August 29, 2014 | Amanda Greenhoe

An estimated 66,000 orphans live in China’s social welfare institutions. Recently, a Calvin course set out to gather information about best practices for their care.  

The idea started a world away with Xu Bing, an advocate for Chinese children who have special needs. Bing, who partners with Bethany Christian Services, aims to reform the Chinese orphanage and foster care systems, with a particular interest in the wellbeing of children with special needs.

Calvin speech pathology and audiology professors Judith Vander Woude (program director) and Jill Bates (clinic director) relied on Bing’s expertise and ongoing work in orphan care to coordinate their May interim course, Adoption and Foster Care for Chinese Children with Special Needs.

Jumping right in

After getting a crash course in Chinese culture in Beijing, Vander Woude and Bates traveled with two graduate and 18 undergraduate students to the city of Zhengzhou, located in the Henan Province. Under Bing’s guidance, they worked with children and caregivers at the Zhengzhou Child Welfare Institute, and with foster care families in neighboring communities.

With translation help from university students in China, developmental assessments were made for over 230 children with special needs between the ages of one month and 14 years, Vander Woude said.

While the research, once analyzed, will likely serve to document the merits of foster care, the class’s work also produces tangible benefits for the institutionalized children who participated. “We also trained their rehabilitation staff and provided suggestions for each child's caregiver,” Vander Woude explained.

Building relationships

Participants also benefitted by walking alongside students and employees they met through their walk. “Being able to have meaningful conversations with the Zhengzhou students who helped us about our faith and to also establish relationships with the persons who serve children with special needs in this province was incredible,” said Vander Woude.

Recent graduate Stephanie Toering (’13 BA, ’14 MA) also valued her time spent with caretakers. “I’ll never forget the deep love and concern that the foster parents shared for their children. Watching a caretaker or foster parent see their child do something for the first time, whether it be sitting up, babbling or laughing, was a tremendous blessing,” she reflected. “We were reminded that God cares about all of His children and that He truly does have the whole world in His hands.” 

Toering, whose parents adopted two of her siblings from China, considers it a privilege to have worked with children in the Chinese social welfare system before graduating from Calvin’s speech pathology and audiology master’s program in August. Said Toering: “This trip was an incredible opportunity to tie in the clinical skills and knowledge that I’ve gained in Calvin's speech pathology program with my passion for these kids.” 

Ongoing research

Vander Woude says she hopes to return within a year for further research on the children's development, comparing the differences between children in institutions and children in foster homes.

In late 2013, Judith Vander Woude was named a lifetime fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, an honor bestowed for “outstanding contributions to the discipline of communication sciences and disorders.”

Said Vander Woude: “I think the best part of it all were the positive reactions from my students, alumni and my colleagues.”

One colleague, Heather Koole, said the award did not come as a surprise to the department. Describing Vander Woude as the speech language and pathology program's “fearless leader,” Koole said, “She clearly sees our role as not just producing speech-language pathologists, but supporting students to develop their minds and hearts, as whole persons, so they can go out and change our world for the better.”

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