Churches Link Arms to Address Urgent Housing Needs for Foster Children
Several conference committees and congregations are working to mitigate a placement crisis for children and teens in foster care.
Investing in the Young is more than a phrase on a wall banner at the Texas Annual Conference. It is one of three pillars of focus for the entire conference to rally around. While that goal can be accomplished in thousands of different ways, it is presently the driving factor behind a conference ‘movement’ to impact several urgent needs within the foster care system in the greater Houston area.
“In our work with the juvenile justice system,” notes CEO Charles Rotramel who heads up Houston: reVision, “we have discovered some gaps in the foster care system, particularly for those who age out or have behavioral issues.”
In emergency overflow situations, foster children might even end up sleeping in State offices while other arrangements are being worked out. However, while there is a critical need for foster homes, adoptive homes, and mentors across the state, the reality is that foster care, adoption, and mentoring are not for everyone. “The good news is that there are many, many ways to help in this area, so everyone can do something to ease this growing crisis,” shares Rev. Amy Bezecny a foster care and adoption consultant at the Hope and Healing Center. “In addition to the many ways there are to directly help the children, there are also additional ways to help foster and adoptive families succeed.”
Several Texas conference committees and congregations have recently stepped up to take an active role in providing support for these often-forgotten children – from providing housing to providing training to volunteers and mentors. In the last few months, Rev. Will Reed, First UMC Pasadena, has been researching how to configure some space at the church to become a secure and welcoming space to provide beds for up to 16 foster children caught in the overflow gap. He started meeting with leaders at the church to float this idea, then received advice from Urban Strategies, a faith based group that runs shelters. He has also been in ongoing discussions with the state about building regulations to use a portion of the building for a residence. “Since we want to be known as a church that loves children, this is really in line with our vision statement,” he shares. “When we can help kids that have no backup plan or forever family, we can help prevent them from ending up on the streets or incarcerated, perhaps. I expect our congregation to get involved in a number of ways, whether we get this housing concept approved or not.”
Rev Emily Everett is assisting in the coordination of volunteers and those interested and passionate about working with at-risk kids. “So far we have about 50 people who have offered to help in some way,” she shares. “We are still figuring out what that will look like as plans continue to develop and take shape.”
“My first experience with the foster care program was through my daughter who was a foster mother to an 8-month-old boy for 16 months before he was returned to the birth family to live with a great grandmother,” shares FUMC Pasadena volunteer Judy Everett. “We learned a lot from the experience, and were surprised to learn how many children are in the system in need of guidance. That’s why I am excited about the possibility of housing older foster children at the church where we can interact with them and mentor them during their crucial teenage years. The most powerful thing we can give these foster children is a feeling of being wanted and loved… that someone cares enough to take time to be with them.”
St. Luke’s Gethsemane Campus and the reVision team is collaborating with FUMC Pasadena to train volunteers to work with children and teens in different ways. Judy enjoyed her first exposure to reVision’s Curfew Night with at-risk teens. “I was amazed at the relationships I saw between the young adults participating in the break dancing,” she shares. “Helping each other, learning from each other and even when competing against each other in the dance battles, never showing signs of negative competition-- just amazing camaraderie and true kinship with one another within a vibrant community of friends.” Adds Judy, “Recognizing the hardships that some of the children have been through makes their sense of kinship even more special.”
Charles hopes other congregations will come visit reVision and see what they are doing to build community and mentor teens. “By intervening in the foster care system,” he says, “we hope to prevent teens from going to prison, committing crimes or suicide by connecting them with mentors and families. Many of them age out of foster care and feel utterly alone.” Volunteers are welcome to come to an orientation on the first Thursday of every month at Gethsemane Campus at 6:30 – for one hour, no strings attached. Call Charles for more information at 832-577-5556.
How Can You Help?
- Congregations and individuals can contact their local Child Protective Service faith-based specialist, who can guide them to their local B.E.A.R. (Be A Resource) room, Rainbow room, older foster child mentoring activities and more.
- Many local Child Placing Agencies offer information sessions and training to help increase knowledge of foster children's needs.
- reVision helps congregations and individuals engage in long-term and meaningful mentoring relationships with dual-status youth.
- A Way Home guides potential adoptive parents into an intentional mentoring relationship with foster children transitioning into permanent homes.
- Also, individuals can become a Child Advocate or CASA volunteer to help children navigate the foster care system.
Adds Amy, “Just as foster children need families to help them navigate life, foster and adoptive families need their congregations to help families navigate life.” Amy is channeling her passions into a new nonprofit called Cultivating Families. This new organization believes that congregations need help to know how to help -- until they are confident they can sustain foster care ministries and programs on their own. “We work alongside congregations to determine what would be the best way to help foster children in their local community,” she explains. “First and foremost, we help congregants engage in prayer for specific foster children and together, we will hold every foster child in prayer. Hundreds of prayer volunteers are gaining awareness about the foster care system and covering thousands of children in prayer.”
The new nonprofit has additional “Cultivating Activities” and “Engaging Activities” for congregations:
- Awareness presentations,
- Weighted Blanket and Prayer Shawl Ministries for foster children, and
- “Learn and Serve” projects including hands-on activities such as assembling first night kits, packing backpacks, or building beds for foster families.
- Implementing Foster and Adoptive Supportive Care Groups
- Adoption and Foster Care Decisions Courses
- Awareness events
- Trauma-Informed Parenting Classes
- Trauma-Informed Care for Volunteers and Childcare Workers
“With more funding, we can add respite care ministries, helping older foster children and foster alumni, child and teen nurture groups, children’s classes, service projects, and more foster and adoption grief and loss services,” she adds. Amy also spearheads an in-depth training course for existing or potential foster parents.
Adds Charles, “In our work in the juvenile justice system we see many teens who are locked up in prison and that is why this work in the foster care system is so important as an intervention in that path to prison. Let’s all work together to keep them from experiencing a negative future.”