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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




Caring Foster Care

By John W. Kennedy
Apr. 21, 2013

Jay Mooney, executive director of the Assemblies of God Family Services Agency (AGFSA) in Hot Springs, Ark., speaks with unbridled passion as he discusses the possibilities of AG churches taking a leading national role in foster care.

The findings of a foster care survey completed by 1,697 AG pastors and adherents representing more than 7 percent of AG churches have convinced AGFSA that the Fellowship is open to making outreach to hurting children and their families a priority. The data gathered have prodded AGFSA to develop and implement a national foster care strategy.

Last year, AG General Superintendent George O. Wood and General Treasurer Douglas E. Clay, who is chairman of the AGFSA board, challenged Mooney to research what more the Fellowship could do to help alleviate the nationwide foster care crisis. Since 1966, the Hillcrest Children’s Home and Highlands Maternity Home under the AGFSA umbrella have impacted 3,000 children directly.

Annually, 660,000 children are served by the U.S. foster care system, of which 110,000 are considered “adoptable.” Because only 1 in 3 cases of abuse is reported, there are many more children and youth who are homeless, sex-trafficked, incarcerated or runaways.

Group homes, such as Hillcrest, can handle dozens of foster children at a time, at best. The idea of the AG operating multiple campuses the size of Hillcrest isn’t scalable. But Mooney believes the solution is simple: local churches responding to the needs of children in their communities. He says the problem can be tackled if enough individual families are willing to open their homes.

“There may not be a better opportunity to minister to ‘the least of these,’” says Mooney, who spent 26 years in student ministry, including seven years as AG National Youth Ministries director, before assuming the AGFSA helm a year ago. “These kids don’t need more orphanages — they need Christian fathers and mothers.”

Clay notes the plan ties in with the AG’s core value of investing in the next generation.

“Instead of just having a national group home, we are putting a dent in this by educating our constituency,” Clay says. “To place a child in a healthy, stable home is the greatest determining factor in their success rate for their future.”

Mooney believes the key finding in the report is that 47 percent of the senior pastors who responded indicated they would be willing this year to make foster care a top-three concern at the church where they minister.

Mooney realizes this is a herculean undertaking that could take years to bear fruit. He is brimming with confidence nonetheless.

A budding long-term partnership with FaithBridge Foster Care in metro Atlanta makes the plan viable. FaithBridge has a track record of working through local churches and facilitating the child welfare sector. Individual families or even congregations who launch out on their own to do something about foster care often end up disillusioned because of a lack of support.

FaithBridge CEO Bill R. Hancock, a licensed Assemblies of God minister, has been involved in child welfare for three decades. He believes God has been preparing the partnership with AGFSA. Mooney and Hancock were classmates at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla., but lost track of each other more than two decades ago.

Hancock, homeless himself as a teenager, launched FaithBridge five years ago after he became pastor at Corridor Church, an AG congregation in Marietta, Ga.

FaithBridge uses a proprietary model called the Community of Care that acts as an integrated delivery system of professional services and volunteer support — all through the local church. The organization mobilizes and equips Christians and congregations by offering services that foster families and children need in order to thrive. FaithBridge provides training, certification and ongoing operation support.

The organization also acts as an intermediary with government agencies, aiming to reduce the administrative burden on foster families. In addition, FaithBridge helps train a team of church volunteers who act as a support system for foster families, helping them in everything from finding clothes to assisting with transportation. 

“We don’t see ourselves responding as a child welfare agency,” Hancock says. “We see ourselves responding as a mission-sending agency.”

“They have the systems; we have the people,” Mooney says. “It can be a great shared responsibility and investment.”

Mooney notes the AG constitutes 5 percent of the U.S. evangelical population, and if those in the Fellowship took responsibility for 5 percent of the nation’s foster children, it would provide care for 33,000 youngsters.

Although he acknowledges it will take years before full implementation, Mooney says the agreement between AGFSA and FaithBridge will allow the Fellowship to extend foster care services beyond its current Arkansas limitations. Although the hope is to expand to all states eventually, the survey identified several states that are more ready than others for immediate action.

Mooney says the strategic plan will enable AGFSA to better fulfill its mission. Indeed, in the past 70 years foster care in the United States has grown from a cottage industry into a vast network encompassing laws, public policy and professional organizations. The U.S. foster care complex is estimated to be a $35-billion-a-year industry.

“It is a complex system of bureaucracies — federal, state and local governments — that are disjointed, not very unified, and highly vertically organized,” Hancock says. “The complexity of the system impacts the ability to deliver quality services for the many children who have been abused, neglected and abandoned.”

Hancock senses that there is an emerging movement for churches to be mobilized to address foster care and family restoration ministry.

“We’re endeavoring to give people a pathway to act on their compassion,” says Mooney, who is aware the task is arduous but believes the reward will be worth the effort.

Although various congregations, AG and otherwise, have been a part of the FaithBridge partnership the past five years, the Assemblies of God will be the first denomination to become involved on a national scale.

Mooney believes it is imperative the AG step up to meet the need now because the changing culture is connecting more foster children with home environments that are spiritually destructive.

“If the church does not step up, other segments of a secular society will,” Hancock says.

“These kids need a chance to hear the gospel,” Mooney says.

While there aren’t enough homes available for the need, another troubling factor is instability. One-third of kids in the foster care system live with three different families in a year. A further obstacle is that many of those families providing care aren’t equipped properly. Without adequate support, they easily burn out and never want to try foster care again.

Hancock thinks trained church members offer the perfect solution.

“Not only do we have the human resources in the people who are part of the church, but by nature we are a healing community where broken and wounded families who fail to thrive should come to find restoration,” Hancock says. “We are uniquely qualified to provide a solution to the national foster care crisis.”

It’s not as though the Fellowship will be starting from scratch. The AGFSA survey reported AG churches in 26 states have foster care programs in place. And 20 percent of adherents who responded to the survey said they are or have been a foster parent, while 9 percent disclosed they had adopted a child from the foster care system.

“I believe, once informed of the need, there will be an overwhelming response both in becoming foster parents and the financial support,” Clay says.

“We will never make foster care easy,” Hancock says. “But we believe we can make it simpler.”


JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

 

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