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Planting the Seeds

Fostering Faithful Families encourages churchgoers to consider adoption

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Missouri, like most states, has a continual need for foster and adoptive families. On average, about 1,400 children are in need of families. Fostering Faithful Families (FFF), a coalition of five churches based in St. Louis, addresses this need by seeking potential adoptive families within the frame of a larger faith-based network comprised of Lutheran, Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, and non-denominational churches. The Lutheran Family and Children's Services of Missouri (LFCS), a CWLA member agency, is one of the five faith-based organizations that comprise FFF. Before children are adopted, FFF encourages churchgoers to help the families considering adoption and make the children a permanent part of the community.

Debbie Schallom is the director of the St. Louis Child Welfare branch of LFCS. "We all work well together and are supportive of each other's churches," Schallom says. "The main concept is to spread the word in the Christian community of the children who are in the state's custody due to abuse or neglect. These kids need loving foster and adoptive homes. Most people have no idea how many kids are affected by abuse and neglect and so our goal is to educate the community in hopes that some may want to learn more and become foster or adoptive parents."

Five faith-based organizations, including a CWLA member agency, reach out to churches to find foster and adoptive parents.

To educate churchgoers about specific children in need of homes, each of FFF's five participating faiths recruit ambassadors for their multiple churches. Typically, an ambassador is an individual whose personal or professional experience with foster care allows him or her to serve as an intermediary between his or her church and FFF. "The congregation will recognize that person as the person who knows about adoption. Ideally, it's someone who has experience with it. There's a lot of frustrations with foster care and adoption; we know [people interested in adopting] need a sympathetic ear," says Schallom. The ambassador organizes informational meetings at the church, prepares postings for church bulletins, and recruits volunteers for various events.

"The Bible specifically talks about how we're all orphans of God, and we're instructed by the Bible to help others. We're hoping that this is the kind of atmosphere a child can really thrive in," says Schallom. She understands that not everyone has the desire to become a foster parent, but she believes that the Christian perspective makes members of the community receptive to becoming involved in some way with the children. FFF encourages churchgoers to consider innovative ways they can assist foster children and the members of their congregation who do choose to adopt. For example, a member of the congregation who is a mechanic may decide to provide a free oil change for a family in need, or a hairdresser may sculpt a teenage girl's hair into an up-do free of charge. The possibilities are endless, and FFF's ambassadors strive to spread this message throughout their congregations. "We believe that the more support these families get, the more they'll follow through with adoption. If you're isolated, you're going to give up. The whole church will back you up if you decide to adopt a child," says Schallom.

FFF arranges various events in order to educate pastors and congregations about the program as well as specific children in need of homes. Events may range from luncheon meetings with pastors from various churches to gauge the possibility of recruiting an ambassador to setting up "Portraits of Grace," framed photos of foster children seeking permanent homes. "The goal is for people to talk about [the photos] and ask questions about specific children. When we go out, we aren't recruiting for one specific child. We're trying to get a broad audience to realize that many kids need homes," says Schallom.

FFF also explains to churchgoers that many more teenagers than young children will be available for adoption. LFCS is part of a consortium that has a contract with the state to do case management with children and case studies with adoptive parents. The agency only does home studies with people who are open to adopting a child from any race who is 10 years of age or older, unless they would be willing to adopt a sibling group, which may have a range of ages. As of press time, 63 families have completed the licensing and training process, and 21 more families are still in the process throughout FFF.

FFF maintains open and honest lines of communication with members of its faith communities about the particularities of the child welfare system. Due to goals of reunification and permanency, many children are eventually reunited with their families. "Yes, some kids will go back to their biological families, but the idea is for [FFF] to be very honest and not sugarcoat anything," says Schallom. "The goal is that when people see that [adopting a foster child] is doable, they'll want to do it too. It can be difficult to get involved with older kids who have gone through a lot and have witnessed a lot more than they should," she continues. "We educate families about the possible difficulties. The main idea of FFF is getting out there and trying to say to churches, 'There are more of us than there are kids in need. If we pull together, we can help these kids.'

"This is something that takes time. A family may think about it for at least year before they decide to become foster parents," Schallom explains. "We see our duty as educating the faith community about children in need. We look at it as planting seeds."

Laural Hobbes is an editorial intern at CWLA.

Spreading the News

A New York Times article identified Youth Villages, a CWLA member agency based in Tennessee, as "one of the leading practitioners of the family-services approach" because of its innovative Multisystemic Therapy (MST) approach to child welfare. The MST model helps youth within the context of their families, schools, and communities by targeting specific family issues and developing tailored placement plans rather than putting them into the foster care system. Counselors keep the children engaged by helping their caregivers parent more effectively or enlisting the support of schools and community members. For more, visit http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/21/a-families-first-approach-to-foster-care/.

Beating the Odds

A.J. and Michael Sanders created an independent-living program in Chesterfield, Virginia, called Beating the Odds, in which they help youth about to age out of the foster care system transition to adulthood by training them in table manners, professional attire, and fiscal management. Individuals must work and save in order to stay eligible for the program, which ensures that they can afford rent when they move out on their own. Upon completion of the program, the young adults receive furnishings and housewares so that they are ready to begin a home.

Supporting Others

The Foster Parents of Teller County, a community-based organization comprised of foster families in Divide, Colorado, puts foster families in touch with other families in similar situations, which creates a valuable support resource. The group provides network resources, education, and social opportunities to parents at various stages of the process of becoming and being a foster parent, making the training process simpler. The organization, which is a registered nonprofit, was founded in 2004 and organizes a multitude of bonding activities, including camping and barbecuing.

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