Not an Orphanage
Whenever I talk to someone about Sarah’s Covenant Homes for the first time, there are certain things that I’ve come to expect. I expect a lot of questions. Questions about who we are, what we do, and why we do it. I’ve also come to expect that I’ll have to, at some point, correct a misunderstanding or two. One thing that seems to come up every time, almost without fail, is a conversation about the word “orphanage.”
After listening to me explain how SCH is a organization of homes for children with special needs who have been abandoned, it’s only a matter of time before the “o” word creeps into the conversation. More times than not it’s brought up because whoever I am talking to is just trying to better understand this amazing ministry. “So it’s an orphanage?”
By some definitions of that word, not at all...
If by “orphanage” you mean a place where children who don’t have parents can be clothed, fed, and loved... Well then I suppose, yes, you’d be right to call SCH that. But the word means more than that, both in literal definition and in connotation.
If you look up the word orphanage, you’d find it defined as a residential institution for orphans. Residential meaning a residence, a home, a place designed for people to live in... Orphan meaning a child whose parents have died, or by some definitions, a child who has been abandoned, or neglected to the point that they are just as vulnerable as they would be if they had no parents... So far so good, these two words defined seem to point to SCH being an orphanage. But there is another word in that definition, an important word, sandwiched in the middle, that changes everything. That word is “institution” and it changes everything because it is what separates SCH from orphanages. We know that orphanages are established and maintained with good intention and love, but we’ve come to the conclusion that there is a better way- and that way involves replacing the word “institution” with “family.”
At SCH we believe that children need homes, even (and especially) children who have been orphaned or abandoned. We do not believe, however, that children belong in institutions. Another way we could describe institutional care is as a group living arrangement for children in which the adults that care for the children maintain professional (not parental) relationships with them.
Think of a hospital. When a person who is ill moves from the hospital back home, there are some things that don’t change. In both places, we can assume that they will have a place to rest and recover, that their needs for food or medicine will be met, and that there will be someone to care for them. But wouldn’t you expect that sick person to be relieved upon being able to return home? What is the difference? Maybe it’s difficult to even put into words, it’s the difference that makes a house into a home. A group of people into a family. Perhaps the difference is love.
So don’t worry, I won’t bite your head off if we meet in an elevator and you call Sarah’s Covenant Homes an orphanage. (I promise!) I understand what you mean when you say it. But I hope as you learn more about the homes and the foster families that make up those homes, you start to understand the difference.