Orphanage vs. Foster Care … What’s Best?

July 15, 2015 foster care, Jean, July/August 2015 Feature - Going to China!, orphanage realities 2 Comments

We have experienced both options with our children from China. When first starting our adoption journeys I had the impression that one was better than the other. Foster care was better and I should want my child to be in foster care; but somehow, as we found our children the most important thing was that they were “our child” and not if they were in an orphanage or in foster care. This never had any bearing on our decision to adopt and it shouldn’t…

Awesome kids come from orphanages whether they are considered a nice orphanage or an extremely poor orphanage. Awesome kids also come from foster care families whether they are a good foster family or a not so good foster family.


When a child is first found after being abandoned they are immediately brought to the local orphanage and actually, many children are left at the orphanage gate.

Six of our thirteen children lived at the orphanage and were adopted while still living there. Four spent most of their time in a foster family. And three spent most of their little lives in a special care facility.

I am defining a special care facility as a home that is set up to care for children and sometimes adults with a certain special need or needs. The “home” may be for children that are struggling due to multiple medical conditions, heart babies or for individuals with HIV. There may be a maximum of 10 kids or it may be much larger facility. These special care facilities do the best they can to get necessary medical treatments, surgeries and medications. Usually the child to care provider ratio is much smaller and the children get the care they need. Many of the special care facilities have been set up through Christian organizations in the USA and run strictly on donations. Your generosity is so appreciated and it goes to a very good cause.

Our children have come from good orphanages and from orphanages that were considered not so good because they were very poor. In the so called nice orphanage our daughter was well cared for, taught preschool and knew how to give and receive love. But her health and learning issues fell through the cracks. They were unaware of her verbal apraxia, a large dense cataract and more. While in one of the very poor orphanages, our son came to us filled with self confidence, able to give and receive love, desiring a family and eager to learn and please. It was obvious to us that despite the poverty of his orphanage he was clearly loved and cared for.


The orphanages in China do their best to care for the children. It’s just that there are so many more orphans than nannies willing to care for them. Medical care for an orphan is not a priority in China but at least they do get some medical care – and that is why many of the rural families abandon their children. They are unable to pay for their child’s medical needs. They know the child will at least get some medical help at the orphanage.

A few orphanages create family like situations within the orphanage grounds (Xi’an City CWI). They have apartments where foster parents and children from the orphanage live in “family units”. Children that are placed in this situation would have minor special needs or would already have a family coming for them.

When a child is in foster care they experience what it is like to live in a family in the community. They usually have other orphans as foster siblings, they attend a school and have chores in the home. Like all families, some function better than others. Two of our daughters came from a very dysfunctional foster family. They were abused in the home and in the community. We believe that the foster family did not understand our daughters’ cognitive issues and special needs. They were not properly prepared to handle them with kindness and grace.

Another daughter’s life was most likely saved by the patience and persistence of her foster mother. After only a month in the orphanage our daughter with bilateral cleft lip and palate was moved to foster care. Feeding took hours and this woman consistently gave her time and love to our child to be sure she got the nutrition she needed to survive.

We have found that our children that lived in foster care have a better understanding of what a family is and why they need parents. It is so important that every child has someone in their lives that loves them or cares for them. This can happen in an orphanage through a special nanny that reaches out to the child or in a foster home. It gives the child a head start in figuring out what love is and why they need it.

Specialty orphanages generally have more caregivers and are organized in a way that meets more of the children’s needs. They are often located in cities that have more resources such as educated caregivers, variety of school options for the child and medical facilities. Sometimes the children are able to partake in activities outside of their “special home”. But even these organizations struggle with growing expenses and finding staff that is committed.


Our children that lived in special care facilities were well cared for and loved. They understood family and were given educational opportunities. The children in these facilities generally have more serious medical needs. Sometimes the medical needs are partially or completely taken care of before they are adopted into families. Our son’s life was saved through the efforts of an American family that started the heart home he was placed in. They tirelessly advocated for him to get the heart surgery he desperately needed and fund raised to pay for the surgery.

Even though these homes offer more than an orphanage they do not replace the need for a family. Many times the children are sent back to the orphanage once their health has been restored creating another loss for that child.

What we have found in our 13 adoptions is that every child needs a forever family. Some have come a little more equipped to embrace their new family while others get more “on the job” training once they are home. All of our children love being loved! All of our children love belonging to a family. All of our children in their way love us as their parents.

We are all a work in progress. Where they came from is helpful to know so we can understand them better but it is not definitive of who they are and what they can be. The progress we have seen in each child leaves us in awe of God and on our knees in thankfulness. The blessings are abundant.

— photos by K&R Photography

2 responses to “Orphanage vs. Foster Care … What’s Best?”

  1. Melanie S says:

    I have always wondered about this. Thanks for sharing this valuable information.

  2. Carole meyer says:

    I appreciate you sharing this. I am interested in older children adoption as well as special needs and this was very informative.

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