It’s a Hard Knock Life

When people think of orphan kids, scenes from the movie Little Orphan Annie come to mind. You know, the ones with little girls in shabby clothes with woeful eyes scrubbing floors and being treated horribly by the orphanage’s headmistress, Miss Hannigan, while singing It’s the Hard Knock Life. Though the movie is only a work of fiction, the plight of orphan kids across the globe is very real. According to UNICEF, there are 140 million children worldwide who are orphans. “UNICEF and global partners define an orphan as a child under 18 years of age who has lost one or both parents to any cause of death.” Read that again: 140 million orphans. To understand the vastness of the term orphan, we need to look at its definition. Merriam Webster Dictionary defines an orphan as “a child deprived by death of one or usually both parents,” as well as, “one deprived of some protection or advantage.” In the case of orphan kids, both definitions are spot on. Some children have lost both parents to death, making them “true orphans” in the view of industrialized countries; however, UNICEF also classifies “partial” orphans or those who have lost only one parent. This came about “in the mid-1990s as the AIDS pandemic began leading to the death of millions of parents worldwide, leaving an ever-increasing number of children growing up without one or more parents. So the terminology of a ‘single orphan’ – the loss of one paren– and a ‘double orphan’ – the loss of both parents – was born.” 

Domestic Orphan Kids

The United States has a long history of caring for orphan kids. Orphanages cared for large groups of children in need, and orphan trains were utilized to ease the overcrowding of the institutions by attempting to find forever homes for those without. Though both systems were not without their flaws, their mistakes transformed the thinking of orphan care and brought about an early form of the current foster care system in the U.S. The truth of the matter is that orphans do exist domestically, but they are technically no longer referred to as orphans. We refer to them instead as “children available for adoption from foster care.” Why? Another of Merriam Webster’s definitions of an orphan is “one deprived of some protection or advantage.”

There are situations wherein the United States where children may need to be removed from their families (one or two-parent homes) because the situation has become unsafe for a myriad of reasons. This article at states that the “Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption pegs the number of children in U.S. foster care at a staggering 443,000, more than 123,000 of whom are considered to be waiting children available for adoption…The Foundation further explains that the U.S. foster care system includes children of every age, race, ethnic group, and socioeconomic category. Some children are waiting alone and others are waiting with siblings. These children enter foster care through no fault of their own. Oftentimes, these children are the victims of child abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment. They are removed from their homes because their birth family has proven unable or unwilling to provide a safe environment for them.” These children are placed in foster care and every attempt at reunification is made. If the reunification process is unsuccessful, the child becomes available for adoption. At that point, their parents’ parental rights are terminated and the child needs a loving forever home—thus putting them in the category of an orphan, even though their biological parents may be still living.

\When we think about domestic orphans, we tend to think of babies and children; however, babies and children who are not adopted early become older children who still need homes. Some children enter foster care when they are in their preteen and teenage years, leaving less time for them to find their forever families before they turn 18. Sadly, according to an article, “more than 20,000 children will age out of the foster care system, leaving these young adults without any form of support and exposing them to a higher risk for health issues, homelessness, and lack of education. Additionally, per the National Foster Youth Institute website, ‘after reaching the age of 18, 20% of the children who were in foster care will become instantly homeless…[and] only one out of every two foster kids who age out of the system will have some form of gainful employment by the age of 24.’”

International Orphan Kids

The plight of the orphan is not localized to the United States. In fact, UNICEF estimates that “there were nearly 140 million orphans globally in 2015, including 61 million in Asia, 52 million in Africa, 10 million in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 7.3 million in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This large figure represents not only children who have lost both parents, but also those who have lost a father but have a surviving mother or have lost their mother but have a surviving father.

“Of the nearly 140 million children classified as orphans, 15.1 million have lost both parents. The evidence clearly shows that the vast majority of orphans are living with a surviving parent grandparent or another family member. 95 percent of all orphans are over the age of five.”

Life for orphan kids living in a third-world country is often quite appalling. Many times, if they are not living on the streets and scrapping for themselves, they are living in horrible institutions that are overcrowded, understaffed, and ill-equipped. According to the organization All God’s Children International, “The average institution has just 1 adult caregiver for every 20 children.” Their site also notes that “in many institutions, orphans are warehoused in rooms filled with cribs that resemble cages. These precious children are left in these cribs all day long—they are not touched, comforted, or even known by name. They don’t have access to the education, therapies, or medical care they need to grow and thrive. In most cases, there is no plan for how these children will leave the institution—meaning they will never know the love of a family or what it means … [to] be a successful, independent adult.” Children are abandoned in orphanages for many reasons. Some are born with birth defects, various impairments, or are considered taboo to their community  because of their gender, when they were born, or if they have birthmarks that are considered “strange.” Sometimes, a parent cannot afford to care for them, so they place them in orphanages hoping they will get care. Others are left to the care of whoever will take them in when their parents die from various diseases, HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, or war. The life of an international orphan is truly one of sadness and longing.

What You Can Do for Orphan Kids.

I am sure by now that your heart feels like it is broken into a million pieces. There is no way to walk away from the unvarnished truth of the plight of orphan kids without being changed. So, what can you do to help global orphans on a local scale?

1.) You can consider adopting a child who desperately needs a loving forever home. I realize that not everyone is called to adopt, but many are and just have not taken the step of faith. Or maybe you have never considered adoption until now. It is never too late and you are never too old. This article on age limits for adoption gives a snapshot of domestic and international restrictions regarding the age of those wishing to adopt. “Expectant parents may have a preference on the age of the adoptive parents they choose for their baby, but the United States has very few restrictions that would not allow an older adult to adopt. However, as with adoptive parents of any age, the prospective older adoptive parents will be evaluated for mental and physical capability during the home study process and a complete physical will be required. This is to ensure that the older adult is healthy enough to raise a child.

“There is some variety in the lower end of the age spectrum. In the United States for domestic adoption, the youngest age that a prospective adoptive parent must be is 18; however, the age qualifications vary slightly from state to state…The age requirements for international adoptions are a little bit older. This website says that ‘prospective adoptive families…must meet eligibility requirements of the country from which they are adopting, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and their respective state laws. One parent must be at least 25 years old to be accepted into an international adoption program.’ Each country has its own set of age requirements and restrictions. Prospective adoptive parents should refer to this list when deciding from what country to adopt.”

2.) You can consider becoming a foster parent. Maybe you do not feel led to adopt, but your heart is tender toward the needs of the orphan. states that  “foster parents must be at least 21 years old, pass background clearances, and be in good physical health. Our most successful foster parents are open-minded, dependable, patient, and willing to try different parenting styles for children with different needs. Having a flexible schedule, being tolerant, and demonstrating the ability to work as a member of our team are all important qualities for success.” Check with your local Department of Social Services or an adoption agency to learn what it would take for you to become a foster parent.

3.) You can advocate for them. Proverbs 31:8-9 says, “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” I have a friend who tirelessly posts photos of children, both international and domestic, whose forever families have not found them yet. She has a deep love for all children but is not in a place where she can adopt more children. So she endeavors to give voices to the virtually voiceless children. She puts the faces and needs of children of all ages before the eyes and minds of her friends and acquaintances. She is fighting for them to be SEEN.

This article on how to help orphans states, “If you have a heart for children in care, but foster parenting isn’t possible for you, you can fight for the rights and well-being of the 400,000+ in the U.S. foster care system simply by raising awareness of the state of the foster care system.

“First learn about where the system falls short. Talk to foster parents, read the stories of former foster children, listen when you hear about foster care on the news, and reach out to your local agencies. Then, use your voice to educate others about what you’ve learned. The children who suffer because of our collective negligence are voiceless. They need us to speak for them.”

Kirsten Holmberg writes on her personal blog, “Use your platform. Are you an athlete? Join an organization like Rod’s Racing and raise funds to facilitate the adoption of a special-needs child. Are you a speaker? An advocate from the stage by partnering with a local adoption agency or even an international organization like Compassion International. At the very least, follow the likes of such organizations on social media and use your own channels to help promote their posts.”

4.) You can offer support. Giving financially to organizations who provide care for orphans or to those who are endeavoring to adopt is a practical way to meet the needs of orphans. Adoption advocate Kirsten Holmberg writes on her blog to ”meet the tangible needs of adoptive families. The largest obstacle many people have in adopting is the sheer cost of it. More people would adopt if it were in their financial reach. When you learn of a family stepping out in faith to adopt and they’re raising funds on a crowdsourcing platform, be willing to contribute. Or donate to a general fund through reputable organizations like Show Hope. Find out what a family’s other needs are (furniture, airline mileage, clothing, legal counsel) to determine whether there’s anything else you can offer.”

While you are lending support, do not forget the foster families. “Roll up your sleeves. … Can you help run errands or edit documents? Adoption—both before and for a few years after—requires an advanced degree in paperwork. Or, maybe you’d be willing to do some extra reading to understand the deep wounds of trauma so that you could provide skilled respite care. Parents (and foster parents) of children with trauma in their history often need breaks, but if substitute caregivers don’t also understand trauma, those breaks aren’t actually helpful. Sometimes they’re even detrimental. But one of the most valuable things a person can do is merely offer non-judgmental, listening ears.”

You could also support the global cause of the orphan by sponsoring an orphan kid through a trusted organization like Compassion International. Or consider becoming a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (also known as CASA), and make a personal investment in the life of a foster child by spending time with them, lending a listening ear, and representing their best interests in court hearings. Above all, pray.

In an article, the author wrote, “Pray for the children who will lie down in an unfamiliar bed in a stranger’s home tonight. Pray for the … parents who had their kids removed today. Pray for the reunification and restoration of families. Pray for healing for the kids who have lost faith in everyone and everything that was supposed to keep them safe.

“Pray for the judges, attorneys, social workers, advocates, and counselors who are tasked with making potentially life-altering decisions and recommendations for children in care. Pray for the foster families who have voluntarily opened their homes to brokenness and heartache. Pray for the hearts of Americans to be broken and enflamed by the children in crisis in our country.”

In conclusion, there is a story in Exodus 17 that summarizes our calling well. Kristen Holmberg wrote, “If we liken the desperate need for children to know the love of a family to the battle the Israelites faced in Exodus 17, these precious kids are on the battlefield, struggling to live and to learn their place in the world. Moses’ role, like that of an adoptive parent, was to hold up his arms to God in faith. Yet he grew weary as the battle drew on and he had to rely on Aaron and Hur to support his arms.” Not everyone can adopt, but everyone can have a tender heart toward orphans and offer support where it is needed. James 1:27 reminds us to care for the widows and orphans in their affliction.

“Even if you’re not Moses in this picture, you can be like Aaron and Hur. For the sake of the orphan.” – Kristen Holmberg




Are you ready to pursue adoption? Visit or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to connect with compassionate, nonjudgmental adoption specialists who can help you get started on the journey of a lifetime.