The numbers are disheartening. There are 1,700 children in the foster care system in two South Florida counties alone, with more removed from their families each month, according to 4KIDS of South Florida, Inc., a faith-based nonprofit committed to providing a home for every child, to promote and support foster families.
|One of Community of Hope’s foster families sorts through games, toys and supplies.|
South Florida is experiencing a foster care crisis. Because there aren’t enough local foster homes, many children are separated from their siblings and re-located far from their families, friends and schools—sometimes relocating to shelters.
Though it can seem hopeless, a local Palm Beach County church, Community of Hope, adopted the motto, “Everyone can do something,” and has begun slowly and carefully to put care and concern into action.
The church partners with 4KIDS to provide a network of support for their church’s foster parents and families.
They also have the practical and spiritual support of a trained “care community” volunteer from their church. That support has meant the Joiners have never felt alone in their journey toward making a Christian home for their foster children.
Joiner felt a strong sense that God was telling her to foster and persuaded her husband to attend an orientation about foster parenting.
There, they found out that if a child doesn’t learn to bond, there are long-term consequences.
“It rocked us,” she said. “We had to do this.”
They took orientation classes to get licensed as foster parents. The process accelerated, and they welcomed a baby boy. The church was ready to be the village that helped care for the child, his new parents, then two more children.
Jessica Stafford has been the director of children’s ministry at the church for three-and-a-half years. She explained how church members brainstormed about ways to help with the problem of finding Christian homes for foster children needing them, then helping them succeed.
“We wanted to make sure we knew what we were doing,” Stafford said.
Church member and care team captain Trish Zenczak had been a foster parent years ago, and the church supported her family then. She also spent time in a Christian group home as a child.
Zenczak said foster children and their needs have always been on her heart. Helping families raise an emotionally connected child became a reality when the church formed a team of advocates to “wrap around these families with extra support,” beginning with the Joiners in October.
The church adopted the curriculum offered by Live the Promise Florida, an organization which connects families with the help and resources they need to be successful foster families.
“The journey can be challenging, and our aim is to keep them in the game and be in the process for the long run. This way of supporting them sets them up for success,” Zencszak said.
“The care community is made up of six to eight volunteers, and there’s a leader who checks in with the family each week to determine their needs and sends out an email to update team members on what is needed.”
It sounds simple enough, and simple is good.
The team is like an extended family. Family helpers can commit to providing a meal once per month, run errands, help with homework, yard work, laundry—whatever needs doing. With necessary background checks, helpers can provide childcare to children.
A meal a month may not sound like a lot; but to mom-of-five Melissa, it’s a boon.
“Just knowing we have a meal every single Wednesday makes such a difference … it means I can play with the kids and not worry about what we’re going to eat,” she said.
“It also shows us that someone in the care community is looking out for us. Little things like that make a huge impact.”The community care team provides not only meals and help with chores; prayers are vital.
“The care team has helped us in spiritual ways as well practical,” Joiner said. “They will pray over you and comfort you when you are tearful. It can be hard. When I can’t pray, they pray. I know I have a whole group of people who are emotionally invested in us.”
Community of Hope has two campuses: one in Loxahatchee Groves and one in West Palm Beach. Between the two campuses, there are now six active foster families; and the church’s foster child outreach has plans to grow.
Working with 4KIDS for licensing and follow-up, part of the mission is to raise awareness about the dire need for homes, Zenczak said.
Tom Lukasik, vice-president for community engagement at 4KIDS.us, which serves South Florida counties, has a positive way of looking at the current crisis.
“In Broward and Palm Beach counties, there are 1,700 kids in foster care, and there are 1,600 churches,” he said. “If every church would take one or more children, all the children would have homes.”
Once most churches are educated about the system and needs, they get involved, either with training, being a family or working with a care team, he said.
“The need is so great, and the results are so much better when a church family watches over and cares for their foster families. We find that the children have a much better chance of staying in one home for a longer period of time with this type of support,” he said.
There are many different opportunities for helping foster children.
Besides becoming a licensed foster parent, people can join a care community, donate gift cards, diapers and clothes to foster closets and pray.
Editor’s note: For more information about the church’s ministry, go to :https://communityofhope.church/foster
—Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.