the message we want to send out. 

JW: What type of content is found in many video games that would be inappropriate for children? Is there a rating system that helps parents navigate this? 

BD: Many video games let gamers sell drugs, shoot police and innocent people, or engage with sexual content. There’s a lot of really gory and violent content, and those kinds of things dehumanize people. There is a rating system, but it’s easily circumvented by kids. The rating system is also hard for parents to discern what rating is deemed appropriate for their child. Not every parent has the time and the bandwidth to parse through all of it and play every video game or watch every cartoon ahead of time. It’s not necessarily realistic to expect that the parent is going to be able to have the time, but there are ways to stay involved in what our children are taking in online.  

Be encouraged it’s not all bad news online—there are gaming experts with deep industry experience committed to making high-quality digital entertainment for today’s kids and their parents. As you subscribe, download, and engage with safe content, you also support a demand for it. You don’t have to compromise on fun or entertainment to enjoy the world of digital entertainment. You just need to choose your sources wisely. 

JW:  What are the positives of video games that would encourage parents to consider them? 

BD: Video games do have real intellectual challenges, so they really are a way to build intellectual skills. They also build reaction time. There’s a lot of pilot and military training that takes place essentially with simulated games. Video games are a great way to tell stories and immerse people into worlds and narratives. Also, video games are a form of entertainment that helps contribute to enjoying life and having fun. Video games can be educational, and these claims are backed up by research

JW: What are the risks of online gaming where players can interact with other players? How should parents monitor this? 

BD: Since 2016, CyberSafeKids, an Irish charity that empowers children, parents, schools, and businesses to navigate the online world in a safer and more responsible way, has surveyed 38,614 children aged between 8 and 13. The organization conducted research in the 2021–2022 academic year to track the digital trends and usage of 4,408 children ages 8-12 years old. 

The research, released in September 2022, revealed the following staggering statistics:  

  • 26% of children have seen or experienced something online in the last year that bothered them, 
  • 29% of those children kept it to themselves rather than reporting it to their parents or someone else, 
  • 20% state that they have seen something online that they wouldn’t want their parents to know about, 
  • 64% of children said that they’d been contacted by a stranger in an online game, and  
  • 26% report that they have friends and followers that they don’t know offline.  

In terms of social channels, they can be harmless fun, but there have been many incidents of sexual predators getting connected to children. Kids also can be vulnerable to bullying online, which can lead to children being susceptible to suicide.  

Ultimately, the most important thing is to monitor what kind of content the children are exposed to. Using parental controls on phones, tablets and laptops can help prevent exposure to harmful content. In addition, parents can help keep their children safe by taking these steps:

  • Talk regularly to your children about their online presence and let them know they can come to you with any concerns.                
  • Supervise their digital activities or participate with them when possible. 
  • Set age-appropriate limits on what kind of content they can view or interact with online. 
  • Seek out games and other content that are safe, healthy, and uplifting. 

Parents do have a choice as to what their kids engage with online, and their attention to it is critical. 

JW: What are healthy boundaries and parameters you would encourage for play time? 

BD: I think that families have to set their own parameters and boundaries with their children. For my family, we do allow some screen time, but we limit our children to 30 minutes a day during the school week and on weekends, there’s a little more time. We also have expectations for our children around grades, homework, sports practices, chores, and other responsibilities. 

We have given our children very clear guidelines around content choices. I think content choices are actually more important than the amount of screen time that a child is given. Parents should not feel guilty about their kids being online. There are many benefits and solid reasons for kids to spend time online, yet parameters are important. Households can implement healthy boundaries for how much screen time children are permitted each day. And at the end of the day, parents can collect phones and electronics from their children before they go to bed or keep phones in common areas of the house. 

By / Nov 30

November is National Adoption Month—a time where we raise awareness for children who are waiting for forever families, and celebrate families who have welcomed children home through adoption. After the Supreme Court handed down the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a landmark case that reversed the harmful precedents set in Roe v. Wade, more attention is rightly focused on the welfare of children, post-birth. 

Lifeline Children’s Services’ mission is to equip the Body of Christ to manifest the gospel to vulnerable children. We serve vulnerable children and families through private domestic and international adoption, family restoration, and pregnancy counseling. For over 40 years, Lifeline has sought to care for women by providing them with lifesaving options and practical support.

In this post-Roe world, there will be even more women who need support and resources. To that end, we should be working to support vulnerable children, women, and families. Every woman in this situation needs excellent options counseling, support and care before and after birth, as she is making the best decision for her and her child. While adoption is a beautiful, life-giving option, it is important to understand some of the nuances involved. Below are some commons misconceptions around adoption, as well as some ways to more accurately think through them.

Myth: Adoption and foster care are similar.

Fact: Making an adoption plan for a child is not the same as a child entering foster care. Foster care is an involuntary option in which the state takes custody of the child to investigate allegations of abuse or neglect. When a child enters foster care, the birth parents temporarily lose control. This might lead to a birth mother regaining custody, or it might lead to permanent separation and an adoption. If it leads to adoption, the birth parent does not have control, because parental rights have been terminated.

However, empowering a birth mother means that if she chooses to make an adoption plan for her child, she can be involved in the plan and know that her child has permanence and stability.

Myth: A woman will not have any control in making an adoption plan. 

Fact: When an expectant mother chooses adoption for her child, Lifeline helps her as she chooses a family that will care for the child spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically and who will also honor the birth family. It is important for a birth family and an adoptive family to have access to post-adoption support.

Myth: Adoption is an easy alternative to abortion.

Fact: Adoption is courageous and sacrificial, but it is not the easy way out. It takes thoughtfulness, commitment, and selflessness. While making an adoption plan comes with sadness, loss, and grief, most birth mothers say those tough feelings are paired with great hope, peace, and possibility. They know they have made a responsible, loving decision for their child.

Myth: More families are needed for adoption.   

Fact: For women making an adoption plan for their infant, there are waiting families, who are ready to care for both the child and honor the first family. However, there is a need for more families to become foster families.

Myth: It’s a “failed adoption” if a mother chooses to parent.

Fact: It is not a failure when a mom chooses to parent. Of course, this decision comes with great pain, loss, and grief for a perspective adoptive family. However, it is a part of Lifeline’s ministry for perspective adoptive parents to stand in the gap while these birth mothers make the best decision they can. It isn’t a failure if they were able to love her well during that time while she is deciding. If we want to empower women to make a good decision, and if we believe that parenting is a good decision, then, we shouldn’t call that decision a failure. Prospective adoptive families should be equipped to honor whatever is in that child and birth mother’s best interest.

Language matters!

It is vitally important to be precise and careful with language, because we communicate value and worth through our words. Scripture tells us that every single person is created in the image of God, and has innate dignity, worth and value. (Gen. 1:27; Psa. 139). Below are some helpful language changes to make, so that we’re clear with our language when discussing adoption.

Strive to use person-first language. This practice honors an individual and their inherent dignity before adding a qualifier. For example,

  • Instead of saying, “special needs child,” say “child who has a disability.” 
  • Instead of saying “adopted child,” say “person who was adopted.”

In addition, ​a woman does not give her child up for adoption; she makes an adoption plan. 

  • Instead of saying “a child was given up for adoption,” say “a mother made an adoption plan for her child.

Women who make an adoption plan are not bad mothers. People are unable to parent for a variety of reasons, and making an adoption plan is an incredibly loving decision. Always strive to honor all parties involved in an adoption—birth mothers, adoptive parents and adoptees.

As we seek to care for vulnerable women, children, and families, may we always extend the good news of the gospel while we care for those in our communities who need love and compassion.

By / Oct 3

Southern Baptists have a long history of following in the footsteps of the faith and serving those in need. When Jesus was on Earth, he did not bypass physical needs but met them and used them as a way to share how he was meeting the greatest need of all—the salvation of our souls. Likewise, Send Relief, a collaboration between NAMB and the IMB, seeks to address needs that arise from various circumstances while also sharing the hope of Jesus. One focus of the work at Send Relief is foster care and adoption, which is all the more important in a country without Roe. Josh Benton, vice president of North American ministry at Send Relief, answered a few of our questions about this aspect of their ministry and how churches can be involved. 

Lindsay Nicolet: How does foster care and adoption ministry fit within the mission of Send Relief? 

Josh Benton: Send Relief is the Southern Baptist compassion ministry which seeks to meet physical and spiritual needs in Jesus’ name. Working alongside churches, we care for the vulnerable and strengthen communities around the world. Caring for families and children is one of our five ministry focus areas. Our work in this area includes developing and supporting ministries focused on crisis pregnancy, serving at-risk families, and helping churches develop or support ministries to vulnerable families within their communities. 

LN: What projects is Send Relief involved in as you seek to engage in the foster care and adoption space? 

JB: Send Relief engages foster care and adoption in two specific ways. First, is through our ministry centers. We have 20 Send Relief ministry centers across North America. Two of them, Valdosta, Georgia, and Quebradillas, Puerto Rico, are child placement agencies for foster care and adoption. In addition to child placement, these locations provide training for foster and adoptive families. We also work with churches to help support vulnerable families in their communities with resources, counseling, and respite care, along with providing an opportunity for churches to go on mission trips to learn more about and get hands-on experience with foster care and adoption ministry.  

Second, Send Relief helps churches start a Family Advocacy Ministry, which we call a FAM. FAM is a step-by-step ministry strategy that helps churches serve and advocate for vulnerable children and families as well as those called to foster and adopt. Send Relief helps churches implement FAMs so they can have a gospel-centered impact on the lives of vulnerable children and families.

LN: How does God’s Word drive your work in this key area? 

JB: Scripture is clear about the call to care for vulnerable families. Genesis 1:26-27 establishes that all people are created and designed by God, in the image of God, and are therefore valued by God. Genesis 2 describes God’s intentional design for the family. Then, Genesis 3-4 shows the damaging impact of sin on all creation but, specifically, how sin creates brokenness in families. 

From Deuteronomy 10 to James 1 and several references in between, God not only calls his people to remain committed to his design for the family but to also care for the those without stable, intact families. Romans 8 also beautifully portrays adoption as a picture of our redemption through Christ.

With this in mind, we can sum up how Scripture provides the truths that cultivate Send Relief’s perspective on serving in foster care and adoption ministry with a few statements:

  • Every person is created in the image of God, therefore, all people have value.
  • God designed the family and desires all to be in a family.
  • Christ calls us to reflect his compassion and care for the vulnerable.
  • Foster care and adoption portray how God redeems through a personal faith in Christ. 

LN: What challenges arise with serving children in need and families in today’s culture? And how have/will these change in a post-Roe era?

JB: The challenges for serving vulnerable children and families are significant. Here are a few key statistics from Adoptuskids.org and the Administration for Children and Families

  • Each year more than 250,000 children enter the foster care system in the United States.
  • At any given time, there are on average over 400,000 children in the foster care system.
  • Each year more than 23,000 children age out of the foster care system when they turn 18 or 21, depending on a state’s laws.
  • Currently, more than 115,000 children in foster care are waiting to be adopted.
  • The average age of a child in foster care is 8 years old.
  • Troubling statistics for children who age out of the system:
    • Likely to experience job loss and homelessness
    • 70% of human trafficking victims spent time in foster care
    • 71% of women who age out experience pregnancy within one year 
    • 65% of individuals who are incarcerated aged out of the foster care system

These challenges will likely intensify in our post-Roe world. These are all harrowing statistics, but one of the most significant issues is that there are more children in need provides an opportunity for churches to fill the gap. With more than 115,000 children in the foster care system who are waiting to be adopted each year, churches can play a role by recruiting families to foster and adopt, mentoring vulnerable families, and providing communities of care for those who are fostering and/or adopting.

LN: How can pastors and ministry leaders create a culture of equipping families to care for children?

JB: No matter what community, city, or state you are in, vulnerable families are present. This isn’t a ministry opportunity that is somewhere else; it’s everywhere. Pastors and church leaders have an important role of recognizing the need that exists, articulating the biblical call to meet the need, and blessing those in their congregation who are led to pursue the ministry opportunity. Send Relief has resources on our FAM page to help pastors and churches pursue ministry to vulnerable families and children.

LN: What are some practical things that local churches can do to come alongside this mission to serve families and those involved in foster care and adoption?

JB: There are several ways churches join Send Relief to serve vulnerable families. One of the most important things is to recognize that there are many ways to serve. There is a great need for families to foster and adopt. Encourage those who are called but also understand not everyone feels that call, and there are multiple ways to serve outside of adopting and fostering. Here are specific ways churches can serve:

  • Praying diligently and consistently for vulnerable children and families
  • Developing a relationship with a local child welfare office
  • Raising awareness about the needs of vulnerable children and families
  • Recruiting families to consider adopting or fostering
  • Providing resources, as well as emotional and spiritual support, to biological families experiencing crisis
  • Helping to meet physical and financial needs of foster and adoptive families
  • Mentoring single mothers
  • Supporting and encouraging local child welfare workers
  • Providing meals or respite care to foster and adoptive families
  • Going on a mission trip at a Send Relief ministry center that serves vulnerable families

For more information on the Dobbs decision and its effects, visit erlc.com/dobbs

By / Jul 6

I don’t think I have ever met a parent who didn’t hope to respond patiently and attentively when their child was sad, frustrated, or anxious. And there is plenty to lead our children to these emotions, from the pandemic to wars to social media. But the hope parents have of responding well can often be circumvented by our own emotions, thoughts, and even historical habits of relating. Suddenly we find ourselves reacting in ways that don’t align with the love we have for our children.

As I spend time in my counseling practice with parents, I discover that they love their children deeply and yet sometimes struggle to communicate that love when emotions are running high. They may not even have words for what is stirring ominously in their own minds and hearts when their child can’t seem to get his shoes on fast enough or put his laundry in the hamper, let alone when he yells or refuses to obey. 

What is happening in our hearts and minds? 

This is the million dollar question I hear in just about every counseling session I have. I’m grateful for the question. It denotes the desire to grow and explore. We usually discover that the answer is multifaceted, with many different influencing factors. But I want to share one answer that keeps coming to the surface for many parents I encounter.

When conflict or tension arises with our children, we feel carried away from the present moment and pulled into the past or into the future. 

We may feel pulled into the future with questions such as: 

  • What should I be teaching my child right now so this won’t happen again? 
  • What if this problem is a sign of a more serious issue that I’m not seeing?
  • What if I’m parenting wrongly and it messes up my kid for the rest of his life?
  • What will other people think of my parenting?

Or we may feel pulled into the past with questions such as:

  • Why didn’t I correct this behavior sooner?
  • What if I’m behaving just like my parents behaved with me?
  • What if I have already done too much damage?
  • How did we end up like this?

When we are pulled into the past or the future, we cannot be fully present. We cannot focus on what’s right in front of us. We need the ability to slow down enough to notice how we’re experiencing the moment, and we also need to notice how our child is experiencing the moment. We will miss very important information if our minds are busy with the questions of the past or the future.

In Scripture we see a heavenly Father who is fully present with us in all that we experience. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (ESV). Psalm 121:3 says, “He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.” And Jesus says in Matthew 28:20 that he is with us to the very end of the age. 

4 ways to be more present with our children

God is present with us in every moment, and as parents we too are meant to tangibly represent the presence of provision, protection, and leadership. So how can we be more fully present with our children through their hard emotions? 

Slow Down. Many of us struggle to regularly pay attention to our own bodies, emotions, and minds. If we are not self-aware, we won’t be very good at awareness of others. And self-awareness requires a slow pace that includes reflection and meditation. 

We do this best in the presence of God, since our identity is in him, and he knows everything happening inside and around us. And if I don’t set aside time to slow down in reflection and meditation on his Word, I will not instinctively slow down in a moment that is difficult. The practice of reflective meditation before God is beautiful in itself because we are spending time in his presence, but it’s also a training ground for life’s obstacles. If I know who I am and have a strong connection to my heavenly Father, I am more likely to respond in a way that truly reflects my identity.

Attune. Think of musical instruments in an orchestra. When the instruments are individually tuned and then attuned to each other, beautiful music can be created. Attuning to our children means leaning in toward them and seeking to know them in the present moment. But if we do not first seek to know ourselves in body, mind, and heart before the Lord, we will be trying to ‘tune up’ our children while our own instruments remain out of tune. We can attune to ourselves by slowing down, asking God for help, and then getting on the child’s level (figuratively or even literally). We can ask what is happening for him at this moment, and then seek to listen and understand. 

Focus. As we listen to our child, we should keep our minds, emotions, and bodies fixed in the present. If we find our minds being pulled to the past or the future, we need to redirect. (This takes lots of practice, so we must be patient with ourselves as we do this work.) Once we seem to have an understanding of what the child is experiencing, we can move forward in wisdom about what needs to be done. By focusing on desired outcomes, we are seeking to do more than just react suddenly to a difficult moment. And focused attention flows out of slowing down and attuning.

Encourage. In difficult encounters, I also recommend dual encouragement: toward the child and toward yourself. Everyone has difficult moments, and we do not always respond in a way that demonstrates love and wisdom. However, we still need to be encouraged to keep moving forward. We encourage our children to keep growing, and we should do the same for ourselves. First Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” The Lord knows we need encouragement in order to fuel us in the work before us, so it’s good to also receive it—and even ask for it when you need it.

As we use this model of being fully present with our children, we will show ourselves to be SAFE (which is the acronym I created from the four principles above: Slow Down/Attune/Focus/Encourage). Our children feel safe and nurtured when we are fully present with them. And when we react suddenly and unhelpfully, by being pulled to the past or the future, the opportunity abounds for us to return to the present moment and demonstrate reconciliation, repentance, and forgiveness.

One final note: it’s unreasonable to expect ourselves to use the SAFE model every time we have a difficult encounter with our children. But I’ve noticed that when we start to practice it, even just a little, our kids start to pick up on something different. They notice a change in our responses, and they welcome it. Not only are we doing something that nurtures awareness in the moment, we are also helping our children identify and find language for their own responses, which will foster their continued growth into emotional and spiritual health and enable them to navigate the everyday stresses of life.  

By / Jun 23

Helen Featherstone, in her classic work A Difference in the Family, explains that families affected by disability face all the same challenges that typical families face but with differences of degree. All families are responsible for providing for their children’s physical and mental health, emotional and spiritual well-being, education, safety, growth and enrichment, financial security, material needs, and social relationships—to name a few aspects of care. For parents of children with disabilities, the differences of degree are often significant in many, if not all, of these areas. 

The importance of advocacy for children with disabilities

Ensuring their children’s access to these things and appropriate adaptations in certain arenas often requires intensive advocacy on the part of parents of children with disabilities. Advocacy can be defined as “any action that speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others.” The need for unrelenting advocacy can be both daunting and discouraging for families affected by disability. In many cases, it continues not just through childhood but over the course of a person’s lifetime. 

One of my most memorable (but not most stellar) moments of advocacy on behalf of my son Tim—who has Down syndrome—came during his last year of high school. A group was meeting to discuss how to secure employment for Tim when he graduated. In the past, the vast majority of our meetings had been not only civil but collaborative and productive. At one point in this meeting, however, Tim’s job coach jumped out of her chair and pounded her fist on the table with the words, “It’s all about safety!” My response was as sarcastic as it was quick: “I thought it was all about getting a job while doing it as safely as possible! If it’s all about safety, why don’t we just get a cardboard box, a roll of duct tape, and a straw for air, and seal him up inside it?” As any good counselor will tell you: a sarcastic comeback is rooted in anger. 

Navigating advocacy wisely can be a “sticky wicket” for Christian parents. We serve a God of righteousness and justice who says the very foundation of his throne is built on these attributes (Ps. 89:14). At the same time, we encounter a world that too often is indifferent to righteousness or justice on behalf of people who are touched by disability. To make it even more complex, Christian parents—as fallen but redeemed persons made in the image of the Living God—do not always accurately reflect God’s character in our advocacy either. How can our redemption and our representation—by Christ our Advocate—transform the ways in which we engage others in advocating for change?

Becoming like Jesus in our advocacy 

Perhaps the most amazing gift that God gives to Christians is Jesus Christ’s role as our Advocate. By living a perfect life, dying a sacrificial death, rising in victorious power, and standing before the Father’s throne on our behalf (Heb. 9:24), Jesus is truly the Advocate above all advocates. As Norman Clayton’s old hymn “My Hope Is in the Lord” says, 

And now for me He stands
Before the Father’s throne
He shows His wounded hands
And names me as His own.

There is no greater privilege than being blessed by the advocacy of Christ through saving faith. Jesus’ advocacy has several dimensions that we too can reflect through the transforming power of his Spirit in our lives as he conforms us, more and more, to his image. 

First, Jesus’s advocacy is fueled by love. The same love that compelled Christ to redeem sinners leads him to name us as his own before the Father. True advocacy is rooted in love. That’s not hard for parents to grasp, as our love for our children motivates us as well. What is harder to grasp is that true advocacy engages all parties in loving ways. It loves the stubborn teacher. It loves the resistant administrator. It loves the condescending extracurricular activity leader. Once grasped, this principle is even harder to put into action. May Christ’s love for us fuel us with overflowing love for our children and for those with whom we must work on their behalf.

Second, Jesus’s advocacy is sacrificial. In order to successfully advocate on our behalf, Jesus had to pay with his very life. Advocacy always costs the advocate something. And the need for advocacy will never completely go away in this lifetime because we live in a world that is wracked by the effects of the fall. That doesn’t mean progress will not happen. It means perfection cannot happen. Expect advocacy to be hard. Parents of children with disabilities have an Advocate who fully understands the cost. 

Third, Jesus’s advocacy is unrelenting. Jesus is an Advocate. It is who he is. It is in his divine DNA. When love is hard, when sacrifice is costly, parents can remember that Jesus’ advocacy will sustain us into eternity. So, rather than resisting the role of advocacy on behalf of children with disabilities—or worse, becoming bitter about the obstacles in their pathway—parents can embrace advocacy as part of God’s calling on their lives. In the words of the author of Hebrews, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1–2). To follow in the footsteps of Christ our unrelenting Advocate is not just a difficulty to endure but a privilege to embrace. 

May a renewed understanding of the blessings of Christ’s advocacy on behalf of the Christian parents of children with disabilities bring much-needed encouragement. As we stand up for these precious children and seek to meet their needs, may we display a picture of what a loving, sacrificial, and unrelenting Savior we have.

By / Jun 1

In a span of just 10 days, the United States was rocked by the news of two mass shootings. The first, a racially motivated crime, occurred in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 people. The most recent tragedy occurred at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and resulted in the deaths of 19 students and 2 adults. The nation finds itself, once more, discussing and debating what policies and prevention are needed to stop these atrocities and how to do so in a way that respects our Second Amendment rights. Christians should be ready to enter into those complex discussions with a perspective that is governed by a desire to honor God through obedience to Christ and protect the vulnerable. In the midst of these crucial conversations, it’s also important that we weep with those who weep while being forced to reckon with the inevitability of our own deaths.

Weeping in the face of sorrow 

Undoubtedly, when Paul instructed the churches in Romans 12:15 to “weep with those who weep,” he envisioned the example of Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb. While the Son of Man fully trusted in the Father and did not waver regarding his goodness and sovereignty—even amid the suffering and loss of Lazarus—he still wept. Jesus’ perfect knowledge did not prevent him from expressing perfect compassion and grief in the face of deep personal loss. As those who follow the Savior who wept over the brokenness that sin brought into the world, we too, when we take sin and its effect on our world seriously, will be moved to mourn with the mourners. In doing so, we imitate Christ, the Incarnate God who is near to those who are brokenhearted (Ps. 43:18) grappling with suffering that is impossible for our finite minds to make sense of. 

While we weep with those who weep and seek to bring comfort to others as those who have been comforted by the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-4), we will inevitably be reminded of our own mortality as we come face to face with the reality of death. And, if we are not, Jesus believed we should be. This is seen in a passage from Luke’s Gospel. When Jesus encountered a group of people asking questions about the fate of the Galileans who perished at Pilate’s hand (Luke 13:1-5), he quickly redirected their inquiries. 

Facing our mortality 

As one reads the passage, an underlying assumption about the crowd emerges. Based on Jesus’ answer, it would appear that the crowd presumed that there was something inherently defective about those who suffer in this world. Otherwise, in their mind, why would such a horrible thing be allowed to happen? That was the only way they could think to make sense of such a tragedy. Jesus, however, answered by saying that there was nothing substantive or morally different between the Galileans who perished under Pilate and those who did not. The evil committed by Pilate against those Galileans was not due to something wrong with them. 

Jesus then went on to make the same point in the passage by highlighting another tragic accident in Siloam, where a tower had fallen on a group of 18 people, killing all of them. Those that survived in Siloam were not more righteous than those who perished. In other words, one’s goodness or badness is not the sum total explanation for “why” any given tragedy occurs. Jesus rebuked the people for what was implied in their search for an answer to the evil they experienced and turned their question on its head by ending his comments with a warning of repentance. 

Those that addressed Jesus were hoping that they could establish criteria for the type of people that bad things happen to, but Jesus wouldn’t allow it. He would not let them rest in the idea that somehow they could, through their own decisions and effort, avoid the horrors of this life in a fallen world. Instead, what they could do is repent and prepare for eternity so that they would not perish forever. In the Old Testament, the author of Ecclesiastes emphasizes the importance of considering our mortality: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (7:2). The solace of understanding this on the other side of the cross is that those who trust in Christ will ultimately pass through the valley of death into a life of neverending feasting and joy (Ps. 23; Ps. 16:11). 

Hope amid the horror 

While we dwell in this broken world and weep with those who weep, we must not assume that somehow we are or can be immune to the sufferings that others experience. Mankind’s rebellion against God has resulted in a good world gone bad because of the curse of sin. Our only hope of escaping the curse that sin has brought is for someone to bear the curse for us. This is what Jesus, the Son of God, born of woman, born under the law, does for all who would place their trust in him (Gal. 4:4). And this is the truth we point to as we love others and meet their physical needs in the midst of terrible sorrow. 

Jesus, as the only sinless, innocent, stainless human to ever live, came and took on our sin that we might become the righteousness of God in him (1 Cor. 5:21). He bids us to come to him in our grief and under the weight of unbearable burdens (Matt. 11:28). He alone has conquered death, and the precious promise we have is that all who are in him will be raised like him when he returns. It is from this posture of hope amid the horrors of this world that we can face our mortality and come alongside others to minister to them and mourn with them in their darkest moments. 

By / May 3

Adoption is a beautiful picture of the gospel, but in this world, it’s fraught with a mixture of grief and gladness. In addition, particular joys and challenges can enter the picture when a family grows by cross-cultural adoption. In light of this, Brittany Salmon’s new book, It Takes More than Love: A Christian Guide to Navigating the Complexities of Cross-Cultural Adoption, is a welcome encouragement and guide for adoptive families or those who are seeking to support those who have adopted. Below, Salmon answers questions about the unique and practical aspects of cross-cultural adoption. 

Alex Ward: You start your book by saying you have a love/hate relationship with adoption because it’s “joy and suffering and loss and gain and hope and disappointment all in one.” How did your adoption story shape how you see adoption in this way? 

Brittany Salmon: It’s an odd thing for an adoptive parent to say they have a love/hate relationship with adoption, isn’t it? However, it’s true. I love parenting my children. It is such a gift! But I hate that in order for me to get to be their mom, they had to walk through the trauma of being separated from their first families. 

Adoption happens because brokenness exists in our world, and I felt that acutely the first time we were in the hospital meeting our son. I remember the heaviness of watching his first mom say goodbye, and my heart broke into a million pieces as she left the hospital without him in her arms. “It’s just not supposed to be this way,” I cried. I remember the heaviness of rocking him at night, singing to him, knowing that mine wasn’t the voice and the body he was used to hearing those months in utero. And yet, as our family grew and another one seemingly shrank, I learned to hold both joy and sorrow at the same time. Our joy and love for our son didn’t have to erase the sorrow that came along with it; both could coexist together.

AW: Recently, there has been considerable discussion about how much race and culture on the part of prospective adoptive parents should be considered. Bethany Child Services made news when they recommended acknowledging that a purely colorblind approach does a disservice to the child. At the same time, others criticized the move as capitulating to an ideology that sees white parents acting as “saviors.” How should parents think about their own race and culture when adopting transracially and how that may shape or affect a child?

BS: Well first off, I think we all need to acknowledge how complex of an issue this is, and in our current political climate it is easy to make this issue a polarized one. It requires a lot of nuance to fully understand the many complexities of cross-cultural families and the identity development of cross-cultural adoptees. 

However, as we’ve now listened and learned from adult adoptees, we can openly say that in adoption there is no room for a savior mentality or colorblindness. These are two separate ideologies that are indeed harmful to adoption communities. I’m not here to debate that, as the Bible affirms that we have only one savior, and his name is Jesus, and our God is a gloriously creative God who made all mankind in his image. 

So in answering your last question — how should parents think about their own race and culture when adopting? — the great part is that we all come from a culture and ethnicity that we can celebrate! Because every person who walked the Earth was made in the image of God, we can celebrate how each of us uniquely reflects the goodness of a creative God! For example, I’m Hungarian American, and one of the Hungarian dishes I grew up eating is called Turos Csusza. It’s one of my kids favorite dishes, and I tell them about my grandpa who was Hungarian American. One of our sons is half Puerto Rican, so I’ve been doing my best to master a delicious Arroz con Pollo. It’s more than just meals, but we’ve learned that if we’re going to be a multicultural family, we can’t live a monocultural life. And so we make space in our families to embrace all of our unique and God-given cultures. 

AW: How would you encourage parents who adopt transculturally to immerse their children in the culture of their birth? What does that look like practically, and why is it necessary? 

BS: Like I said above, if you’re called to be a crosscultural adoptive family, you’re called to live a multicultural life. And the great thing about this is that we get to choose where we spend our most valuable resource: time. We get to choose where our children attend schools and where our families attend church. We get to choose which sports and extracurricular organizations our families are a part of. We get to choose who we invite over for dinner and who we do life with.

For the multicultural family, I believe you must be intentional about doing life in spaces where your children can build genuine relationships with people who share their same ethnicity. In my book, I break down representation into three specific tiers, but the most important tier is ensuring that your child has racial representation in their real life and everyday community. 

AW: I doubt that when people are thinking through the adoption process, the question of haircuts comes up often. But you devote an entire chapter to the question of hair, beauty, and affirmation. What about these seemingly mundane tasks is part of the larger challenge of transcultural adoption? 

BS: I think one of the things that has stood out the most when talking with and learning from adult adoptees is how ill-equipped some of them felt to care for their hair. Many of them had stories about how they didn’t know how to take care of their hair or skin, or how their parents shamed them when they started exploring beauty practices outside of their parents’ Eurocentric beauty standards. Or worse, they had memories of their parents bemoaning how hard or horrible it was learning how to take care of their hair. 

I devoted an entire chapter to this topic because it is so much more than just hair care; it’s learning how to affirm your child’s beauty and giving them the tools to take care of themselves. Doing this is another way we can honor our children’s ethnic heritages rather than erase them. And from a biblical perspective, taking care of our bodies can be seen as a form of worship. For the adoptee, honoring their culture’s beauty standards can be a part of embracing their God-given racial identity.

AW: In the book you urge potential adoptive parents to consider the cost of adoption, and one literal cost that you bring up is the need for a specialized adoption counselor. Why do you think that counseling may be needed for the entire family, not just the child who experienced trauma? And is the fact that everyone needs counseling a reason to think we aren’t qualified to adopt? Should people have it all together perfectly before starting this process?

BS: Well first off, you should know that I think all parents should consider counseling. Every single person who walks this Earth has suffered and experienced heartache, many have experienced trauma, and I think it’s incredibly wise and healthy to pursue godly counsel. There is a stigma with counseling that it’s only for a certain type of person, and I would argue that it’s for all of us. I’ve used counseling for a number of different seasons in my life, not just the traumatic ones.

However, I do think when you’re walking through trauma or wrestling with past traumas, it’s wise and helpful for everyone involved to seek godly counsel from licensed professionals. And since adoption is birthed from trauma, it can be helpful for the whole family to get the tools they need in various seasons. 

For example, if a child joins a family and they have regular tantrums, issues with food, outbursts, etc., it is not only helpful for parents to receive counseling and learn how to parent in a trauma-informed way, but it’s helpful for the siblings in the home to also have a counselor to walk with them through witnessing angry outbursts they might not be used to. Also, some siblings of adoptees express frustration or the feeling of being left out because their parents’ attention is hyper-focused on helping a child transition into their home. Having a trauma-informed and adoption-informed counselor can be greatly beneficial for the whole family to process the changes needed to welcome a child. 

AW: I think that for most parents, they know that they won’t be perfect. They hope and plan, but seem to know that there are going to be days when they drop the ball. For parents who are honestly just struggling to know what they don’t know when it comes to transracial adoption, I think that fear of doing something wrong is probably even higher. So how did you handle it when you got something wrong?

BS: Every adoptive parent I know has gotten something wrong at some point. So if there was time, I would take every parent wrestling with shame out to coffee and would tell them this: Shame is a dirty liar, and conviction is a tool that God uses to prompt us to change. Which one are you feeling? 

You see, shame can keep us focused on our failures, whereas conviction pushes us toward repentance and change. It pushes us to do better, for our kids’ sake and the glory of God. So we don’t give a lot of time and mental space to shame. Instead, since we know that all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, we repent of our sins and then we use conviction as a catalyst for righting our wrongs. We’re going to make mistakes as parents. We know that going into parenthood, so we can be free from the fear or shame that Satan might use to paralyze us. And we can rest in the freedom of serving a God who calls us to live lives of repentance. 

AW: Is there anything else you would recommend people do as they are either considering transcultural adoption or are trying to serve those who are? What other resources would be helpful, and what practical steps can our churches and families take?

BS: I love the phrase, “You can’t know what you don’t know.” And I think it applies to this question. One of the greatest things people who are considering cross-cultural adoption or supporting those who are adopting can do is to start their educational journey now. That’s why I wrote one chapter specifically for families and friends supporting adoptive families. If communities and prospective adoptive families start learning and listening well before a child is placed into their home, they will be better equipped to handle some of the hard aspects of adoption that their family and community will experience at some point in their journey. 

As for some practical steps our churches can take? My biggest piece of advice for churches would be if you’re going to encourage your families to step into foster care and adoption, let’s make sure our churches are equipped to serve them! Two great steps would be: (1) to make sure your Sunday school curriculum and resources for children represent and support all the children in your congregation, and (2) consider partnering with local child welfare agencies and have trauma-informed training for your volunteers that work with children. 

By / May 2

Much needed attention has been drawn to the spike in mental health concerns experienced by children and teens in recent years, especially in the aftermath of COVID-19. A review of 29 studies conducted during the pandemic reported a doubling of rates of child and adolescent anxiety and depression. Extensive media coverage was devoted to a recommendation from an independent task force composed of experts in primary care and prevention that all children ages 8 and up should be screened for anxiety disorders, and several large medical organizations have joined forces in declaring a National State of Emergency in children’s mental health.

In light of these recent events, what should pastors, church staff, parents, and grandparents know about the effects of anxiety on our children and youth? Here are 10 important pieces of information. 

1. Anxiety is a normal, and often healthy emotional state. It may even provide an impetus for us to draw closer to and become more grounded in our relationship with God. When we talk of kids with anxiety disorders, we’re describing situations when a child’s anxiety is so great that it begins to interfere with their attendance or performance in school, their ability to make or keep friends, their ability to engage in age-appropriate tasks of daily living, or their ability to take part in family activities and responsibilities in an age-appropriate way. 

2. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health conditions affecting youth ages 12–17 in the U.S. They impact nearly one in ten children at any point in time and occur more than twice as often as depression among children ages 3-17.

3. Rates of anxiety disorders in children and teens were increasing rapidly prior to COVID-19. According to data obtained from the National Survey of Children’s Health, rates of anxiety in children ages 3-17 increased by 29% between 2016 and 2020. 

4. “Red flags” indicative of problematic anxiety are readily observable, even though children and teens are often good at hiding their anxiety from parents and other significant adults. Warning signs of significant anxiety may include:

  • Excessive absences from school or school refusal
  • Frequent physical complaints (headaches, stomach aches, muscle aches, diarrhea, dizziness, weakness, lightheadedness) not attributable to another medical condition
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Excessive need for reassurance
  • Panic, tantrums when separation from parents is necessary
  • Frequent questions beginning with “What if”
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Excessive perfectionism
  • Many worries about events before they happen
  • Poor self-confidence

5. Kids may experience symptoms of one or more anxiety disorders, and the nature of their anxiety often changes over time. 

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by the presence of excessive worry on most days often accompanied by sleep problems, muscle aches, irritability, restlessness, fatigue, and poor concentration. 
  • Children and teens with Separation Anxiety Disorder typically experience excessive fear or distress when away from parents or loved ones. They may struggle to sleep in their own bed, leave for school, to be alone upstairs or in the basement, and harbor irrational fears about themselves or a loved one being kidnapped, getting into a serious accident, or developing a life-threatening illness.
  • Kids with specific phobias experience fear of certain objects or situations, often resulting in elaborate avoidance strategies. Fear of germs has been a common concern since the beginning of COVID-19. 
  • Social Anxiety Disorder is associated with significant fear of acting in a manner that will result in embarrassment or humiliation. Affected children may struggle to ask questions in class, order food in a restaurant, or experience great distress at the prospect of meeting new people.
  • Panic Disorder is associated with brief, recurrent, unanticipated episodes of intense fear, accompanied by a characteristic set of physical symptoms, a sense of impending doom, and the urge to flee or escape the place where they experience symptoms. Agoraphobia is a closely related condition in which intense symptoms of anxiety occur in situations experienced as unsafe with no easy way to escape without becoming the focus of undesired attention. 
  • Children and teens with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) experience recurrent, intrusive thoughts or compulsive, recurrent, repetitive behaviors associated with significant mental distress. They may struggle with excessive perfectionism, making and sticking to decisions, or time-consuming rituals for counting, checking, arranging, or ordering items, grooming, or washing. 

6. Effective treatments are available for children and teens with anxiety disorders. A large, well-designed, government-funded research study reported response rates of 55% to treatment with medication alone, 60% to a specific type of counseling (cognitive-behavioral therapy) alone, and 81% to a combination of the two.

7. Fewer than 60% of kids with anxiety disorders receive any form of effective treatment, despite the availability of therapy and medication. 

8. The presence in a family of a child with an anxiety disorder significantly decreases the likelihood of the family attending church. A study examining data from over 250,000 parent interviews obtained as part of the National Children’s Health Survey noted that having a child with anxiety decreases by 45% the likelihood of the family having set foot in a church in the past year. Note: Church attendance decreases by 73% when a child has depression and 19% when a child has ADHD.

9. Common challenges kids with anxiety disorders experience at church include:

  • Separating from parents before and during worship services.
  • Taking part in church events and activities that depart from the weekly routine such as Vacation Bible School or take place in unfamiliar places, like retreats or mission trips.
  • Expectations for self-disclosure in small groups.
  • Group activities in which they’re at risk of becoming a center of attention by being called on to read or answer questions. 
  • Large group social situations, such as the informal times before youth group or worship services.
  • Transitions between age-group ministries (elementary to middle school, middle school to high school ministry) when they encounter many unfamiliar kids who are older and have established friendships.

10. Kids with anxiety disorders from families who are regularly attending church may experience unique challenges as they grow in their faith. Kids with symptoms of OCD often wrestle with fears their salvation may not be genuine. Others suffer from the belief that the persistence of their anxiety symptoms is indicative of a lack of faith or question God’s presence when prayers for relief from their anxiety seemingly go unanswered. They very much need parents and other adults (children’s and youth ministry leaders, counselors, Sunday School teachers, or AWANA leaders) able to provide wisdom and comfort grounded in Scripture and personal experience.

Pastors, ministry leaders, and families can do much to help. Kids learn how to manage their own worries by observing the ways in which adults in their lives respond when dealing with their own anxieties. Adults who are struggling with anxiety will serve themselves and the children in their lives when they seek help by modeling healthy and appropriate responses to anxiety. 

In addition, parents of kids with significant anxiety disorders should be encouraged to seek the assistance of qualified professionals, and pastors and other ministry leaders should be prepared to help families find the appropriate help. Pastors and church leaders can also seek out the necessary resources to develop a strategy for outreach and inclusion with families of children with anxiety disorders and other mental health disorders who have been unable to attend church because of their child’s condition.  

God invites us to come to him with our anxieties, casting them on his able shoulders because he cares for us (1 Pet. 5:17). And as the Church, we must be a refuge for those weighed down with cares, leading adults and children alike to find peaceful pasture under the faithful watch of our Good Shepherd (Ps. 23). The circumstances in our our chaotic world will continually tempt Christians to be consumed with worry, but as we seek to help and equip those who are struggling the most among us, we can remind them of the true and active words that Jesus speaks to our souls: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).