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by Dawn Stark

Each month I fill a spot on my church’s nursery schedule. As the oldest of five siblings, and the mother of five, love for little ones is pretty much hardwired into my system. It’s not some great act of service for me to work in the nursery; it’s simply what I do and who I am. Yet, at the same time I am critically aware that being a nursery worker and interacting with a child once a month is not the same thing as parenting. I don’t kiss the belly of someone else’s baby during a diaper change, or liberally lavish my affection on the toddler scarfing up the goldfish. My activities are performed while watching the clock for the parent to return, which inevitably elicits a different emotional response out of me as the caregiver and certainly communicates a detached emotional relationship with the child.

I know intrinsically there is no substitute for a parent’s love. I am aware that how I mother is not at all the same as how I fulfill my role as a nursery worker. Research continues to confirm this understanding, with study after study validating a permanent family is the ideal environment to nurture and raise children. This understanding of what’s best for children transcends culture. Through my advocacy work I have meet African orphanage workers who also know this principle intrinsically, before ever seeing the research that proves children suffer physically and emotionally living outside of a permanent, loving family. Sadly, in today’s world what’s ideal for children often gets sacrificed to what’s sufficient for children.

I just returned from the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) annual conference where thousands assemble each year to focus on the millions of children who grow up outside of a loving and permanent family. Laying aside political, doctrinal, cultural, and nationalistic differences, this diverse, faith-based gathering, focuses on many aspects of global child welfare covering the continuum of care for at risk children. As with any affiliation conference, CAFO presents a unique opportunity for all members of the Alliance to come together and examine trending research, extend personal networks and employ new solutions to solve this social problem.

At this year’s conference I witnessed the maturing of the orphan movement vis-a-vis a critical evaluation of history and the cooperative development of a strategic direction for the future. Sessions focused on identifying methodologies that are working, correcting those that are broken, and finding new paths forged in integrity and what’s best for children. Some of the prevailing conference themes were defining best practices, understanding the importance of the caregiver role, and moving children out of temporary care into permanent care as quickly as possible. Another important step is cultivating an on-going dialogue between researcher and field providers to ensure the development of critical evaluation tools for measuring results, strategizing long-term goals, and making necessary course-correction adjustments.

Both Ends Burning is also maturing as an organization. Our dedication to defending every child’s right to a permanent loving family has expanded beyond the promotion of international adoption to embrace a wider, comprehensive set of solutions for at-risk kids. Our staff is dedicated to work together with organizations such as CAFO and our 17 coalition country members to develop strategies and mechanisms to ensure that every child has a chance to grow up in a permanent loving family.

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