A Hopeful Call to Foster Ministries
I started with foster ministries at First Free Methodist Church in Seattle, WA, reluctantly filling in for a volunteer who was sick. “Lord, I know this is something I should do but I’m tired and don’t feel like giving up another night.” My heart was not in it at all. Still, I showed up to our foster family support group duty-bound and was immediately confronted by energetic chaos. It was both messier and noisier than any church program I had ever experienced, but I saw moments of true connection over bowls of homemade chicken noodle soup, tearful roundtable discussions with foster parents, crazy obstacle courses in the gym, and completing a Star Wars puzzle with a particularly anxious child. “Ms. Camille, will you come back next time?” That night God took my reluctant obedience and sparked a deep love in me for the fostering community.
As a Set Free Team, we focus our energies on foster ministries in response to the staggering statistic that between 60-85% of “commercially sexually exploited children” within the US were at one time in the child welfare system*. Clearly, this is a system in need of restoration. Since all involved recognize the enormous systemic needs, we have found that there is an increasing openness within the Department of Children, Youth and Family Services (DCYF) to partnering with the local church. As I have worked to develop relationships with social workers, I let them know that we want to be their trusted, responsive, and consistent partners. In response, social workers observe what we do and regularly refer their clients to our support group.
To date our team has:
- Written notes of gratitude and included a coffee card, chocolates, or a fresh flower for their desks. During Covid, writing cards has been a particularly meaningful way for our housebound seniors to be involved in ministry.
- Trained volunteers for the Office Moms & Dads Program to actively engage at the DCYF office one-on-one with new foster kids while they wait for their first home placement
- Organized and stocked the DCYF Care Closet with clothing and essential items that may be needed for the first few nights a child or teen is in foster care.
- Recruited Seattle Pacific University students, along with our First Free Methodist Church folks, to provide quality childcare for our foster family support group each month, while parents receive critical training and support.
- Provided trauma-informed training for our volunteers so they can better respond to some of the unique behavioral challenges.
- Encouraged Sunday school classes and small groups to cook one or two dinners a year for our support group, which exposes more people to the joys and opportunities of foster ministry.
- Hosted Caregivers’ Nights Out, giving parents a much-needed break to focus a little time on strengthening their relationships.
- Equipped volunteers to assemble special care packages for each foster family while we have been unable to meet, and we’ve periodically connected over Zoom.
Knowing that nearly half of foster parents quit within their first year, we are committed to providing support, hope, and resources that let them know they are not alone.**
As a parent of four teenagers, I became increasingly interested in learning about the unique needs of adolescents and young adults in extended foster care. I believed they would be the most vulnerable to being trafficked and perhaps the most in need of support. I contacted our Queen Anne DCYF office and asked to be connected with one of the social workers who had clients in this age group. She was overwhelmed with her caseload but happy to hear of our interest and desire to partner with her. She let me know that many groups offer help for foster babies and children, but almost no one has shown much interest in the unique needs of teens or young adults.
“…but almost no one has shown much interest in the unique needs of teens or young adults.”
At the time, she had an 18-year-old client who was aging out in one week and didn’t have any furniture for her studio apartment. Was there anything we could do? Yes! I scrambled to collect things from a few people in our church who I knew were down-sizing, and we got together everything she needed within a couple of days. As I delivered one of the loads, I apologized to the social worker for the scratches on top of the antique dresser. But she just looked at me with tears in her eyes, “My client has never had anything this nice in her life”. It was a light-bulb moment when I realized that we had the capability of communicating great value and worth with very simple things.
I have since learned that foster youth will age out of their homes at age 18 unless their foster parents allow them to stay. They can apply for extended foster care until their 21st birthday, but they must either have a part-time job or be in school to qualify. This allows them a surprisingly small stipend for living expenses and a monthly visit from a social worker. I could not imagine my 18- and 20-year-old daughters in this untethered position.
So, I shared my burden with a select group and together we cried out to God, “What are you uniquely calling us to do?”
God is answering that prayer with a growing vision for the ministry of Fostering Futures:
- We have supplied furniture and household goods for 12 foster youth in our area who have moved into their first place. As I have helped them move, we have been able to interact and bless them in a personal way.
- During quarantine, we raised money and collected meal kits so that 30 foster young adults, who had job loss, received grocery cards and food support.
- We assemble Welcome Home Baskets so that foster youth aging out will receive essential cleaning supplies and home goods.
- Together with social workers, we’ve identified needs for life skill training. We developed a financial workshop so youth can learn valuable budgeting skills, and have plans to provide cooking classes in our church kitchen, as many don’t even know how to read a recipe.
One of my social worker friends saw our church youth room and commented how much her clients would love to come and hang out in our fun space. We began to see how some of these classes could allow them to meet other foster youth, as well as establishing mentor relationships with adults in the church and community. We are excited about the emerging opportunities to connect with these youth and support them during this vulnerable time.
Recently, I was invited to attend a team meeting at the DCYF office of all the social workers serving foster young adults. I shared with them our Fostering Futures purpose and the resources we had to offer and asked what more we could do. This is a dangerous question, but an essential one. If we are not responding to current needs or overreaching then we risk being irrelevant. The social workers shared about their clients who receive financial assistance to attend driver’s education, but they have no adults to help them learn to drive or reliable cars in which to practice. They also consistently lease cars they cannot afford, which puts them in a vulnerable position to being trafficked. “Dear Jesus, I don’t know much about cars, but this could be another awesome opportunity to build bridges in your name. Show us the way.”
At the end of that meeting, I blessed those same social workers. I acknowledged their hard work and difficult circumstances and thanked them for their perseverance. “Your work is important and critical. I pray that you will be strengthened and encouraged by hope as we partner with you.”
I pray that God will amplify our call to shine the light of hope to the thousands of foster kids and youth living in our communities and to the foster parents and social workers who care for them. Please join me in this prayer.
- Talk to your pastor, leadership team and friends about starting a foster ministry and pray for direction. Email me at email@example.com.
- Contact your local child welfare office and ask about their needs HERE.
- Give to support the needs of Fostering Futures. Set Free is planning to expand this work to other states in 2022. Give HERE.
- You can help foster youth today by supplying much-needed items via Amazon for those who have aged out and are now moving into their first apartment – HERE.
Rev. Camille Pook
Pastor of Calling & Ministry