A couple years ago, my second-grade daughter, Jaycie, came home from school with a heavy heart. With tears in her eyes, she lamented:
“Mom, I miss my friend, *Lily. She had to go into a foster home far away, so now she’s not in our school any more.”
Once again, my own heart broke for not just the 400,540 children in United States foster care, but specifically for those in care in my own Cherokee County. Even more specifically, I could see first-hand, up-close-and-personal the practical ramifications of not having enough foster homes.
For example, we have (at any given time) 25-30 children in foster care just in our small county, but only 6 or 7 foster homes. About half of these are “kinship homes”, which means they are caring for relatives, or children with whom they already had a relationship before they were removed from their biological family’s homes. That leaves only about three “traditional” foster care homes available when new kids come into care.
Therefore, when children have to be taken into custody, there is rarely a local foster family available to take them, so they must be sent to another county, often 2-3 hours away. Also, it’s a sad reality that social workers can sometimes make up to twenty calls before they find a placement. Workers and children have been known to have to spend the night in an office, because no home can be found.
Through no fault of their own, these children and teens become victims once again, on top of the severe neglect and/or abuse they’ve suffered that required such drastic measures to rescue and protect them. As if losing their birth family isn’t enough, these hurting children must also lose:
- Their school, and [more often than not] their academic standing; they fall behind by frequently changing schools
- Their teachers, who are often the only constant and “safe” person the child knows
- Their church “family”, teachers and friends (if they attend somewhere)
- Their friends, and the comfort from those relationships
- The neighborhood children / friends they played with
- Their sports teammates and coaches, including music/piano lessons teachers (I know this from personal experience of having taught several children in foster care)
- Their pets… heartbreaking loss of a very therapeutic blessing of their beloved companion
I serve on the Steering Committee of www.OklahomaFosters.com , a statewide initiative that formally launched in 2015. This was a thrill to witness, especially for the hundreds of us across the state who have been working, volunteering, and/ or otherwise advocating for enlisting more foster homes for many years beforehand. OKDHS (Oklahoma Department of Human Services) cannot do it alone. They — for the children in crisis — need families to step up.
The 111Project (www.111project.org) is one of those organizations and ministries on the forefront of solving this crisis. I cried happy, inspired tears as I watched the initial launch video (2010 ?) at the first “8046 Foster Care Conference” in Oklahoma City that day. (‘8046’ was the number of children in Oklahoma foster care at the time. Now that number has grown to over 10,000.) The mission of the 111 Project: To enlist 1 family from 1 church to foster 1 child.
The premise is, since there are just over 1,500 churches across the state of Oklahoma, if each church could enlist even one family to foster (on average – some churches may have none – some may enlist three families, for example), the foster care crisis (of not having enough homes) would be SOLVED.
If we enlist 1 family to #fostercare in each church, the foster care crisis would be SOLVED.… Click To Tweet
There are several private foster care agencies that have stepped up to help fill the gap in cooperation with DHS to enlist families. One of those (which I recommend) is TFI Family Connections. Many years ago, a farmer and his wife fostered dozens of children on their family farm. Their hearts were bigger for these children than their home could hold, so more families began to step up. That’s basically how TFI Family Connections was born.
In October 2015, following a meeting in Oklahoma City with Governor Mary Fallin to launch Oklahoma Fosters, I was walking back to my car. Seeing the beautiful Oklahoma State Capitol Building, I pulled out my camera to take the picture. Another gentlemen was walking through the parking lot at the same time, and saw me with my camera.
“Beautiful shot, isn’t it?” he offered.
“Yes, it is. I don’t live here, so I wanted to get a picture before I drive home,” I replied.
That started more than a conversation about beautiful architecture and a mutual love of photography. Inside that meeting, discussing the crisis within — and the great hope for — the foster care situation, Jason Grewe and I had been on opposite ends of the room, and had not met… until that moment.
I learned that Jason is an event planner for TFI Family Connections, designing fun events that draw large crowds, with the plan of taking a few minutes to speak about the need for more foster parents. When Jason discovered that I sing and speak at conferences and churches, and specifically for events concerning foster care and adoption, we were both stunned at the providence of God, once again.
If I had left the building thirty seconds earlier or later, we never would have met.
God planned for us to meet, to intertwine our missions and ministries, to help children in need across Oklahoma.
A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps. (HCSB) Prov. 16:9
A person may think up plans. But the Lord decides what he will do. (ICB) Proverbs 16:9
Another young man I did get to meet at this meeting is Chris Campbell. Chris was (and still is) serving as Director of the 111 Project in Tulsa. I invited Chris last year to accompany me to be on the Good Day Tulsa Show (ABC’s Tulsa affiliate, Channel 8) to talk about the 111 Project, and more specifically, the Care Portal.
Care Portal is a ministry that links social workers and families in need, specifically foster families, with church / faith groups to meet practical needs of children in foster care. Now, the Care Portal program is off and running, and helping to meet the needs of foster children in several counties in Oklahoma, including my own (Cherokee County).
I didn’t know until days after I got home that there was another man from Tahlequah, John Rozell, at the same meeting at the Governor’s Mansion in Oklahoma City. John has a heart and mission similar to mine, and was actually hired by Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare (ICW) to help recruit new foster families from churches and faith groups in our county.
I wrote the song “Call Me Loved” in 2008, before my husband and I even knew that God was calling us to adopt two siblings (whom we hadn’t met) one year later. Listen here. All of this… even the change of direction in my songwriting… was preparing us for what was to come.
All this time, God has strategically been placing different people around our state (and I know Oklahoma is not the only place) who have a burden for these children… to make an eternal difference in their lives.
God in His holy dwelling is a father of the fatherless and a champion of widows. God provides homes for those who are deserted.
I’ll say again what I’ve heard (and said) so many times:
The ideal goal? Instead of having waiting children, we would have waiting families! There would be ample families in each county, each city, and every school district –– so children going into foster care can stay in their own school, in their own town, their own church, and siblings can stay together in the same home.
So for all the heartbroken, frightened children like *Lily, and for all their friends and family who love and miss them, we will continue in this work. We will continue praying and extending the call to hopeful new families to foster. We will continue sharing real-life stories of hope and love by incredible folks who’ve answered a divine call to parent and love a child not of their blood (temporarily or permanently).
May is National Foster Care Awareness Month in the USA. As we celebrate Mother’s Day, graduations and other celebrations, let’s not forget the children who are separated from their birth mothers, who need a good foster mother, and who only hope someone who loves them will attend their graduations.
To you, Lily, wherever you are: May God bless and protect you.
Ways to get involved:
www.careportal.org (Sign up your church, Donate, volunteer)
www.111Project.org (Donate, talk about foster care in your church, advocate)
http://tfifamilyconnections.org/ (Contact about becoming a Foster family in OK, KS, NE & TX. They’ll connect you with another agency if you’re outside these states.)
www.beckywrightsongs.com (Schedule a speaking and/or concert event for your church or
organization, with a focus on adoption, foster care, orphan care)
*Name changed to protect privacy.