There is a revolution underway in America to provide a loving home to the more than 600,000 children in need, and there are real signs of progress.
The answer is coming from children's homes, which resemble upscale boarding schools that provide wraparound care and an education on well-kept grounds. The best known example is the Hershey School, which is celebrating its centennial and now serves nearly 2,000 children.
Most of the older homes dotted the east coast and parts of the Midwest, where the country started. But there are more than a dozen new children's homes, either underway, or in the planning process, and no one's turning back just because of a nasty recession.
One of the best examples is in the state of Georgia, in Tallapoosa, just inside the ABC triangle of Atlanta, Birmingham and Chattanooga, at the World Children's Center set on 710 rolling acres complete with a stocked lake. The first home has been completed with rooms for eight children, two house parents, plus two more kids, a study room, a large arts-and-crafts room and plenty of space to just hang out.
The home was funded by the grocery store chain, Publix, and Gatorade, and furnished by donations from a host of other manufacturers. The efforts have resulted in a house that bears a strong resemblance to anything seen on Extreme Home Makeover.
It's a refreshing twist on public expectations that the people behind children's homes these days are reaching to provide the best care possible, rather than settling for minimum care because it's, at least, better.
It's been shown that people rise to the level of expectations when met with respect and care and that includes children's homes. Previous studies have even found that more children who are raised at these homes attend college, significantly more, than from the general population.
Middle schoolers at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls in Chicago have been known to invite friends from school over to see their "condo." That age group is historically very touchy about the way things look. However, rather than trying to hide their situation, they've felt empowered to be exactly who they are and grow their self-worth.
That's a great message that is getting carried forward in these new homes.
The lawmakers in Georgia have also stepped up to the plate by providing more services to families in the hopes that a greater number can remain intact and thrive rather than splinter.
They've combined their efforts with the courts and the children's homes to get the word out that the services exist, and how to apply. The results have been a marked decrease in the number of children in need, which is really everyone's goal.
The World Children's Center is expected to open with three homes, a playground, a sport court and a modular school in the fall of 2010, and the application process to begin at the same time. Anyone interested in donating time, talent or money -- or to find out more on how to apply -- go to: www.worldchildrenscenter.org.
The policymakers in Washington should take note that many of the homes, such as Happy Hill Farm Academy outside of Fort Worth, Texas, and the World Children's Center, don't take any public funding and carry no debt.
All of the funds come from private sources, such as corporations and foundations and hundred-dollar checks from people who want to help.
No bailouts, no bonuses and no whining about being too big to fail, even though the alumni from the homes have gone on to contribute in meaningful ways to their communities.
What a pleasant surprise to find out that it's possible to do the right thing, help America's children and see the fruits of the labor when the children become responsible and loving adults without a dime from the taxpayers.
Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. She is the author of "A Place to Call Home," a memoir about U.S. orphanages. Martha can be found on Twitter at MarthaRandolph, or e-mail at Martha@caglecartoons.com.