I have long harbored an idea that certain wealthy, well-positioned families in our society might adopt an underprivileged, struggling family, one-on-one, and help them figure out how to navigate and survive in a complex world that is difficult for many people to understand.

This proposal would not involve simply giving the struggling family money. Rather, it would involve getting down in the nitty-gritty with them to teach and assist them with the necessary skills for navigating their own particular situation. The intent would be that the adoptee family could get the most out of the motivation, skills and resources that they already possess.

Basic skills

Some basic skills might be how to find sales, make the wisest purchases, save a little from each paycheck, locate the best educational opportunities for their children, get the family to places where opportunity exists, make them aware of special programs that they might qualify for, teach them how to manage their money, find better jobs, better living conditions and so on and so on.

This is not to make one family dependent on another but rather to enhance the adoptee family’s independence, in general. It is the old maxim: “Give a man fish and he eats for a day; teach him how to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”

Risks and pitfalls

Of course, risks and pitfalls would abound with such a complex initiative. To avoid the pitfalls of dependency and enmeshment (an unhealthy entanglement) between the two families, and also to make participation more manageable for the adopter family, the initiative might benefit from being sponsored by a nonprofit social agency, perhaps one already in existence. Such agencies already have certain logistical and organizational structures in place that might apply to this family initiative.

An agency might also be the best base for orchestrating the best family matches, as well as making sure that no one is taken advantage of, neither the adopter nor the adoptee families. Ground rules would have to be specified that reined in how much risk could be taken by both the adopter and the adoptee families. Still, a certain amount of risk is the name of the game in our free-enterprise society.

Perhaps a “Life-Skills Office” within the organization might be the designated forum where adopter and adoptee families meet on neutral ground for education, coaching and on-the-spot action (phone calls, emails, internet searches, etc.) to meet the adoptee family’s needs.

How is this different?

Now, I know that social agencies already engage in a certain amount of group education on social survival skills. They also do some individual work with people, evaluating their needs and directing them in beneficial directions. Social work agencies are also good at knowing programs that can help the disadvantaged. And social agencies often do a lot of work for the client.

The difference in what I am proposing, as I see it, is the continuous coaching relationship between two families. It would be similar to personal coaches that exist nowadays for individuals, except in this case it would be one family unit coaching another family unit.

Under this new scenario, the adoptee family would do most of the work, while the adopter family coached and supervised.

A plan for the week might be designed, perhaps with a contract to specifically spell things out and emphasize the seriousness of following through. Then the adoptee family would implement the plan, which would be monitored each week to check for follow through and success regarding what was planned and to make adjustments as needed, as well as look for new opportunities and new directions to take.

Some direct interventions might occur, like if the adopter family heard of a great sale that they knew would benefit the adoptee family, they might call and make the family aware of it and maybe even help them get to the location, if transportation was a problem. If the adoptee family had an immediate need, like for a new refrigerator all of a sudden, they might call the adopter family and ask them how they would most efficiently and cost effectively deal with this situation.

Multi-family mentoring

Family coaching might begin one-on-one, but I can envision it morphing into a group environment, with a coach/supervisor family overseeing a number of families making plans in tandem, each giving others ideas from their own experience with similar situations. Adoptee families helping each other would be the ideal.

Similar to what Pope John Paul II said in his encyclical, “Fides et Ratio,” “Everyone has a piece of the truth.” In this initiative, every family might know something that other families might not be aware of. How can they help each other come up with a combination of ideas that will most efficiently and effectively move each family forward on the road to productive independence?


I know that the devil is in the details and that implementation would not be nearly as easy as just talking about it. Perhaps some agency is already doing something close to this that could incorporate some of these ideas into their existing program.

Whatever the case, required reading is George S. Clason’s little book, “The Richest Man in Babylon,” an interesting and enjoyable story about a poor chariot builder in ancient Babylon who longed to improve his family’s impoverished condition and how he managed to do it over time. The same principles apply today, yet still so many are not aware of them.

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Dr. Tom Dorsel is a clinical/sport psychologist and a Professor Emeritus from Francis Marion University. He now lives on Hilton Head Island and can be reached on Facebook or through his website, Dorsel.com.

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