May is National Mental Health Awareness month. While that recognition is important, for many adoptive families it is an awareness they must live with year-round. That’s because statistics show adoptees are at a higher risk for mental health issues than other kids. And Christian families are stepping up to meet the need.
When it comes to adopting, Christians are twice as likely to bring a child into their home than other Americans.
According to research by the Barna study group, five percent of Christians have adopted compared to two percent of all Americans. Many parents feel they have a biblical mandate to offer love and hope – including to those bearing scars from past traumas.
“James says true religion is to care for the orphan and the widow,” adoptive parent Michael Romanin tells CBN News.
Michael and his wife Libby of Luckey, OH felt led to become foster parents after hearing a sermon about the biblical admonition to care for orphans.
“It really resonated with us and convicted us,” Libby explains.
The Romanins have three biological children, and over the years they have also fostered 17 kids.
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In 2022, they adopted two more, explaining that abuse, neglect, and drug use are all reasons kids can end up in foster care.
“A lot of the children – which is true for our adopted daughters – they experience anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, something called ODD which is Opposition Defiant Disorder,” Libby says.
These are issues which make parenting more difficult.
“Every adoption starts with some kind of trauma, pain, problem,” Michael says. “Anytime there’s an adoption it’s because something went terribly wrong.”
It is a wrong the Romanins have found that even love has trouble overcoming.
“We have considered dissolving an adoption just because one of our daughters has expressed to us that she doesn’t want to be a part of our family,” Michael says.
Jedd Medefind is president of Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) which works to help believers care for orphans and vulnerable children. He admits that while adoption can be a wonderful experience, there are exceptions.
“Children who have experienced serious hardship, deprivation, abuse will often have special challenges in their journey,” Medefind tells CBN News. “Healing and health really require special attention.”
Dr. Stephen Grcevich is president and founder of Key Ministry, a nonprofit that focuses on the church’s role in ministering to families and children with disabilities.
Grcevich points out that children in foster care and adoption are more likely to suffer mental and behavioral problems.
“They’re seven times more likely to have a problem with depression. They’re five times more likely to have an anxiety disorder, three times more likely to have a problem with ADHD,” Grcevich explains.
According to Medefind, this is why ongoing support for adoptive families is vital.
“There are many families who felt very supported and encouraged at the point of adoption but then as they faced the greater challenges of the journey have felt that their church hasn’t been there for them as they would hope,” Medefind says.
Thanks to the work of organizations like CAFO and Key Ministry, many congregations are now filling the void.
“Churches are stepping up to wrap around adoptive families, foster families, struggling biological families in very practical ways – bringing meals over, helping with babysitting, doing yard work – being prayerful in the journey just so that families know they’re not alone,” Medefind says.
While the Romanin family welcomes such help, they are quick to point out the greater need for more education and counseling.
“We have friends who bring us meals and have helped with laundry and who do childcare and all of these things, but there’s still the degree to which it’s hard to step into a situation that is sometimes unstable and may be scary,” Libby explains.
Grcevich adds that while many churches have established adoption and foster care ministries, some now are approaching the issue with mental health programs in mind.
“These types of mental health conditions specifically are a major barrier for church attendance for families who have kids with these struggles,” Grcevich says. “For example, if a family has a child with depression, the likelihood of them setting foot in a church decreases by 73 percent. It’s 55 percent if they have a kid with a disruptive behavior disorder.”
Despite those challenges, Medefind believes the benefits of adoption outweigh the negatives.
“Children that have been welcomed into families that way do dramatically better than children who grow up in orphanages or in group homes or in the foster system,” he says.
Meanwhile, the Romanins are relying on that hope as they continue their adoption journey.
“It’s made my faith stronger in a sense that it’s constantly putting me at the feet of Jesus,” Libby says. “Just really desperate for help and desperate for answers.”
In the end, Medefind offers words of wisdom to those thinking about adopting a child.
“There’s this pairing of the beauty and the costliness of adoption and I think that any that is considering adoption or is already in it really needs to hold both those things together. Adoption mirrors the Gospel story both in its beauty and its costliness,” Medefind says.