Churches Tackling Foster Care Crisis, Caring for Vulnerable Children
13-year-old Meah likes to sing, play the piano, and read romance novels. One of her favorite books is “The Fault in Our Stars.” A 2-minute version of her story was filmed and shared by a new organization out of Elk River called The Reel Hope Project.
In Meah’s “reel” she shared her belief that “Adoption is when people take kids that were in a bad spot under their arms and bring them into a better spot.” She said she was looking for “a family with parents who can actually take care of you, where both the mom and dad have jobs, and a nice home. It doesn’t matter if they are all bald or something, (she laughs) as long as they are a family.”
Meah is one of The Reel Hope Projects’ first success stories. A family viewed her video and requested to be matched with her; they are now moving toward adoption and as Meah calls it “a better spot.”
The Reel Hope Project, started by Kaycee and Pete Stanley from Elk River films introductory videos of kids in foster care who are waiting for a forever family to adopt them. Reel Hope shows the videos in churches knowing the power of a 2 minute clip to transform hearts.
“Statistics don’t transform hearts, but stories do. We share their joys, their laughs, their goofiness, and create videos that are uplifting, compelling, and true to who this kid is,” said Kaycee Stanley.
Stanley says churches have stepped up to care for today’s modern-day orphans.
“The church has a beautiful heart for orphans. We care about kids who need families. Previously these kids, right here in Minnesota had been invisible to us,” said Stanley.
According to Reel Hope, since the non-profits inception, 15-20 families have committed to starting the process of adopting from foster care. Reel Hope encourages 5 additional families within a church to come alongside and support an adoptive family.
There is a growing movement within the local Christian Church for families to support foster care and love on vulnerable children in large part due to a growing realization that there are modern-day orphans living in Minnesota. These are the children often connected with MN DHS Child Protective Services.
“The government was never designed to raise our kids, and raise families. When families fall short, who is better qualified to stand in the gap than the church,” said Lynn Lewis, Bethany Christian Services, Executive Regional Director.
Many advocates for vulnerable children in the Christian community believe the Church is heeding its call to care for orphans, by trying to care for the 1,700 children who are wards of the state of Minnesota, according to the Department of Human Service’s 2017 Out-of-Home Care and Permanency Report.
“There is a huge opportunity for the church, when we look at building the kingdom, we can impact the child going into care, and to the biological families when the child is returned home. If you can befriend a family, you can plant a seed in that family,” said Lewis.
“The church has a unique opportunity to provide hope and homes, which is where the Gospel lives out,” said Lisa Welter, founder of the Connected Kids Initiative.
Welter says kids in crisis in our community are often the ones who frequently bump up against the child welfare system.
“Much of our societal concerns: sex trafficking, youth in prison, crime rates, children in dire straits, and rising addiction levels, have a common denominator called child welfare,” said Welter. “Lasting community transformation occurs when children and families flourish.”
As recent news reports reveal the CPS model is not serving our children well; a lawsuit filed against Hennepin County Child Protective Services in May demands the county recruit hundreds more foster care homes in order to provide enough stable housing to meet the high placement demand.
Lisa Welter launched Connected Kids Initiative last spring to encourage local churches to try a new missions model focused on child welfare. CKI created a local church model with an easy to use tool-kit for faith communities to better respond to our community’s kids.
Already the response to the CKI church model is overwhelming; an interest meeting at Eagle Brook Church garnered interest from 350 people, and 90 homes were recruited to start the process to open their homes, with 100 families and small groups signing-on to resource and support these new homes.
Pastor Paul Johnson of Woodridge Church in Medina put forth a challenge to his church’s 3 West Metro sites that make up the Aspen Grove Network, to identify 50 families willing to commit to fostering or adopting 50 children in 5 years. So far two years into the challenge, 23 kids have been adopted or taken on as long-term foster placements, with a handful more families starting the process.
“The Aspen Grove Network seeks to honor God by obeying his command in the book of James to care for orphans through adoption and foster care. Just as we’ve been adopted into God’s family, we want to follow God’s heart and do the same for children in need,” said John Walt, the Family Ministry Director at the Aspen Grove Network.
A Growing Need
14-year-old Leo wants to find a forever family before he ages out of the Child Protective Services system.
Leo says, “Family to me means people getting along, people taking care of each other, working together and having fun. Adoption means there are people who are there for me and take care of me.”
The number of children in Minnesota’s foster care system on an average day has increased by 51 percent, from approximately 6,200 in 2013 to almost 9,400 in 2016, according to MN DHS.
And Michelle Bawek believes Leo, and every child deserves a stable, loving forever family. She and her husband, Mike, began doing foster care 12 years ago. They have fostered approximately 20 kids and continue to open their homes to all ages. Thus far they have adopted 4 foster children along with their 3 biological children.
She leads a movement called “Every Child. Every Church,” and is helping plan Focus on the Families’ first Minnesota “Wait No More” conference on November 11th. Learn more about the November Wait No More Event and its informational Pastor’s luncheon on October 3rd.
Bawek’s home church, City Hill Church developed the Isaiah 1:17 ministry to create a church culture that supports any family in crisis, and wraps around all foster families.
“I am hoping this will begin a trend, and we will see more churches supporting foster care and the families hosting children. It is our call as Christians to care for the widow and orphan and we need to step up to the plate and do just that. We can no longer be ignorant to the need. Not everyone may be able to host a child, but they can certainly support a family who can,” said Bawek.
Early Prevention for Vulnerable Children
Before children are introduced into the foster care system, a Christian organization called Safe Families for Children has stepped into the fray, attempting to support kids who are highly at-risk for abuse, neglect and trauma, before ever entering the foster care system.
Safe Families has created a network of families across the state to stand in the gap and be early intervention, child abuse prevention, and family stabilization.
Churches like Hosanna! Lutheran Church are actively engaged in Safe Families, with 30 trained host families, and 40 resource families who act as a support network by bringing meals, diapers, and supplies to host homes.
The Church as a Solution
The problem of the foster care crisis isn’t unsolvable. There are 4,000 churches in Minnesota.
If 1 in every 3 churches in the state committed to making a difference in the life of one foster child, Kaycee Stanley believes the Church could wipe out the growing list of waiting children in Minnesota.
“The church would be living out their calling in an immersive, discipleship way,” said Stanley.
“The Church is unique in that it can provide transformation and hope. If we come together and focus on this topic; we would see significant change in our community,” said Welter.
Jesus instructs his people to care for orphans, real children like Meah and Leo. If we follow Jesus’ call, we can transform communities and transform Minnesota for the Kingdom of God.
The Reel Hope Project
Bethany Christian Services
Connected Kids Initiative
Connected Kids Initiative’s local church model
Every Child. Every Church
Minnesota’s Wait No More Conference
Wait No More Informational Pastor’s luncheon
Safe Families for Children