DALLAS—Texas Baptists leadership hosted a Foster Care Summit on Mon., Apr. 16 to discuss the foster care crisis in Texas and seek ways for partnering churches and ministries to get involved. Opening the meeting, Executive Director David Hardage discussed the escalating crisis over the past few years and his desire to see Texas Baptists join together to make a difference.
“It seems like God is asking us, as Texas Baptists, to step into this area in a big way— collectively, collaboratively, cooperatively … My dream is that we solve this problem,” Hardage said.
Representatives from Texas Baptists’ partner ministries Buckner International; STARRY, Children at Heart; South Texas Children’s Home; and BCFS, spoke about ways their institutions were working in foster care and adoption ministry. Hardage noted the significance of joining the partners together and the strength demonstrated through their influence and work statewide. Additionally, ministers and lay leaders from First Baptist Church in Mineral Wells, Shearer Hills Baptist Church in San Antonio, First Baptist Church in Belton and Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler spoke to church-initiated ministry through foster care.
“We have this heart of God, this desire as God does, to take care of the fatherless,” said Nathan Buchanan, pastor of FBC Mineral Wells and foster parent. Buchanan outlined many biblical examples of foster care and adoption, including the stories of Moses, Esther and Jesus.
“Caring for an orphan teaches us about loving a person who may be slow to love us back,” he said. Buchanan also noted orphan care helps the world see God’s heart, displays faith in action and is the perfect picture of a relationship with the Heavenly Father.
The state of foster care in Texas
JoAnn Cole, vice president for foster care at Buckner International, shared statistics about foster care in Texas. In 2017, there were approximately 19,700 children removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. Currently, more than 32,000 children are in foster care in the state and more than 7,000 are ready to be adopted due to terminated parental rights.
Despite startling statistics and many obstacles to overcome, Cole shared, “there is hope that I’ve seen in the last few years as our Texas Baptists churches have stood up and been a part of what’s happening … I think God is calling believers to stand up and do even more.”
Sarah Smith, manager of volunteer recruitment and outreach for CASA in Dallas, noted CASA volunteers advocate for what is best for children, many times as the only unpaid perspective in the courtroom during foster care proceedings.
“Our role is to look out for the child’s best interest … we’ve found that our child welfare system isn’t doing a good enough job focusing on our kids and having the right amount of time to do what is necessary for our kids,” Smith said.
Strong foster homes needed
Eron Green, president of South Texas Children’s Home Ministries (STCH) shared, “As believers, we are the answer to the foster care problem in our country. If we as churches have been doing what we are called to do there would be no reason to have a CPS … because we would be stepping up as believers to help those in our community and loving them where they are.”
“We don’t need more foster homes,” Green said. “We need more quality, well-supported foster homes.” He suggested a model for foster care families with three-to-five families to surround and support one family engaged in fostering children. The additional families would help provide respite, encourage mental health and prevent burnout after only a few months of caring for children.
Green encouraged churches interested in beginning foster care ministries to talk with those who have successful programs already in place. Rather than jumping into a situation where there is a lack of knowledge or training, he suggested church leaders seek advice and counsel from trusted partners on best practices and helpful resources.
The essential needs for church-based ministry
Kevin Burdette, director of Hope for 100 through Green Acres Baptist Church, shared about starting the church’s foster care and orphan ministry 10 years ago. As an adoptive dad and CASA volunteer, Burdette said ministry efforts should start in prayer. In helping sister churches begin foster care and adoption ministries, he also noted the essential need for support from the senior pastor of the church.
Green Acres Baptist Church members support foster care and adoptive families through many initiatives including a kids night out with a free night of childcare once a month; wrap-around families to support and encourage foster families; and post-adoption encouragement through a ministry called Forever Families.
“If there is anything the BGCT could do, it would be to encourage senior pastors to take up that gauntlet and encourage their churches to get involved,” Burdette said.
Buchanan, at FBC Mineral Wells, encouraged leaders to find an agency, network or group to partner with as a church. Another suggestion was hosting an “orphan Sunday” to tell the story of children in a church’s community who are in need of love and care.
“Do something. Find out what that something is that you can do,” Buchanan said. “It cannot just be a silo of your ministry—it has to be the ministry.”
At the end of the summit, those in attendance discussed next steps for Texas Baptists’ involvement on a statewide-level. Increasing awareness among the 5,300 churches affiliated with the convention was a primary concern. The Texas Baptists’ Leadership Team will meet with other state leaders involved in foster and adoptive care; connect churches seeking involvement with those who can help them most efficiently; create a foster care tool box of resources for churches; and prayerfully seek God’s direction on additional ways to care for foster children across the state.