The Oak Life Journal
Nov | Dec 2023
"In Locus Parentis"
By Ann Houck
3 minute read
“In Locus Parentis”
What does that phrase mean? The definition is “(with reference to a teacher or other adult responsible for children) in the place of a parent.”
What does it mean that an adult acting is acting in the place of a parent? In every children’s home, every orphanage, every place where children are living without the presence and/or care of their biological parents, adults responsible for their care are acting in place of those parents.
For the time that they are in our care, WE ARE THEIR PARENTS.
There are enormous implications to this. If we agree that every child deserves a safe and loving home, and we are acting in place of their parents, we absolutely must ask ourselves what we need to do to ensure that happens. Are we providing the environment that the children in our care deserve, and indeed, need? Are we acting in loco parentis?
Children from hard places who come into our care have lost the protection and care of their parents. No matter what brought them to your home, you are now their parent. And, all adults who give care to these children are also acting in loco parentis. There are many avenues to explore under this topic, but at the moment, I am particularly interested in what this means regarding volunteers.
What is our responsibility as parents when it comes to volunteers?
Volunteers provide many services to us, and those services may involve interacting directly with our children. So, a possible scenario: Someone approaches your facility and says they have items to donate to the kiddos. And, they only ask that they present these gifts personally and spend a couple of afternoons with the children teaching them how to use these gifts. Well, now, that sounds pretty good, right?
But here’s an interesting question for you—
What does a typical parent in a healthy household do when someone shows up at the door offering free gifts?
Do we invite them in? Introduce them to the children? Tell the kiddos that this person has come bearing gifts?
Or are you saying to yourself, “I don’t know who this person is? Why are they coming to my door offering free items? Is there a catch? Are they safe being around my children? Do I even want my children to have the items they are offering?”
So many thoughts running through your brain. It is our responsibility to decide what is right for our children, and not just take something because it is a “donation.”
We should have this same type of reaction when volunteers come to support our Homes.
Stop and ask yourself, “what is in the best interest of my child?” Be proactive for your children. Someone is appearing at my door and offering things for my children. Your first action needs to be investigation, finding out just who this person is.
Unfortunately, we can never assume that everyone who wants to give away things, or indeed who wants to “spend time” with your children, is doing so with best possible motives.
Get to know this stranger. A trust-based relationship is not only necessary between caregiver and child, it is also necessary between orphanage parents and volunteers. Before you let them in the door, get to know them. If there is a genuine interest in serving the Home, they should have no problem in developing a relationship with you. Your job, always, is what is in the best interest of the child.
It can be seductive to put the needs of the facility before the needs of the child. BUT, you are here to serve them; to help them heal from the traumas they have suffered. Do not put them in the way of another potential trauma. If a volunteer wants to interact directly with the children, or provide items directly to them, find out who they are.
We understand that there are many who have a “heart” for children, but who do not understand who these children are. Most know that the kiddos come from hard places and have suffered greatly in their short lives. However, they do not realize that the well-intentioned actions of an adult can cause these children additional suffering. It will serve you well in the long run to exercise caution; there are a lot of bad people out there who would take advantage of a children’s home. Get in front of the potential for injury; get to know the volunteer.
After all, you are the parent!