Tennessee's new foster care initiative offers churches in the state the opportunity to provide crisis ministry to vulnerable children and families, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore says.
Tennessee Fosters – launched by Gov. Bill Haslam and his wife Crissy at a Dec. 5 event at a downtown Nashville church – is a campaign to encourage government, churches, non-profit organizations and businesses in the effort to recruit more families for children in foster care and to support foster families. The state has more than 6,000 children in foster care and more than 4,000 foster parents.
“I'm excited beyond description by Tennessee's leadership in this area,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Foster children and their families are among the most vulnerable people in our society.
“The church is leading in remarkable and often unseen ways in this area,” said Moore, who attended the launch event, in comments for Baptist Press. “If the church were fully mobilized, we would not see the sort of crisis we now have in our foster care system. I look forward to working in this effort and seeking to ignite similar efforts around the country.”
Tennessee is one of the first states to try such a collaboration on foster care with the help of America's Kids Belong (AKB), a national organization that has led similar campaigns in five other states.
More than 400,000 children are in foster care in the United States, with 100,000 of those eligible for adoption, according to AKB. About 26,000 children age out of the foster-care system yearly at 18 or 21 years old, AKB reports. Research shows half of foster children are homeless within two years of aging out of the system, according to the organization.
Speaking of the relationship between government and religious people, Haslam told the audience at the launch the state is “a lot better at fixing potholes than we are at fixing hearts. And until people of faith come alongside of these heart situations [such as foster care], we're handicapped if we don't have people that have some eternal sense of purpose beside us.”
The campaign will announce in the next few weeks new programs to assist congregations in providing help with foster care, Crissy Haslam said at the launch at Cross Point Church.
“What we're asking people to do today is really hard,” she acknowledged. “Taking a child or sibling group is not an easy task. It takes courage and time and patience, commitment and a huge heart.”
Individuals and organizations can serve foster families by helping care for children, providing financial assistance and mentoring, she said.
Tennessee hopes to achieve three goals with the foster care system in the next year, said Bonnie Hommrich, commissioner of the state's Department of Children's Services:
- Recruit at least 100 “forever homes” during the next nine months to adopt children who are eligible;
- Enroll and license 10 percent more foster homes in 2017 than those that closed voluntarily this year;
- Initiate efforts in 2017 that result in at least five percent of the churches in a county participating in Tennessee Fosters.
The Tennessee Alliance for Kids exists as the liaison between faith-based organizations and state government to help with foster care needs.
Darren Whitehead, senior pastor of Church of the City in Nashville, said at the Dec. 5 event his church began taking seriously the James 1:27 admonition to minister to orphans earlier this year. It seems God is leading His church to “rally around orphans and vulnerable children,” he said.
“Our hope is that we would unite churches together in our state, and we would open our hearts and our homes to the children of Tennessee, our children, dreaming that God would not only use the church to care for these children but that God would use these children to unite the church,” Whitehead said.
Information on Tennessee Fosters is available at tnfosters.gov.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)