A new initiative by Texas Baptists aims to empower churches to make a collective impact on the growing statewide shortage of foster and adoptive families. A Monday morning workshop during the 2019 Texas Baptists Annual Meeting in Waco led by Nita Riggins, director of foster care services at STARRY, outlined the new initiative.
Called “Faith Fosters Texas,” the effort is a collaboration between Texas Baptists child-care agencies STCH Ministries, Buckner International, STARRY and Children At Heart Ministries, as well as Texas Baptists and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). Faith Fosters Texas will connect churches with resources and entities statewide to address the shortage in foster families. In addition, Baylor University’s Truett Seminary and the Diana Garland School of Social Work are working together to provide data analysis services to evaluate the program.
Riggins said the statewide effort is the first of its kind and an opportunity for churches to fulfill the biblical mandate to care for vulnerable children and families.
“Churches are uniquely positioned to come around the families in need in our communities,” Riggins said. “We want to empower churches to impact children in need.”
Riggins said the initial meeting between agencies was called by Executive Director David Hardage, who heard a news report on the foster care crisis in Texas and felt compelled to rally Baptist entities. His own research and prayer led to the meeting, which grew into the collaborative effort that would become Faith Fosters Texas.
A key element, Riggins noted, is not only the involvement of DFPS from the start, but also their excitement at the potential churches have to be part of the overall solution. She also noted that there is support and encouragement from the office of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, whose wife is an active advocate of foster care and adoption. The hope is that these two elements will bring additional exposure to the initiative. It is a collaborative, not a competitive, effort.
“This is not resolvable by a single agency. We can’t do this unless we link arms together,” said Riggins. “It’s also very complex; there’s not one single answer.”
In the workshop, Riggins announced that a new website, faithfosterstexas.org, will go live on Nov. 18 with a menu of resources that pastors and church staff can use to get involved. Resources include everything from printable bulletin inserts to practical ways to promote foster care and support childcare ministries. Visitors to the site can register and connect to resources and agencies near them.
“It’s a tool kit and a how-to guide,” Riggins said. “Not everyone is called to be a foster parent, but everyone is called. There is something everyone can do to help, from recruiting new foster and adoptive families and sustaining current families – the statewide average ‘shelf life’ for foster families is seven months – as well as support for youth transitioning out of foster care.”
Riggins noted that the initiative is asking churches to commit to 3-5 years of keeping the emphasis in front of their congregations and resourcing them, if they wish, to get involved at any level. The goal is to raise awareness of the shortage of families and build foster-adoptive friendly churches.
David Ummel, with Buckner International, leads the initiative and has been instrumental in taking Hardage’s vision and coordinating the development of a comprehensive program to support it. Riggins added, “It’s a living and breathing program that is flexible and may change as we go based on feedback,” she said.
The need for foster families is critical since more than 50,000 children were placed in foster care in 2018 in Texas alone, Riggins said. That same year, 5,823 adoptions were completed.
With the sheer number of churches and members spread across the state, Riggins explained that the shortage could be greatly alleviated as people learn of the need and how they can be involved.
“Why should churches get involved? Because God has told us to,” Riggins said. “It’s amazing to me that in this world of foster and adoption, you can live out the Gospel like Jesus taught us to.”