Opening Hearts and Homes in China
The concept of foster care, introduced in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, is familiar to most Americans, but in China foster care, as we know it, is relatively new. Now, thanks to the pioneering work of one woman, foster care in China is becoming a positive and welcome alternative to state-run orphanages, and having a profound effect on children with special needs.
Xu Bing, a young woman who taught English at a local university in the Henan province, developed a passion for children with disabilities when she volunteered to help a couple who had taken in five disabled orphans. “I began looking for more opportunities to help families who had children with special needs because I saw firsthand how difficult it was for them both financially and emotionally,” Xu Bing recalls.
Xu Bing eventually launched GIFT, a club for parents of children with disabilities. Through this club, parents were given the opportunity to meet regularly, learn from each other, and receive training from Western professionals who traveled to China. This was critical, as parents of children with special needs struggled; often isolating themselves because of the shame they felt over the plight of their children.
“I would see these parents wear sunglasses so that their neighbors couldn’t see that they had been crying, and I just felt so badly for them,” Xu Bing said. “In GIFT, parents learn that they are not alone, and they receive tremendous support and encouragement from each other.”
While in China, Bethany’s international project coordinater met Xu Bing and was impressed with the work she was doing assisting families of children with special needs. Given the agency’s commitment to family preservation and creating sustainable in-country child welfare services, Bethany established an office in Henan—the largest populated province in China—and invited Xu Bing to work with them.
Because of China’s one-child policy, infants born with disabilities are often abandoned and end up in orphanages, which has led to overcrowding. To ease this burden, a form of foster care was established that places children with extremely poor families. Since these families are often ill-equipped to care for an additional child, many do so just for the small stipend they receive. As a result, most children end up back in the orphanage after a short time.
Realizing that the traditional system was not working, Xu Bing believed that a more holistic approach to foster care would be more successful in China if families received training as well as the financial resources to assist them.
“At first, it was difficult finding families who would take in foster children and truly care for them as their own,” Xu Bing explains. “And when I approached the orphanages to share Bethany’s goal of finding loving families for children with special needs, they said it would never work. But when families saw that Bethany would stand with them, and provide the help that they needed, they began to accept these children.”
We know that cultural changes will not occur overnight in China, but the amazing results achieved by Xu Bing demonstrate that change is possible. Our hope is that the shift taking place today in Henan will continue to spread throughout that province and ultimately across all of China.
The views expressed in this post are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bethany.