Regent University's Center for Global Justice, Human Rights & the Rule of Law hosted its second annual symposium Jan. 11-12. Aptly named "Seeking Justice for the Least of These," the two-day event rallied approximately 300 attendees to hear 40 speakers explore issues of child protection in the United States and around the world.
Sponsored by Operation Blessing International and Orphan's Promise, the symposium offered sessions in four major areas: child trafficking, child welfare, juvenile justice and adoption. Speakers included non-profit founders, government advisors, FBI agents, and more.
Ben Cooley, CEO and co-founder of Hope for Justice, runs the only non-profit in the UK dedicated to identifying and investigating cases of child trafficking. The organization has rescued children as young as 3 months in cases of benefits fraud, forced labor and sexual exploitation. "Children are a message to the future," Cooley said. "We want to make sure we send a message of freedom and hope."
Agnes Samler, president of Defense for Children International (DCI), Canada, works with the justice system to protect children from abuse. "Where the focus used to be on rehabilitation for minors, it has shifted to accountability by society," Samler said. "The result is likely to be more juveniles in custody and in custody for longer periods of time." This, she explained, leads to abuse of the system and puts juveniles at risk for violence and repeat offenses.
Dr. Clydette Powell, a medical officer for the Bureau for Global Health, discussed the United States' action plan to put more children in safe family situations. "I love seeing the government do the things we in the faith-based community have always known are important," she said. "The goal is to increase the number of children living in family care and to help caregivers and parents increase their capacity to feed, care for and educate their children."
"Helping professions will always be needed to rescue and help the children, but we also need to work on fixing families," said Martin Brown, special advisor to Gov. Bob McDonnell for the familial reintegration of state offenders. "The emotional stability of kids also depends on stable family units."
Because of the steps Virginia has taken to refocus its efforts in foster care from providing a safe home for children to providing permanence through family restoration or adoption, the number of children waiting to be adopted has dropped over the past five years. Currently, about 1,100 children in Virginia are waiting to be adopted. He compared that to the number of churches in the state, and said that if one family from 1/10th of the churches adopted, the need would be met.
He also talked about helping offenders being released from prison to reconnect with their children and other family members, and addressed the role of government in these initiatives. Government must partner with those who are successful in helping, from the faith and non-profit communities.
"We need an all hands on deck approach to make this successful," he said. "Government cannot do it alone."
At the symposium banquet Friday night, Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, spoke honestly about his difficult childhood.
Daly's personal testimony is one of great trial: his biological father was an alcoholic, and his parents divorced when he was 5. His mother tragically died when he was 9, and his step-father abandoned Daly and his siblings on the day of their mother's funeral.
After staying with a friend's very dysfunctional family, and enduring the death of his biological father when he was 11, Daly lived with older siblings and on his own during high school. Thanks to his football coach who introduced him to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Daly accepted Christ when he was 15.
"I've had experience with every type of family unit," he said. "God was there in all of it."
"God's heart is for the child," he iterated. "Forty-eight times in Scripture, God commands us to take care of widows and orphans. The Lord delights in what we do for children and smiles when we take time to reach out to a child."
Daly talked about an adoption/orphan care initiative of Focus on the Family called Wait No More, which encourages churches and other ministry partners to help recruit families to adopt. Nationwide, there are about 100,000 children waiting to be adopted. Daly said he looks forward to the day when churches wipe out the adoption waiting list in at least one state.
The Center for Global Justice responded to this call to action. "We are committed to making that happen and will support that effort in every way," said Ashleigh Chapman, the center's administrative director. "Many relationships were built this weekend to support adoption for Virginia's foster care system."
Twenty-five Regent Law students work at the center weekly and will be continuing the efforts initiated at the symposium. "We will be supporting the partnerships we've made and continue our work to equip the next generation of advocates," said Chapman.
Learn more about the Center for Global Justice.
By Amanda Morad
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