An Orphan’s Test: What Host Families Should Know

FEAT imageTwice a year, our interview teams go to meet the children of our Summer and Winter Hosting Programs. Many times when they return, Shannon, Cayce, and the rest of the hosting team get right down to the business of finding families for the children they’ve met along their journey. It becomes a whirlwind of activity in the office, with photos organized, profiles compiled, and jumps of joy as each new family steps forward for a child in need.

It’s important to know what the entirety of this journey looks like to know how and why we work so hard for the children, not only in hosting, but in all our programs. The range of needs, conditions, children we meet is so different that one family may find that their host child seems perfectly content, well-cared for, and not particularly “in need.” Another host family meets a child with a troubled past, a fear of hugs, and not just a few rotting teeth. To understand each child’s situation, some thoughts from our interview team can really paint the perspective of what these children face.
For the children who are well-cared for, they may not seem like they “need” a family. For many of them, like two boys we met who had been malnourished and neglected prior to arriving in their foster family, this is the first time they have been well-cared for. It’s the place they may have received their first birthday present all for their own or had someone make a meal that they were invited to sit down and eat. It’s not long term, and even though the children get here and tell us happy stories about their home lives, these are not their forever lives. For most of our children, their childhood ends at 14, or if they are lucky, 16. They may be sent to look for work…or simply sent away.
They are children, and many of them are older children. They come with memories, friends, and sometimes first loves (who wasn’t “in love” at age 12? My first crush was Jonathan Taylor Thomas – I’m not ashamed!). It may be tempting to second guess these children’s need for the warmth of a family because they tell us about these little lives they have built for themselves. The important thing to remember is that many of these little lives end, and children are asked to become adults far before they should.
The children with tough pasts, and we see a number of them, can be easy to want to help but incredibly difficult (especially at first) to bring that help to the table. For children who have grown up in orphanages or poor foster families, hosting may be the first time they’ve ever really had a hug. Families have been waiting, dreaming for months of their host child stepping off that plane. They are ready to run at their kids with open arms and envelop them in the safety and security that we know a home and a family means. What the child sees is a stranger who may mean anything. Is this another adult who will abandon me? Is this another adult who will hurt me? These are the questions I know our children wonder. 
These children test us over and over throughout hosting because they have been in a test all of their lives – a test they have never been allowed to pass, never given the tools to even take. Will you still love me if I fall down crying in the store? Will you still love me if I don’t want a hug? With our own children, they know we will still tuck them into bed that night, wake up in the morning with breakfast ready, because this is something that has happened their whole lives. Every day you have woken up, as a parent, husband, wife, son, or whoever, and someone has been there to still love you. For these children, there was no one. For these children, they are still taking the test, waiting, hoping, wishing beyond measure they are allowed to pass this time, even if they throw a temper tantrum, even if they can’t hug you right now, even if they panic over fear of a fork (where are the chopsticks?!?) and refuse to eat.
Latvia (web)What’s clear is that all of the children we see need the unconditional love a family can offer. We still have so many children in need, a child who has a foster brother with a big laugh, a child in an orphanage with 50 other children and just one caretaker, a child with a laugh, a cry, a voice that deserves to be heard. If you’d like to speak with our hosting team about the children still in need, get in touch with us at or You can also visit our photolisting to meet the children still looking for a host family this summer. If you’re ready for the trials, personal growth, but most importantly joy that hosting can bring, please let us know.

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