As Need for Foster Parents Persists, Coalition Finds People of Faith Accepting the Call
Advocates for America’s foster children recently gathered in Washington, D.C., where one coalition leader revealed that faith is a critical motivation for most foster parents.
On Wednesday, leaders of the CHAMPS Initiative came together in Washington, D.C., to advance strategies for improving foster care. Surprising insights came to light as diverse advocates from more than a dozen states convened.
CHAMPS, a unique coalition of child welfare advocates, policymakers and non-profit groups, stands for “Children Need Amazing Parents.” The national effort seeks to enable better outcomes for foster children by compiling and sharing best practices to support foster parents.
“Children do best in stable, loving families,” said Ron Haskins of The Brookings Institution. “Foster parents are the key. What’s so exciting about CHAMPS is its potential to produce transformational change for children, their parents and the child welfare system itself.” Haskins has worked with both the Bush and Obama administrations. A leading think tank, Brookings hosted the CHAMPS event.
Leaders such as Sarah Chiles of New York showed how these ideas play out in their states. “We have great opportunities and challenges,” she said. “In New York, 22 percent of kids live in poverty.” Chiles champions foster children through the Redlich Horwitz Foundation.
“To recruit, support and retain high-quality foster parents is the most important intervention in our foster care system,” she noted.
Foster Parents Show Faith in Action
“Because of the beliefs we hold dear, people of faith have a natural inclination to taking care of the vulnerable.” — Jason Weber
Official figures show the U.S. foster care population continues to grow. In November, the Administration for Children and Families announced over 400,000 children are currently in foster care. This represents a 10 percent increase just since 2012. More than 100,000 of these kids are waiting to be adopted.
CHAMPS is not ignoring the greatest source of foster parents — America’s faith communities. The coalition includes the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) as a core part of their multi-pronged strategy to help foster kids.
“The Annie E. Casey Foundation has cited that 65 percent of foster parents identify as having a faith affiliation,” says Jason Weber. He serves as director of CAFO’s foster care initiatives. “Because of the beliefs we hold dear, people of faith have a natural inclination to taking care of the vulnerable. That’s always been a part of Christian tradition and carries over into this area.”
“Mighty Bands of Followers of Jesus”
Following his event remarks, Weber spoke in an interview with The Stream. Since 2004, CAFO has united hundreds of faith-based groups who care for orphans and vulnerable children. The Nashville-based alliance works across all Christian traditions. Partner groups support a full range of adoption and foster care options.
“I’m watching small, mighty bands of followers of Jesus in various communities throughout the country, asking: What can our churches do together?” says Weber. “They’re willing to look past some doctrinal or philosophical differences because the kids in our community are important. We have a divine calling to work together.”
He gives a particular example of united Christian action. “Just 10 years ago, an organization of a group of churches rose up, called The Call,” begins Weber. “Today, fifty percent of the certified foster families in the state of Arkansas come from churches mobilized by this organization.”
“That kind of change and impact can happen when followers of Christ work together to make a difference for kids,” he concludes.
The Power of Love to Heal Trauma
Experts nationwide unpacked the difficulties endured by foster children. Dr. Lisa Zetley specializes in pediatrics as a primary care physician in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“Children in foster care have been exposed to significant abuse, neglect and violence,” said Zetley. She represented the American Academy of Pediatrics at the event. “Up to 80 percent of children in foster care have a significant mental health need.”
Jennifer Rodriguez spent her teen years in the foster care system. Today, she works to protect kids as head of the Youth Law Center in San Francisco, California. She believes a parent’s love expressed in everyday moments can help heal trauma.
“For children, the magic happens in the parenting,” she said. “It’s those goodnight kisses when you tuck your child in. You remember your child’s favorite food on their birthday. You call your child by a nickname. That’s the magic.”
“Love and Belonging”
A well-known lawyer, Rodriguez co-chairs the CHAMPS Initiative. “Often in our field, we get hyper-focused on end outcomes,” she admitted. “We forget that love and belonging are what help young people thrive. Excellent parenting is the one core promise we should be keeping to every child who enters into foster care.”
Jason Weber confirms that these kids have endured great sorrows; yet he has hope. “We are learning so much in recent years about brain development and how to help children heal from their trauma,” he says. “What Scriptures have always taught about how to nurture and care for people, brain science is confirming it. A huge number of people in faith communities are embracing this.”
He cites Dr. Karyn Purvis, a celebrated foster care advocate and researcher. She passed away in 2016. “I love it when I see science catch up with Scripture,” Purvis often said. “That’s what we’re seeing,” adds Weber. “The application of these learnings is making a tremendous difference for kids.”
From Feeling Compassion to Living It
Advocates acknowledge a shortage of foster parents remains a significant gap in children’s care.
More than 50,000 foster kids are living in group homes and institutions. CHAMPS leaders stressed such living situations are not ideal. As he speaks in churches, Jason Weber finds many people ready to participate. He highlights a key factor for success.
“The best foster families are supported foster families,” he says. “It’s something you can’t do alone. It takes someone who is committed to learning and allowing other people in. You need to be willing to have a group of people rally around you.”
“Every single person can have a role in contributing to the success of a child in foster care.”
It’s one of several findings CHAMPS hopes to spread nationwide, according to co-chair Jennifer Rodriguez. “People are eager for this change,” she says. “CHAMPS is really our chance to share what we’ve learned and move child welfare forward. We are believing for a system that does our children justice. If people want to get involved, start by taking the CHAMPS pledge. It’s the easiest thing to do!”
Every Believer Has a Stake
Weber stresses that every believer has a stake in child welfare. “Every single person can have a role in contributing to the success of a child in foster care,” he says. “You can act as a mentor, support a foster family in your church, or recruit other families for kids. There are many ways that every person sitting in a church can be involved.”
Watch the CHAMPS launch video (below) and see the full policy event online.