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Humans are built with a natural longing for interaction. A couple shares about their individual days at work, a teenage girl cries about a breakup as her friend comforts her, and a group of men share about their recent shots in a golf game. In the same way, children are in dire need of response from the moment they are born. But what happens when this need is not met? What occurs in the brain when expression is met with empty stares and immobile response? Although it is easy to overlook the problem of neglect, it is important to be aware of the gravity of children who are not receiving sufficient attention, because the foundation of healthy societies is built upon the proper development of interaction between children and caregivers. In  recent research from Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, psychologists study the cause and effects of this issue.

The problem of severe neglect is associated with abnormalities in the structure and functioning of the developing brain. This can start as early as infancy. During the first stages of childhood, there is a refining of the brain’s neural circuits that are being formed. While in this stage of life, the process of “serve and return” is essential. This is the concept that children naturally interact through facial expressions, cooing, and gestures, then the caretaker responds with similar expressions and gestures. If a caretaker fails to respond, the formation of the child’s brain may be interrupted, which can cause future damage in learning, conduct, and health.

Even more disheartening is the growing population of children inhabiting institutional settings. These often crowded children’s homes foster a sort of “assembly-line” system of caretaking. Children are looked after by shifts of caregivers, never being able to establish reliable connections, and only participating in minimal serve and return interaction. Even though they may be receiving sufficient basic living needs (such as food, shelter, and health care), they are robbed of the basic psychosocial communication that encourages healthy brain stimulation.

In tests of electrical activity in the brain, children from institutional homes, along with those with histories of neglect, show a lack of ability to react properly to stimulation, such as recognizing different facial emotions. Not only is the area of the brain that identifies emotion stunted, but the prefrontal cortex, which regulates roles such as planning, observation, problem solving, and behavior, has been noted to function on a lower level than those without a history of neglect.

Furthermore, the systems in a person that assist in handling stress and anxiety may be severely damaged as well. For example, in a typical healthy child, the stress hormone, cortisol, shows high levels of activation in the morning, acting as a boost for the body to function during the day. As night approaches, it gradually decreases. But in neglected or institutionalized children, this hormone displays low levels in the morning and continues a flat pattern throughout the day. In the long run, this lack of cortisol regulation has been seen to permanently damage the construction of the brain, causing hearth rhythm inconsistencies, depression, and anxiety.

So how can this problem be alleviated? Ultimately, a nurturing family system where relational connection can happen is imperative. Every child’s recovery depends upon the severity of the negligence and timing of rescue. The immediate shift of moving a child from a negligent home to an encouraging one is important, but the process of healing requires long-term and consistent relational support. Even after being removed from an unhealthy situation, a child is still prone to lack of recovery if they are not surrounded by relationships where they can build attachment.

The Orphan Care Initiative seeks to help every child remain in family, reunite with family or regain a family of their own, by equipping the local church to act as a key support. In Rwanda, we are mobilizing churches to get children out of orphanages and into families, as the country works towards the goal of zero children living in orphanages.

Read some of the incredible stories of how  children in Rwanda are leaving the orphanages for families of their own. Learn how you can sponsor a family in Rwanda to have the extra boost needed to adopt a child out of the orphanage  here.

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Children In Families First (CHIFF), a bipartisan bill that would prioritize family as a key element of U.S. foreign policy and help streamline international adoptions, is hosting a Tweet-Up today – and your voice matters!

CHIFF’s goal is to get the word out and influence members of Congress who will be voting on the bill. Help raise awareness for this important bill that could help orphans around the world find family and change the face of international adoption in America by tweeting your support and sharing its importance with your followers!

Please check out the CHIFF petition, sign it, and share to your friends on social media (http://childreninfamiliesfirst.org/please-sign-chiff-petition-today/).

You can also learn more about the bill in this article about CHIFF in the Christian Post: Sen. Mary Landrieu Asks Christians to #SupportCHIFF and Aid Orphans in Crisis (VIDEO INTERVIEW)  

There is still a long battle ahead for this important piece of legislation, but with your help we can help children get into families much faster! Visit the CHIFF page at childreninfamiliesfirst.org to learn how you can get involved. You can also follow CHIFF on Twitter and like their Facebook page to keep up with all the updates.

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A member of our Saddleback community became involved with the Orphan Care Initiative because of how the ministry has personally affected her. She is passionate about sharing her story and her views on CHIFF (Children in Families First), but asked that her identity to remain anonymous to protect her nephew. This is her story:

 

 

My Story

My nephew is a precious bundle of precocious energy. At ten years old, what else would one expect? He is the epitome of an Orange County boy. A champion at the 200 meter in track, a lover of the Chima warrior cartoon series, a burgeoning fisherman, and a would-be surfer dude.

He also could have been an orphan.

For reasons that aren’t mine to discuss, my brother didn’t know that he had a son until several months into the pregnancy. The woman had considered abortion & adoption… Then finally told my brother that he had a son.

Sadly, as a young twenty something man-child my brother was ill equipped to take on the responsibilities of an infant. Let alone one he wasn’t even sure was his. Yet, my brother fell in love with this boy the moment he saw the first sonogram. He didn’t care that the DNA tests had come back 100% positive – they could have been negative for all he cared – this baby was his. No matter what.

In a turn of events, my brother was given full custody of his son. Sadly, my nephew has not had a relationship with his mother.

At any point during this journey, my nephew could have been lost to us, his family. My brother couldn’t do it on his own, so my parents, my siblings and I, we all stepped up. For much of his life, I have been my nephew’s “mom” and we are his support structure, his village.

 

Why it matters?

Even though I can see it hurts him sometimes to be the one without a mom at Back to School night, my nephew is one of the lucky ones. So many other children around the world suffer much, much, worse. They don’t have the support structure of family, and there is no one to advocate for them. That’s why I felt so strongly about getting involved with the Orphan Care Initiative at Saddleback, and why I’m sharing this personal story with all of you.

This is a Call to Action.

The Orphan Care Initiative is putting its support behind a bill called Children in Families First, or CHIFF, and we need to help them get the word out. Introduced to Congress in 2013, the bill focuses on finding orphans permanent families FIRST, often times with their own relatives. It also outlines a process that would help streamline international adoption, making it easier on American families waiting to adopt.

We need to write, tweet, blog, vlog, sing, and dance our hearts out to every member of Congress currently undecided on this bill. An online petition has already been created and you can sign your name to it here.

 

How You Can Help

It’s as simple as clicking a link and filling out a quick form that takes less than a minute to complete. But don’t misunderstand, this isn’t slacktivism, clicktivism, or an attempt at arm-chair foreign policy. Your support of CHIFF will literally help to change the course of not only a child’s life, but of entire families and communities world wide.

CHIFF attempts to the do the following:

·      Creating an office for vulnerable children and families in the Department of State that will create a foreign policy and diplomatic hub with a focus on strengthening families and creating families for children who need them.

·      Directing the U.S. Agency for International Development to implement development programs that also strengthen and create families. (This also means support structures for families that already exist but need to know they can sustain their households, or have the knowledge to provide, protect, and nurture their children.)

·      Making the adoption process more straight-forward and transparent for American families choosing to adopt overseas; and

·      Providing the tools needed to count and identify orphans so that we can be sure our help is making a difference.

CHIFF will do all these things while requiring NO NEW MONEY from the American people.

The United States Government already spends $2 billion on assistance programs for children internationally. CHIFF proposes reallocating a small portion of that funding to support these programs. CHIFF does not require American taxpayers to pay MORE or spend MORE. It fights, on their behalf, to spend that hard earned money WISER and more efficiently.

 

My Prayer for All of You

I never thought I’d be a surrogate mother for a young child in my twenties. I never dreamed I’d be responsible for his needs and emotions. I also never expected what a miracle that beloved burden would become in my life. My nephew lives with my parents and I in our home in Orange County, and every single day I pray in thanksgiving to God for the blessing his presence is in our lives.

I am overwhelmed by his courage to face a world that often doesn’t understand him, and so grateful for Saddleback and others who try to give comfort to other children like him: children who could have been orphans, or are orphans, but instead are viewed as just another member of God’s family, our family,— your family.

May the Lord bless you with grace, wisdom, discernment, and the courage to follow through with your convictions. I hope those convictions lead you to our church family at Saddleback, and I encourage you to support CHIFF by getting involved now!

Click here to learn more about CHIFF.

 

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What is the Orphan Care Initiative?

The Bible makes it clear that God cares deeply about the orphans of the world and expects His people to do the same – in fact, He uses our care for orphans as a benchmark of our faith. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…”  James 1:27

The Orphan Care Initiative of Saddleback Church exists to provide meaningful ways for every person to engage in caring for orphans through local churches at home and around the world.

We believe that every child deserves a family. The best thing we can do for the orphan is to help them join a family so that they are no longer an orphan, but a son or daughter. To reach the vision of every child with a family of their own, locally and globally we work to help children remain in family, reunite with family, or regain a family through adoption.

There are simple things everyone can do to help move children one step closer to a loving, lasting, legal family of their own. Here are some examples of opportunities in the Orphan Care Initiative:

 

Get informed

Orphan Care Skills Training   Wondering what you can do practically to serve orphans locally and globally? Orphan Care Skills Training will be a great foundation to learn simple things everyone can do to help end the orphan crisis. Mark your calendars for June 14th from 8:30am to 12:30 in Tent 2. Email orphans@saddleback.com for more info.

Trauma-informed care classes   Most orphans and institutionalized children suffer from childhood trauma. Understand of the effects of trauma on attachment and what to do to promote attachment and trust with children from hard places and traumatic backgrounds. Email lynny@saddleback.com for more info.

 

Get started

Volunteer with Orphan Care   You can make a difference serving with Orphan Care! We have many opportunities get involved – examples of volunteer needs include: blog writing, social media, events, office admin, and anything else you have a passion for! If you have a heart to serve in the office or at church, we’re here to help you get connected! Email orphans@saddleback.com to get involved.

Consider fostering or adopting   If you’ve ever thought about adopting or fostering, we have a place just for you! Come get accurate information, simple overviews, and your questions answered. Hear from ordinary people who have adopted in a no-pressure, friendly environment. Learn God’s heart for adoption, and simple ways to take your next step. Join us the first Wednesday night of every month from 6:30 to 8:30pm in the MO2 building of the Lake Forest campus (the smaller portable office building).

Support important Orphan Care legislation   Did you know that right now the US House and Senate are considering legislation that would help ensure that American efforts for children are focused first on finding orphans permanent families? CHIFF (Children in Families First), would also help streamline international adoption, making it easier on American families waiting to adopt. Click here to sign a petition and email your members of Congress to support CHIFF.

 

Get going

Rwanda Orphan Care PEACE Trips   Saddleback PEACE Teams are helping children get out of orphanages and into families! You can help local churches as they partner with the Rwandan government, which has decided to empty all its orphanages by 2014. Out of the 3,000 children who started out in orphanages, 1,500 have already gone home to a family in Rwanda. Orphan Care PEACE trips will train local churches in promoting adoption, assisting newly adoptive families, and training lay social workers within churches. Email orphans@saddleback.com for more info.

 

Give

Sponsor a family in Rwanda   Did you know that for $38 a month or a one-time donation, you can help support a family to be able to take in a child from the orphanage? Your sponsorship provides for basic necessities, school fees, and medical insurance. Families on sponsorship are required to join a savings group and tithe to their local church. Click here to sign up online.

 

If you have questions or would like more information on any of these opportunities, please email orphans@saddleback.com or call 949-609-8555.

Worldwide, since 2003, intercountry adoptions by all receiving countries has declined by almost half, while the number of children desperately in need of family has continued to climb around the world. As the following CNN article illustrates, interncountry adoptions to the United States have declined at a rate 24% faster than the rest of the world.

This is one of the reasons why the Children in Families First (CHIFF) legislation that is being considered in the House and the Senate is so important. CHIFF would streamline, simplify and consolidate responsibility for all processing of intercountry adoption cases by placing these functions under the direction of the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Visit the Children in Familes First page to learn more about CHIFF and how to contact your representatives to tell them to support the bill.

 

International adoptions in decline as number of orphans grows

By Kevin Voigt and Sophie Brown, CNN

Hong Kong (CNN) -- In April 1999, Laura Blitzer -- a 41-year-old single university professor -- decided to adopt a child. Fifteen months later the native of Brooklyn, New York, was in Hunan Province, China, holding her 9-month-old adoptive daughter, Cydney, for the first time.

"It was amazing to have her in my arms ... I still cry when I see the tape of her being given to me," recalled Blitzer. "I couldn't believe she was mine."

In 2007, Blitzer applied to adopt another child from China. Six years later, she is still waiting. "The estimate right now for me to receive a healthy infant is 2017," she said.

After decades of steady growth, the number of international adoptions has dropped nearly 50% since 2004, despite the well-publicized explosion of adoptions from China in the 1990s, and high-profile adoptions by celebrities such as Angelina Jolie from Cambodia and Madonna from Malawi.

The decline isn't due to fewer orphans worldwide nor waning demand from prospective parents, experts say. It is due to rising regulations and growing sentiment in countries such as Russia and China against sending orphans abroad.

The number of children finding new homes in the United States -- the number one location for adopting children -- fell to 8,668 in 2012 after peaking at 22,884 in 2004, according to U.S. State Department statistics. A survey by Britain's Newcastle University of the top 23 nations that adopt children from abroad recorded 23,626 international adoptions in 2011 -- down from 45,299 in 2004.

"I think it's both a surprise that it's been dropping, and it's a surprise that significant forces are opposed to international adoption," said Elizabeth Bartholet, professor of law and director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School. With the growing forces of globalization, "why wouldn't this be expanding?" added Bartholet, a proponent of international adoption who adopted two boy from Peru in the 1980s.

As international adoption rates fall, there is one country that is sending more children abroad: The United States.

 

(Click here to read the rest of the article on CNN.com)

 

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