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"The Prioritized Family"

By Ann Houck

4 minute read

Clinical Social Worker, Ann Houck, discusses characteristics of the family unit, and how orphanage caregivers can prioritize and create atmospheres of family in their homes.

Many international organizations address children’s rights. One of those rights is the right to live in a family. It is usually assumed that “family” means family of origin, or another biologically similar unit. Of course, if that biological family cannot care for their children for whatever reason, then the children are, hopefully, placed in alternative care.

That means you, the alternative caregiver.

These children in your care have most certainly been abused, neglected, abandoned, victims of natural disasters or other traumatic circumstances before being placed in your care.

But where does that leave them? Do they not still have the right to live in a family?

Is it not your job to provide a family environment for them? You are to provide a safe, loving, nurturing environment that helps the child overcome their past traumas and become healthy contributing members of society.

It all sounds so great, but where do we begin? What can we do to ensure we are providing the very best alternative family for these kiddos?

Here are a few characteristics of healthy families, and a short assessment for each of us to carefully consider our family-building practices as we move into 2024.

Families are prioritized above all.

Families make decisions together, and for the good of every member. In order to create and maintain a healthy family environment for these kids, then, we must first and always keep our focus on the children. But that begins with a good look at ourselves, our organizations, and honestly assessing if we are really focused on the needs of the children under our care.

I am sure that each and every orphanage director began with a heart for kids, feeling called to provide for children from hard places with great needs. Perhaps love was the answer—if we love these kids enough, all will be taken care of. Reality is usually not so simple. Love is certainly a big foundational factor, but alone it will not provide for real needs.

Have you thought clearly about what you need to organize and administer your home better? Can you honestly say that every decision you make is based on the best interests of the children? It’s a tall order, and one we should evaluate regularly.

Families prioritize connection.

Family members trust and can rely on one another. If somebody has a problem, they can go to another family member for help. If they feel unsafe, they can ask the family for support and reassurance. Family members know one another; they don’t keep secrets. They know that they can count on one another.

So, do the children feel they can count on you? Can they count on you to keep them safe, to be honest and trustworthy with them, to put them first?

Families prioritize sticking together.

Families come in all shapes and sizes, temperaments, personalities, likes/dislikes, talents, and a myriad of other features. What distinguishes them from other groups of individuals is they stick together. They support one another in achieving their goals and in making the right choices. They acknowledge when they are wrong and apologize for their mistakes. And they seek help when they cannot “see” where they are going.

Have your children heard you apologize lately? Are you modeling ‘sticking together’ by spending sufficient quality time, and seeking out each other’s interests and talents? Are you creating rituals and traditions that create a predictable family culture?

Assessment Questions

So, as we begin 2024, I want to challenge you to ask yourselves if you are always putting the children first.

  • What problems is your alternative family organization facing?
  • When you are considering solutions to those problems, are you asking how each problem/solution impacts the kiddos?
  • Do you ask for input, where appropriate, from the children for solutions?
  • Are you making sure to spend quality time with the kids every day?
  • How are you showing the kids that they are living in their house? That this is their family home?
  • When a child is brought to you for care, do you have procedures in place to assess the child?
  • Can you look at the child and welcome them, knowing you have just the right staff member to support and guide them?

We all have room for improvement, and raising children isn’t easy. But hopefully these questions can help inspire your journey.

Happy New Year, beautiful families!

Ann Houck

Licensed clinical social worker; volunteer social work supervisor for Oak Life interns; experience working with children of trauma in child protective services and school social work settings.

Ann Houck

Ann Houck

Licensed clinical social worker; volunteer social work supervisor for Oak Life interns; experience working with children of trauma in child protective services and school social work settings.

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