Jennifer and Zachary Lynch were at church one Sunday morning when they heard a presentation about the urgent need for foster parents. Married for four years, the Lynches were eager to expand their family, but the idea of fostering hadn’t crossed their minds.
“With so many more children entering care, we learned there was a critical shortage of licensed foster homes to take them in,” Jennifer says. “Wondering if we should get involved was all we talked about on the drive home.”
The North Carolina couple began attending training classes, and then completed the necessary paperwork, interviews and background checks to become foster parents. Their first placement — a newborn — arrived two weeks after they received their license.
The Lynches credit the Fostering Communities initiative for launching and supporting their journey. Funded by The Duke Endowment at Crossnore Communities for Children in North Carolina, the program is designed as an opportunity for congregations to live out their faith through service, leading to more successful outcomes for foster parents and the children in their care. The Endowment is supporting similar efforts at Epworth Children’s Home in South Carolina as it partners with United Methodist churches across the Palmetto State.
“Not everyone can be a foster parent,” says Brett Loftis, Crossnore’s CEO. “But through Fostering Communities, everyone can have a role to play in the foster care world.”
Bridging the Gap
On any given day, nearly 15,000 children are in foster care in the Carolinas. It’s the job of the child welfare system to find a place for them to feel safe and nurtured until they are reunified with their primary caregiver, placed with relatives or adopted.
Ideally, this safe place is in a family-like setting with properly trained foster parents. But with a shortage of licensed families, children sometimes need to spend their first nights in care at social services offices or hotels. If their time in care continues, they may be shuffled between temporary placements or placed in group homes or emergency shelters, which research suggests can be less effective. Disrupted placements are hard on a child, and the negative impact adds up. For each move a child makes, the likelihood of having a successful outcome shrinks.
Being a foster parent is a daunting, though meaningful, calling. Most foster parents volunteer for the role because they want to contribute — but the average commitment lasts only a year. Many opt out because they felt ill prepared or under-resourced.
Leaders at Crossnore and Epworth say faith communities can play an important role in addressing these tough challenges.
The Rev. John Holler, who retired this summer as Epworth’s president and CEO, agrees. “From praying to cooking meals to recruiting foster parents,” he says, “every church in some capacity can be part of this work.”