Hey Churches, Let’s Tackle The Foster Care Crisis
Almost five thousand kids (4975) reside in foster care throughout San Antonio – let the weight of that sink in – it’s not just a number. That’s equivalent to the student population of two 6A-high schools. Each single digit represents a child removed from his or her family due to a tragedy. Each a child with a name and a face, made in the image of God, who needs love, care and healing from trauma they’ve experienced.
“Everybody hates that kids are hurt,” said Jennifer Smith, founder and executive director of South Texas Alliance for Orphans. “Forty percent of the homeless population, seventy-six percent of sex trafficked victims and thirty percent of the prison population come out of foster care. We have one of the highest teen pregnancy and suicide rates. If we want to solve all these really big buckets in society, we need to look upstream at what is happening to these kids when they are little. There are ways to be involved.”
That’s where the South Texas Alliance for Orphans comes in. The non-profit organization bridges the gap between the under-accessed church community, the overburdened local foster care system and community resources so children in foster care receive the help they desperately need.
“Let’s fulfill the biblical call to care for the orphan,” Smith said. What more appropriate time to highlight this need than November – National Orphan Awareness Month.
“All Christian churches are called to engage in this space on some level. The Church wanted to get involved – they just had no idea how,” Smith said. “We come in to break down the confusing system into a way to fulfill the call. There are dozens and dozens of ways for people to get involved, from cooking a meal, to babysitting, to writing a check, to opening your home.”
Smith continued, “When we can’t find mom and dad or restore a family, the Church needs to be the plan C,” she added. “These children cannot fall through the cracks. The state of Texas cannot be their parent.”
South Texas Alliance for Orphans’ strategy to connect churches to the foster care crisis grew out of Smith’s own experience. She and her husband, Kyle, were busy with their fledgling careers and young biological family when she felt God’s unmistakable nudge.
“I read a newspaper article about how a girl had to live through foster care and I thought, ‘Somebody should do something!’ I very vividly felt the Holy Spirit say, ‘You’re somebody, do something!’”
The Holy Spirit continued to grow this desire in her heart and the Smiths started fostering in 2007. In 2009, a friend at their home church, Grace Point, approached her about starting a foster ministry with like-minded families. The Smiths now have four children – three daughters ages 14-11 and a six-year-old son – two are biological, and two they adopted out of foster care. They served as a foster family for eight years serving four children.
“You learn a lot,” Smith said. “That’s what I get to hand off, how to be the best advocate for your kids. It is like the Cliff Notes of fostering.”
For example, when they started fostering they felt very alone and isolated. Their friends and family wanted to help but didn’t know what to do or how to best support them. They didn’t have a support team to help lighten the load of fostering and thus struggled to meet all the demands of life with three small children, work and household needs. Their church was also not equipped or educated on the unique needs of children in foster care who have experienced trauma. She drew from experiences like these to create what became the South Texas Alliance for Orphans.
Smith connected with First Presbyterian Church and subsequent board member Teresa McCaleb, who provided a monetary grant to launch the ministry just a little more than two years ago. “The series of ensuing events since have been nothing short of miraculous,” Smith said. Now the ministry supports 30 churches, with 15 more in early stages of commitments, and keeps a staff of five busy.
“Our whole mission involves equipping and serving the Church as they engage in foster care, adoption and kinship ministry,” she said. “These kids have no money, no hope, no representation. We can be a very loud voice for children who have no voice,” she added.
Alliance for Orphans has a three-step strategy to show churches needs and provide them with ways to get involved to help children heal. The strategy is to create a ministry composed of Core, Crowd and Community within each church.
The first step – someone in leadership at a church or a church member who knows something about the foster community reaches out to the South Texas Alliance for Orphans for information. “A speaker and resources are provided to host a Core event to see who in the church might be on the front lines,” she said.
“Are there foster families who are drowning we don’t know about? Let’s make sure the childcare ministry is welcoming and can serve the needs of children in foster care. It’s taking care of the people who are already there.”
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:
to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
The next step – Crowd, involves everyone in the church. The pastor will preach about God’s heart for the orphan. Alliance for Orphans and Smith facilitate an informational meeting to walk the congregation through the foster care system and introduce them to community organizations involved.
We make sure the whole church knows what’s going on and can see how their time talent and treasure can be used to serve families.”
Now the church is ready to reach into the Community. Each church has a unique culture, Smith said. “We let the church be as creative as they want to be. They come up with phenomenal solutions to these community issues. Our goal is to be the spark and stoke it.”
One church hosts trauma trainings, another holds a parents’ night out for foster families, others a backpack drive for school supplies. Some people dive right in and decide to foster a child, others put their toe in the water first.”
The South Texas Alliance for Orphans’ motto is “Until there is More than Enough.” Smith described more than enough as being more than enough homes for everyone who needs one, more than enough support for the families, and more than enough for people on the front lines who serve.
When CPS removes a child, and they have five excellent families to choose from that have their support network already in place and a community equipped and ready to serve, when the support net is real tight, and nobody is falling through – that’s more than enough. Right now there are big gaping holes, and people are grasping at strings,” she added.
In five years, the South Texas Alliance for Orphans would like to be working with 100 churches,” Smith said. The number is significant because San Antonio – Region 8 – moves 1000 kids each year to other areas because foster homes are not available to them. When children leave, they are often separated from siblings and any healthy family or relationships.
We have to get to a point where we have a place for them here,” Smith said. “Every church should be able to pull off taking in 10 children on some level, and that would provide a place for those 1000 kids. A church is the place to find foster families, because caring for children is core to our beliefs. Plus, having local church community support is key for families to see it through”
Until there is More than Enough… Isn’t that a worthy goal? Let’s get busy Church!
South Texas Alliance for Orphans
Be A Light.
Invite. Invite Jennifer and her team to your church to learn more about how your congregation can help. Pray. Pray that this tragedy will end as many step into their biblical roles to care for orphans. Give. Consider a financial gift to further the efforts of the South Texas Alliance for Orphans. Visit www.alliance4orphans.org to learn more. Volunteer. Ask this ministry how you can help.
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