I know. The title of the blog seems to be a bit odd. What is a “typical orphan” as opposed to an “atypical orphan”? Perhaps I can help by borrowing my friend’s definition of an orphan:
An orphan is a child left without adequate familial provision and protection from evil. [Samuel J. McLure, The End of Orphan Care, p.20, not yet published]
I like the definition. It covers both the child who is neglected and/or impoverished and the child who is abused, whether it be physically and/or emotionally. It serves the classic definition that the courts consider when determining whether or not a child should be taken from the custody of parent(s) or family and placed into state care, temporarily or permanently. This is a “typical orphan.” While the determination of care is sometimes not as clear cut from case to case due to all sorts of different circumstances, the safety and well-being of a child is something that is the child’s constitutional right.
Why do I point this out – now. You don’t have to know me very long to know how passionate I am about orphan care. Our family has had a number of these orphans in our home, some for a day, others for a year or more. We, and many of our friends and church members, are involved in orphan care. Whenever I see a tragedy on the news or any sort of catastrophe where a parent of a child is lost, I immediately think of the child.
Such was the case a week ago when Muslim parents in San Bernardino, CA left their six-month old child with grandma and then committed the premeditated, senseless acts of terror. That child, who the government will not name for the purpose of safety and security, is now in state custody as an orphan. And if we take Sam’s definition above, certainly a typical orphan.
But where it gets a little dicey, “atypical,” is that now an aunt and uncle have stepped up and requested care of the child and will pursue adoption. That is not the “atypical” part. In fact, it is common for a family member to seek custody. What makes this different, potentially, is the outright clash of religious worldviews that the state will need to consider because of the backlash from Americans, while remaining constitutionally indifferent to those competing worldviews – in the face of the despicable acts of terror by the parents in the name of religion. The parents were radicalized terrorists – this we now know – with ties to radical Islamists for at least two years. But we don’t know that about the aunt or the uncle. It will be interesting to see how a judge rules in this matter – in upholding the rights of the aunt and uncle as U. S. citizens, again, in the face of what will certainly be an outcry against the family from many in the court of public opinion. We as a nation cherish “innocent until proven guilty.” Shouldn’t that be true for the aunt and uncle as well? If they clear the background checks that are deemed reasonable by the courts, shouldn’t they be granted custody? And if they don’t, then they should not have custody unless or until safety, security, and adequate provision can be established, if it is possible. Of course, those background checks will need to considered in light of this as well, just as there is now debate on the entire vetting procedure for passports and visas.
But more importantly, perhaps, are the rights of the six month-old child as a U. S. citizen. That child needs his/her family first. One of the first things we learn in foster care is that the children we take into care, if reunited with family which is the goal, will probably return to a home that is less than we would want for them. But we are not their family.
Does the radical Islamist worldview of the child’s parents make this a case that is a bit different, on many levels? I can think of no greater evil that exists today than the evil of radical Islam. And if that family is involved in such ideology, in its extreme form, then the child needs protection. I think you would agree, this is not your “typical orphan” situation.