Throughout the world there are about 18 million orphans. These are children who have lost both parents and are living in orphanages or on the streets. In the United States alone, there are nearly 400,000 children without families. Of these children in foster care, about one-fourth of them are adoptable. Yet a high percentage of the adoptable children will wait more than three years before they are placed in a forever family. Sadly, many will never have a family and will grow up in foster care only to age out and be completely on their own. Even in the US, tens of thousands of children in the foster system are living in group homes—homes that would be called “orphanages” elsewhere in the world. Why is this so? How can this be?

In many third-world countries both parents die of disease or because of war, leaving their children orphans. Often one parent dies and the other simply doesn’t have the means, the strength or the ability to care for the children alone. When possible, other relatives will take in those children to care for them. But in very poor countries, this is often not feasible. In that case, adoption is the answer. But with politics and stringent adoption policies of various countries, adoption can be time-consuming and sometimes not even possible. However, families adopting from overseas are having some success. According to the Department of State, in the past few years Americans adopted the highest number of international children from China, Ethiopia, Ukraine, and Haiti.

As the human race, we cannot completely stop parents from dying, leaving their children orphans; nor can we force extended family to care for their orphaned relatives. We can’t stop bad parents from neglecting or abusing their children, and we can’t force good parents to adopt from foster care.

But there are things we absolutely can do.

We can call for our governments to allocate a lot more money for foster and adoptive parent recruitment and training.

We can provide more financial assistance for those who adopt orphans, including those in foster care.

We can raise the pay for case workers, social workers, and administrators so we can recruit more, which will result in smaller workloads and higher quality of work for those caring for children.

And finally, we can, each of us, do our little part. We can become licensed foster parents, CASA volunteers, advocates for children, and even adoptive parents. We can be teachers or neighbors or trusted friends to whom children without parents can turn to for help. We can, and should, each consider what our individual roles should be in lifting the burdens our innocent children around the world carry.