LOCAL CHURCHES COMMUNITY CONNECTION
(This article was originally published on January 6, 2021 on focusonthefamily.com.)
Foster and adoptive families, ministries, and organizations should know the value of a team better than anyone. We have all benefited from excellent training that shed light on what we saw in our homes. Some of us have traveled internationally with a group with whom we now have a lifetime bond. We have been in a room and learned from people’s different experiences. We have sat with friends and family as a child in foster care joined their forever family.
You would think that we would know the value of a team better than anyone. So why do we often find ourselves isolated from others and see ministries siloed and organizations duplicating efforts?
Lack of Connection
There are many reasons for the lack of ongoing adult connection among the foster care and adoption community. If you were to poll this audience, you might receive explanations such as lack of time, territorialism among agencies, physical, mental or emotional exhaustion, inability to find trauma-informed respite caregivers, or fear that they will be shunned or that others won’t understand their experiences. In many locations, to find this community, the caregivers or workers will need to be the ones who organize this space or gathering, and they don’t have the margin to do so.
Our local church and foster care and adoptive agencies were a microcosm of this isolated, siloed phenomenon. In 2013, our local church leaders searched “foster care in Knoxville” on the internet to find an agreed-upon starting place. Over ten different agencies populated the results. In 2014, three separate local churches hosted a foster care and adoption conference within a month of one another. These churches had a similar goal, hosted the same agencies and trainers, but were unknowingly duplicating their efforts. From these occurrences, a group of lay leaders from four denominations started meeting. Their goal was to connect and grow together, and Knox Area Foster Care and Adoption Ministries (KAFCAM) was birthed.
KAFCAM was formed to encourage, equip, and connect people. Specifically to make the gospel visible through foster care and adoption rooted in the local churches in the Knoxville, TN area. The organization is an alliance of church and community foster care and adoption ministries. Organizations that coordinate activities, share lessons learned, provide family support, and raise awareness of needs. KAFCAM was started in 2014 and is currently made up of approximately 20 churches and 40 partner organizations. KAFCAM has remained a strict alliance and is not a non-profit. It is important to us that we not compete for funding from local churches and partners. KAFCAM is led by a team of five to nine volunteers from different churches and agencies across the city.
We knew we wanted to be a bridge between the local church and vulnerable children in our community. We also knew that bridge would be weak if we only connected once a year. From its inception, KAFCAM has hosted an annual conference as well as quarterly community connections. We dabbled in other community events such as family picnics or retreats. But, in recent years have found our sweet spot in these five touchpoints throughout the year. In the beginning, our goal was to raise awareness for our partner organizations. And start introducing many of the people who were already doing great work in the trenches to our local churches. As we have fine-tuned our process, we have intentionally chosen primary audiences for each of the four community connections, helping direct topics and content.
Our quarterly Community Connection meetings now target:
Prospective Foster and Adoptive Families
We love to target our faith leaders and cast a vision for the year for ongoing engagement with the local foster care and adoption community. This might mean introducing them to partners with whom they can collaborate on a community service project. We will reinforce that the foster care and adoption community is not just a call for parents but for EVERYONE who claims Christ as Lord. Additionally, we may offer a WRAP around training or a trauma course for children’s ministry workers or those caring for children at a Parent’s Night Out.
We encourage them to offer ongoing, Scripture-based support groups for foster/ adoptive/ kinship/ or guardianship families with childcare and food! In the season of COVID-19, we have recommended virtual or socially distant support groups to maintain a connection. We have offered a night of prayer and worship. A time with an intentional focus on spiritual warfare and invited families and caseworkers to come and receive prayer.
Required training and gatherings often stop post-adoption, but the need for these things does not. Knoxville has a wide variety of resources and professionals that offer post-adoption support and preservation. We have introduced our families to professional counselors, equine therapists, and help with IEPs and advocate for children in school. We brought in a professional, licensed, faith-based counselor to discuss preparing and protecting marriage for foster and adoptive families. Local churches have provided childcare and dinner for our parents while they heard from and asked questions of a panel of adult adoptees. We have selected and shown short video clips from NBC’s show “This Is Us” to open up discussions about open adoptions, transracial adoptions, trauma, and more.
Our local, state, and private provider social workers are the community’s backbone. It is often a thankless job and can bring a significant amount of secondary trauma through the ongoing advocacy for vulnerable children and families. We partnered one quarter with a local organization to provide breakfast to our local Department of Children’s Services and did a prayer walk around their building with their permission. We spent one lunch sharing caseworker tips and burnout prevention. In another meeting, we divided tables by local zip codes and brainstormed recruitment and retention strategies among foster care agencies.
Prospective Foster and Adoptive Families
It is well known that the best recruiters for new foster and adoptive families are current ones. We often highlight family stories and put together panels of parents, former foster youth, and social workers. It is important to remember who your audience is when you lead a Foster Care or Adoption 101 session. Most people take their first step to learn more and do not need to be inundated with information. It takes an average of seven different touchpoints before someone decides to foster or adopt. We are grateful to be one of those connections for hundreds of families across Knoxville.
Different Paths We have found value in offering breakout sessions for single parents and men to talk and ask questions. Also, we have a session called “Paths to Adoption,” where we highlight four families with different paths. These include international adoption, domestic infant adoption, embryo adoption, and adoption from foster care. (Experienced trainers and families make sure to explain that the goal of foster care is not adoption but permanency and reunification with the birth family when safe.) We also highlight children who are in state custody and are legally free for adoption. Many people associate adoption with very high costs, so we purposefully highlight that adoption from the state is free. We also feel it is essential to encourage families to pursue trauma training and ongoing community, so we make that a priority throughout the year. All of these efforts support the goal of bringing together like-minded organizations. Bringing them together to care for the children in our community, whether in foster care or adoptive. We have found that the sum of our efforts working in the community is greater than the parts working in a silo. When a community comes together in a common mission, great things can be accomplished.
Copyright © 2021, Chris Graves, Julie Gillen, Kristin Miller, Leslie Nack, Michael Clark, Sherry Sewell, Zerita Brockman