One Church One Child pushes for awareness of resources
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
After more than two hours of discussions on how to connect foster parents to available resources, child welfare advocates concluded that a more intensified effort is needed to get information to those who want it.
About 20 people, including several from government agencies, gathered in a classroom at Bethel Missionary Baptist Family Life Center to discuss ways to get services to foster parents and their children. The discussion was organized by One Church One Child.
“We are going to look at what happened here today and see what should be the next step in moving forward,” said Arie Sailor, executive director of One Church One Child. “We don’t just want to stop here. We want this to be an initiative to pull the partners together so that these children can benefit.”
The discussion was part of a four-hour “Spread the Holiday Cheer Celebration” program. Several children’s activities were held in the gymnasium before they were treated to lunch.
Meanwhile, the panel heard from foster parents and members of child welfare support organizations about issues that included healthcare, mentoring and what churches can do to get their congregations more involved by letting them know what services are available outside of their churches.
“The agencies are already out there working,” Sailor said. “They already have partners but they don’t have enough partners.”
Some of the funding issues for foster parenting programs were also brought to the forefront by Mike Watkins, CEO of Big Bend Community Based Care. There are several agencies around the Big Bend that provide needed services that adoptive parents need to know about, he said.
Two years ago, the Florida Legislature approved tax-funded incentives for private agencies that handle the state’s foster-children adoptions. Funding sometimes is one of the main issues that create a challenge in placing many siblings who are among the state’s estimated 14,000 foster children together.
Watkins, who praised the church-based initiative One Church One Child, also mentioned the issue of adoption after a child ages out of the foster care system. Many move on from foster homes, if they desire, to the Independent Living Services program (through Children and Families), he said.
They could stay in that program until they are 23.
“That gives us a buffer of three to five years to try to get them caught up with their peers,” Watkins said. “They don’t have a support system nor do they have a family in the community. The questions become how do we create that support, help them get their degree or GED and those kinds of support so that they can be independent.”
However, most of the conversation was about what church-based groups could do to help improve services for younger children.
Through One Church One Child, many churches in the Big Bend are currently involved. Members are encouraged to become adoptive parents or assist with support services, commonly known as “watch care.”
Having dialogs like the forum is part of an on-going effort to bring awareness to foster parenting, said Sailor, who also heads up the foster children’s program at Bethel.
“I see an opportunity to educate the community more to have a great exchange of information and how the community at-large can be a part of addressing the needs of children and families in care.
“They (churches) can start by praying, but when they get to see what the needs are, pastors and churches can say, ‘you know, we can do more.’ We have the capacity to work with a child.”
That might only take an effort to becoming a mentor, said Rev. Robert Butler. He said his church, Little St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Perry, has gone as far as adding a program for unwed mothers.
Butler used a case in which he mentored a young man in a class of children with special needs. He said he recently met the young man from that class and he expressed gratitude for Butler’s mentoring.
Lew Elliott and his wife, Noel, also made a point to stress that getting foster children involved in extracurricular activities could lead to a more wholesome life. They named several organizations that offer athletic programs and scholarships that could be a good fit for foster children.
Making those or any other type of resources program work are as simple as knowing how to find the resources, said Watkins.
“We are only limited by those connections we can make,” he said. “I think as a wellness here, the resources are available. It’s just how do we make the connections occur.”
One Church One Child was started in Florida when former Gov. Bob Martinez realized in 1986 that there were a large number of children in dysfunctional homes. The Legislature eventually passed the One Church One Child Corporation Act in 1990.
The Act was framed from a concept that was founded by Catholic priest Father George Clements in Chicago. Clements started the One Church One Child organization by approaching Black churches to take the lead in getting members of their congregation to become foster or adoptive parents.
Martinez appointed Rev. R.B. Holmes, pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, as the first president of the organization in Florida.
Efforts like the forum will go a long way in winning support for child welfare programs, said Zackary Gibson, chief child advocate and director with the governor’s office of adoption and child protection.
“I think it’s just a matter of continuing the dialog,” said Gibson, who observed the discussion from the audience. “I think there were some great ideas that were shared here, both on how do we help support questions that came up to access services (and) also for the ability to see how we can share this message to others who may have this feeling that they may want to do something to step up.”