In the past two years, Broward and Palm Beach counties have experienced such a large increase in the number of children being removed from their homes due to abuse, abandonment and neglect that the need for new foster families is arguably reaching crisis levels, according to some providers.
Last fiscal year Palm Beach experienced a 54 percent increase in local children being removed from their homes due to abuse, abandonment or neglect. This elevated removal rate has continued through the 2014-15 fiscal year with average monthly removals today being 41percent higher than two years ago, according to Elizabeth Winter, director of community relations for ChildNet. As a result, on March 15, 2015 ChildNet Palm Beach was serving 1790 children, 339 more children in care than on the same date two years ago. The child welfare system in Broward County has seen a 32 percent increase in children being removed from their homes over the last four years. As of March 15, 2015, ChildNet Broward was serving 3,076 children, 734 more children than two years ago.
“I don’t think people realize how much need there is in the community and what these influx issues mean,” said Charles Bender, executive director of Place of Hope. “There are never enough high quality people to place these children with, which means a couple of hundred kids will be placed outside of the county. That makes it difficult for them to see their siblings and hurts family reunification.”
Bender said many people also mistakenly believe foster care is funded by the state. “In reality it’s community-based care and the state only pays for about half of what it takes. We are thankful God has blessed Place of Hope, but it’s a job to let people understand the plight of the kids and what it takes financially to care for them.”
While ChildNet was chosen by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) as the lead agency for community-based care in Broward and Palm Beach counties, they subcontract with approximately 50 local agencies for delivery of those services. Only a handful of these are faith-based state licensed child welfare organizations who work closely with churches in the community to provide that care. Among them are Place of Hope, which serves primarily Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, 4KIDS South Florida, which serves mostly Broward and Palm Beach counties but also has 20 foster homes in the Treasure Coast, and Mount Bethel Human Services Corp. in Fort Lauderdale.
Each subscribes to the call in James 1:27 that “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress” (NLT). Foster children are our modern-day orphans and many single mothers share the same needs as widows.
Through the efforts of these faith-based providers, 40 percent of foster kids in Palm Beach County and 24 percent of foster kids in Broward County were placed in the homes of professing Christians last year, according to Tom Lukasik, vice president of community engagement for 4KIDS.
Yet each provider echoes the same call: “We need foster families.” According to Lukasik, many local churches are turning their hearts to the plight of the orphan and becoming extended family for foster children as they surround foster parents with support and live out the gospel.
In addition to material support such as beds, car seats and clothing, 4KIDS provides foster families with support workers who can answer questions regarding the system, coordinates respite care and offers specialized training.
A new curriculum designed to help foster families understand trauma and help children heal is the 4KIDS EPIC approach. Based on meeting the Emotional, Physical, Intellectual and Character needs of children, it is modeled after Luke 2:52, which states, “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people” (NLT).
The class was taught in April at Spanish River Church in Boca Raton as families were Empowered to Connect.
“I could not imagine navigating through this system without 4KIDS beside me for guidance,” said Cathy Karpinen, the wife of Victory Church Pastor Don Karpinen, who became foster parents about a year ago. “It is wonderful to have someone of like faith to pray with me and remind me that God has a plan I can trust,” she said, “4KIDS is sending me resources all the time.”
Working full-time in the church office, Karpinen said she wondered how she would add one more responsibility to their busy lives but found that “once you step out in faith, God provides.”
She discovered a Family Central program provides a childcare subsidy for foster parents that made working full-time feasible. She and several other foster families at Victory Church have also received support from their church community with babysitting and meals.
“I am hoping [the call to foster care] permeates the entire culture of our church because the need is great,” said Karpinen. “What better opportunity is there than to bring a child who is experiencing trauma into your home and comfort him with God’s love, peace and security?”
Involving church communities in foster care is making a big difference for these children in the provision of quality homes, protection of the child within these foster homes, permanence and stability of care, and the overall well-being of the child.
How to get involved
These kids need our help, but Bender admits, “It’s hard to keep up. The best way is to garner financial support and find high quality families who want to be foster homes.” Bender said he believes “people of faith are best suited for that” and he said, “The state of Florida encourages people of faith to get involved.”
As part of their efforts to “care for the least, the lost and the left out,” Mount Bethel Social Services (MBHS) currently has 17 foster families caring for 33 kids. “We are constantly recruiting quality families who expose our children to activities we would want them to experience and will encourage and teach them good morals and values,” said Mishaela Harris, foster care recruitment coordinator at MBHS.
For those who cannot become foster parents, Harris said, “We welcome nurturing volunteers.” And since the kids often come into the foster system with only the clothes on their backs and families sometimes don’t get resources from the state for 4 to 6 weeks, they welcome donations of clothing, gift cards, finances and corporate sponsorships. “We’re trying to work a miracle here,” said Rosby Glover, executive director of MBHS, who added “everything goes directly to the client.”
If you have considered opening your home to a child, 4KIDS of South Florida is offering a free Foster Care Forum on Saturday, May 30 from 9 – 11 a.m. at Banyan Air Service in Broward and at Journey Church in Palm Beach. To register, visit 4KIDSofSFL.org.