At any given time, there are about 500 children waiting in shelters in South Florida without a family to care for them. For their safety, they have been removed from their homes due to abuse, abandonment or neglect by biological family members, and are innocent victims of a broken world. Faith-based foster care agencies such as 4KIDS OF South Florida, Place of Hope, His House and Mount Bethel Human Services are working hard to solve this crisis. However, kind-hearted people are needed who are willing to take in these children and show them the love of God.
While many will welcome an infant with open arms, the challenge is often finding families willing to take a risk on harder to place kids such as teenagers or sibling groups of three or more.
“We have an astronomical need for foster parents willing to take in teenagers,” confirmed Kenneth Brighton, ChildNet Director of Community Relations.
Still the problem is solvable. “A relatively small number of families willing to help within the system can make a big difference,” Brighton insists.
Taking in teens
Rodney and Maggie Louis have risen to the challenge and reaped the rewards. “We’ve been foster parents for about 15 years and taken in over 20 kids,” said, Maggie Louis. “We started taking ages 5 years and older; however, in the past few years we’ve only taken middle school and high school children.”
While Maggie said she feels she has a calling to foster or adopt, she admits the challenges are many. “The children do not come from an ideal home life. If they did, they wouldn’t need us. They are broken in so many different ways and dealing with their trauma is not easy. However, the rewards are knowing that we showed healthy God love to these children. We are seed planters in their lives. We may never see the fruits, but we know we did what God wanted us to do,” Maggie said, confident that the kids who have lived with them look back on their time together fondly.
Knowing teens are already set in their behavior, Maggie said they were a little afraid to take teens at first, but having worked with youth in church for years there was little that could surprise them. “As traumatic as we expected it to be, the surprises have been things that we have heard from the children that stay scarred in our memories.”
Noting that the system is very flawed, Maggie said, “Place of Hope has been the only reason we continue to foster. They provide resources such as counseling services, respite, and someone to listen and pray with us. Without their support, we would have given up a long time ago.”
To others considering becoming a foster parents, Maggie encouraged, “We would say do it! It is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of patience. And we must know our role in these children’s lives. We are only with them for a season, yet need to love them as if we birthed them. That’s a delicate balance of emotion and a true commitment to the end goals.”
A heart for restoration
Marcus and Kandra Elzey recently became licensed as foster parents through His House Children’s Home. Having considered foreign adoption previously, Kandra said she was surprised when her husband saw a flyer concerning foster care in the lobby of their church, The Pentecostals of Cooper City, and suggested he’d be open to it.
“We approached our pastors and from the beginning they were both supportive of us as a couple taking on this ministry,” Kandra said. In a relatively short period of time they received their first placement: two sisters ages five and 18-months.
“From day one,” Kandra said, “the entire church body has been amazing. Some people will send texts and ask how it’s going, reaching out and asking how they can help.” Others have offered toys and clothes.
There is a possibility the Enzeys may eventually have an opportunity to adopt the girls from foster care; however, Kandra said, “We went into this with the mindset that we’re going to be pro-reunification. We are going to be the helping hands for reuniting families. If we have a motto for our family, it would be restoration.”
Asked what she would say to those thinking about getting involved in foster care, Kandra said, “You don’t have to think. Caring for children is always going to be the right thing. No child deserves to be left alone, no matter how daunting the task.”
It takes community
However, Joshua Kolkana, Director of Place of Hope’s Homes of Hope & Villages of Hope, said being a foster parent is a unique calling. “We have about a 1.5 percent response rate when we speak to a group about becoming foster parents,” said Kolkana, but the remaining 98.5 percent could become consistent volunteers. It’s a community effort and needs include making a meal, meeting a child when he gets off a bus, tutoring, mentoring and simply being an agent of healing.
Educational support is another high priority. “The number one road out of poverty, abuse and neglect is education,” he said, adding that Place of Hope is currently planning to open an educational support building at each of its campuses to serve as a community resource center.
To find out more how you can get involved, contact Place of Hope at www.placeofhope.com, His House Children’s Home at www.hhch.org, 4KIDS of South Florida at www.4kidsofsfl.org, or Mount Bethel Human Services at mbhsc.org.