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When the sun sets in Gishita, Rwanda the sky turns to dark blue velvet. Stars twinkle timidly and lights from little homes dotting the hillside turn on one by one. The hills—bright green during the day—roll on in succession, with only the moon to light their division.

At night Bellia and her 6 year old adopted daughter Marie sleep in the same room. The quiet of home comforts them and Bible verses on the white walls whisper love and peace over them. Two cows low in the next room.


For years in the orphanage, Marie went to sleep in a dormitory with more than twenty other girls, praying for a mother to tell her goodnight. She woke up without a mother to dress her in clean clothes. She breakfasted in a room with a hundred other children, and no one to make sure she got enough food to eat. She trekked home from school to a concrete building with no one to welcome her. She closed her eyes without anyone to tuck her in and kiss her forehead.

Now, for the first time, timid Marie knows what it is to have someone who cares just for her as she falls asleep under Rwanda’s velvet night sky. In her husky child’s voice she babbles stories about her day, wonders aloud about everything she sees. She asks her mother serious and silly questions about what it means to be a girl navigating life at 6 years old. 


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Her mother, Bellia, is a Community PEACE Trainer – a volunteer who trains families from her church about healthcare. As a mother to four grown children, Bellia’s heart has always been for children. When she heard teaching from the PEACE Plan about God’s heart for the orphan, she decided to adopt Marie. She now also assists other families who have reunited and adopted by doing home visits and providing parenting support.

 “I decided God has done well for me, so I will do well for God’s kids,” she says.

Little Marie has been part of her new family for several months. It’s her custom when she meets new people to proudly introduce them to her mama. The blossoming love they share is evident to anyone who visits their home. Because of the local church and Rwanda Orphan Care Sponsors, Marie and Bellia’s unfolding story is made possible. Sponsorship allows Bellia to provide Marie with all the necessities, as well as her school fees and medical insurance. 

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Bellia (left) with Marie (center) and Bellia’s grandson. All photos taken and used with permission.


“GETTING TO ZERO” UPDATES

We are excited to announce that Esperance, an orphanage in Western Rwanda that was using children to grow and harvest pineapples, is down to just two children left waiting for families!

When we began working with the local churches in that area in 2013, there were 130 children living and working in Esperance. Now 128 of those children have left the orphanage forever and each has been embraced by care of a loving family in the community – with your support and the diligent efforts of the local church in Rwanda!


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This article is adapted from this post by Debra Jones from Parenting Help for Adoptive and Foster Parents.

What’s the need beneath the behavior?

I’m constantly approached by parents who want to toss out a behavior problem and have me come up with the best answer as to how the parent should deal with that particular behavior. They are asking, “How do you fix __________? Fill in with anything ranging from “My child won’t get dressed for school” to “My teen is using dangerous drugs and hanging out with unsafe kids.”

I wish it were that easy.

Parents come to me specifically for trust-based parenting strategies since I coach and train in Trust-Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI®). They are trying to give up their old ways, but can’t see that they are really still using their old strategies and belief systems with a trust-based sprinkle on top. They will even say for said problem, “What’s the TBRI answer for handling this behavior?”

TBRI answers aren’t typically just a step one, two, three answer. TBRI is much more about building a connecting relationship and establishing an emotionally safe relationship in which the child or teen will come to you with her needs and lay down her maladaptive behavioral strategies – the survival strategies that kept her alive before she was yours. It is about showing the child that you have a voice with me, and I will listen to what you need. I will try to understand what you feel. I will help you solve this problem. And if you don’t have the skill set to succeed, I will spend the time it takes with you to build this skill set. And for kids from hard places that can mean a LOT of our time.

I’m not going to come down hard on my child when he is dysregulated or even when he’s making bad choices. I’m going to recognize as the safe adult in his life that his brain is hard-wired to respond with fight, flight, or freeze responses. I’m very deliberate about watching my own tone of voice, my own body language, even my own belief systems that might indicate to my child that he is going to be judged, punished, or shamed by me. I’m going to approach a behavior problem like there is a mystery to be solved.

Why is getting dressed in the morning so hard for my child?

•                Does he dread or fear school?

•                Does he feel like he’s in trouble with his teacher?

•                Do kids make fun of him or is he being left out at recess?

•                Is the school environment a sensory overload for him?

•                Is he not getting enough sleep?

•                Is his blood sugar low because he hasn’t had protein yet?

•                Does he feel like a nerd in the clothes I’ve bought for him?

•                Is his sensory system so sensitive the tags in his shirts are uncomfortable for him?

•                Is his neurochemistry imbalanced and cortisol is too low in the morning?

•                Or is he stressed and cortisol is too high?

•                Has he not had enough calming sensory input to be successful?

•                Am I giving more instructions at one time than he can process?

•                Am I rushed and rushing him?

•                Does he power struggle with me because he doesn’t know how to use his words?

•                Is he developmentally ready to dress himself without frustration?

 

And with the teen that is choosing unsafe friends and using drugs it’s even harder to solve the need beneath the behavior.

•                Does she feel she doesn’t fit in with our family?

•                Does she truly understand the dangers involved?

•                Does she feel valued and loved?

•                Is she rebelling against authoritarian parenting?

•                Is she lonely?

•                Is her neurochemical imbalance so severe she is self-medicating?

•                Is she bored?

•                Does she need something exciting and thrilling in her life?

•                Does she have the skill set to build healthy relationships?

•                Is she having an identity crisis?

•                Is she failing or struggling at school and this is a way to fit in?

•                Does she have feelings she has buried and doesn’t feel safe to come to me?

•                Does she feel she’ll never measure up to my expectations?

•                Does she compare herself to my biological children and feel not good enough?

•                Does she know how to express her fears and feelings?

•                Have I spent time matching her and engaging in her interests?

•                Do I make myself emotionally available to her?

•                Does she feel seen, heard, and understood?

 

As parents we want behavior to stop and sometimes we get rigid about find THE ANSWER that will make it stop. Unfortunately there have been many parenting models that seem to indicate that if the child does _________, you do _________ and the problem will go away. Simple as that! Not so simple with a child from a background of early harm.

There is much work to be done. There is much repair and much building from scratch in our relationships with them if they are going to feel safe, become secure, and develop the skills to have healthy relationships and make wise choices.

Behavior communicates. It communicates needs, fears, pain, losses, and wants. It communicates skills that my child has and skills that are lacking. What is your child communicating to you? Will you stop your world long enough to deeply look at your child’s desperate need?

For more in depth trust based parenting insights for your family, check out our 13 week DVD small group curriculum The Connection by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Elizabeth Styffe.

Also be sure to check out the Empowered to Connect Conference coming to Orange County Feb. 13 & 14th. Use the code FOCUSGUEST for half off registration!

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Article adapted from this U.S. News and World Report article by Susan Johnston

Domestic and international adoption can cost thousands of dollars, but grants, tax credits and fundraising can offset costs. If they take advantage all the financial resources available, moderate-income families can adopt a child debt-free.

Each year, U.S. citizens adopt over 100,000 children, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway. Costs can range from very little for adopting a child from foster care to $40,000 or more for a private domestic adoption, says Nicole Witt, executive director of The Adoption Consultancy in Florida.

Here’s a comprehensive look at strategies that adoptive families use to cover costs.

Adoption tax credit: For 2014, the IRS gives adoptive parents a maximum adoption tax credit (to offset qualified adoption expenses such as legal fees and travel costs) of $13,190 per child, which phases out for modified adjusted gross incomes between $197,880 and $237,880. “If you adopt twins, then you can claim double the tax credit,” Witt says. “Or even if you have a [domestic adoption] situation that falls through, you can claim it towards the expenses that you've lost.” The credit cannot exceed your tax liability, but you can carry any excess credits into the following year. Consult your tax preparer if you're unsure of how this applies to you.

Adoption grants: Jeremy Resmer and his wife raised over $47,000 so they can adopt twin girls from Congo debt-free and about two-thirds of that money came from grants. (The Congolese government has put all adoptions on hold, so Resmer, his wife and their 3-year-old son are currently living in the Congo bonding with the girls and waiting for the adoption to finalize.) The pair did exhaustive research on adoption grants, and Resmer wrote and published an e-book called “Fund Your Adoption: A Step-By-Step Guide To Adopt Debt-Free.” “We had to look in a million different places to find all the grants,” he says. “Sometimes income eligibility requirements will come in. Some organizations will only provide grants for domestic adoptions.” Because the application process can be time-intensive (collecting letters of recommendation, for instance), the couple applied for 10 grants that they felt they most closely fit the award criteria, and also looked at grants with the highest award ranges. They were awarded six of them. 

Not everyone will qualify for grants because some are income-based. However, a growing number of employers now offer adoption assistance. In fact, a 2012 Aon Hewitt survey of 1,000 major U.S. employers found that over half offered this benefit, compared to 12 percent in 1990. Fingerman says these benefits can range between $2,000 and $10,000 depending on the employer.

Loans: Sometimes people take a short-term loan to cover adoption costs and use their tax return (with the adoption tax credit) to repay the loan. “There are adoption loans out there, but I always tell my clients just because a loan has the word ‘adoption’ in front of it doesn’t mean it has most favorable terms,” Witt says. “Explore a general loan, home equity loan and see what the best terms are.” Not everyone has home equity they can borrow from, but Witt says having a line of credit ready to cover adoption expenses can be smart (so long as you're realistic about what you can afford). “You don't know exactly how much you're going to need and when you're going to need it,” she explains.

Some people also get a gift or interest-free loan from parents who want to be grandparents. “People sometimes have to travel to other parts of the country where the birth mother lives, so families have given them frequent flier miles or points to the Marriott,” Fingerman says.

Fundraising: Many people saving up for adoption take on a second job or plan fundraising events – Resmer did both. Friends, family and members of a religious community have long been a source of financial help for adoptive families, but online crowdfunding for adoption costs puts a 21st century twist on this tradition, which Witt says can be controversial. "On the one hand, it can be great because people love to help," she says. On the other hand, some parents worry contributors could "say something inappropriate in front of the child about how they helped pay for them," she says.

Witt has seen other families sell adoption T-shirts to friends and family members or temporarily rent out the room intended as a nursery for extra cash. Resmer's family raised several thousand dollars through an adoption carnival hosted by a local church. "They had dunk tanks, carnival rides, all sorts of food and a bake sale," he says. They also solicited donations from local businesses and held a silent auction at the carnival.

By tapping into all available resources, even moderate-income families have been able to make adoption a reality. "Most people who adopt don't have $40,000 sitting in their bank account," Witt says. "Most people I work with are typically middle-income families, and they find ways to make it happen."


Looking into adoption but need assistance with financing or any other aspect? We’re here to help! Feel free to reach out to us here at the Orphan Care Initiative at 949-609-8555 or email orphans@saddleback.com.

Another great resource is our monthly information seminar “Thinking About Adoption or Foster Care.” Come get your questions answered by families in our church who have already walked this road. The next Thinking About Adoption or Foster Care will be Wednesday night, February 4th, from 6:30 to 8:30pm in the MO2 gathering room of the Lake Forest Saddleback campus. 

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Are you an adoptive or foster family looking for parenting insight? Join us for a special two-day event designed to offer tools and help specifically for you!

The Empowered to Connect Conference on Febraury 13 & 14 at Calvery Chapel Costa Mesa is designed for foster and adoptive families, ministry leaders and professionals who want to deepen their understanding of how to connect with at-risk youth and children from hard places. 

Using trust-based parenting and proven techniques developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis, the conference will equip, empower and encourage you with tips, tools, and knowledge.

Early bird registration ends Friday – so sign up soon at showhope.org/connect! And be sure to use code FOCUSGUEST for 50% off!  


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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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