Foster care, adoption tremendous missions field in Alabamacomment (0)
November 15, 2012
By Judy W. Bates
Every month, there are more than 1,000 children in need of foster homes. And that figure includes only Jefferson County. Statewide, the numbers top 6,000.
How does a child end up in foster care?
Andrea McTyer, program manager for Jefferson County Foster Care, said when a child cannot safely stay with parents or relatives, Alabama’s Department of Human Resources tries to match the child with a family that can take care of him or her until hopefully the child can be returned to his or her own family.
“Anyone interested in becoming a foster parent can begin the process by contacting DHR and registering for and attending orientation classes to learn about the requirements,” she said, acknowledging an overwhelming need for foster homes.
Potential foster parents can become licensed by attending 10 weekly classes and undergoing background checks and home studies by social workers.
“It has to be a calling,” McTyer said of becoming a foster parent. “To take in strangers and raise those children as if they were your own — whether it’s for two hours or two years — you have to have a special heart. You have to understand that you may only be there for a season in a child’s life.”
When a child enters foster care, the birth parent has 12 months to meet the requirements to have the child returned. If the birth parent doesn’t do it, qualified relatives are sought.
“Whenever possible, we want to see the child reunified with family,” McTyer said. “However, if this can’t be achieved, the child can be adopted.”
McTyer said anyone interested in adopting must attend the same classes as potential foster parents, and they will be licensed as potential adoptive parents. While it is not necessary to be a foster parent in order to adopt, a child’s foster parents are given first consideration if the child comes up for adoption.
Over the past five years, Greg and Tracy Hacker of Gardendale’s First Baptist Church have welcomed 24 foster children into their home. Their two biological daughters, Shelby and Kayla, both teenagers, enjoy being a part of this constantly changing family dynamic, which includes their adopted preschool-aged brothers, Evan and Kenny.
“They were natural brothers who had been with us for about two-and-a-half years, and there were no family members they could be placed with,” Tracy Hacker said. “The adoption process took about two of those years and was worth every minute. We can’t imagine our lives without these boys.”
While the Hackers cautioned that foster parents should not expect to adopt every child they care for (out of 24 foster children, the Hackers were only able to adopt two), Greg Hacker said he and Tracy have been blessed by their experience as foster parents.
“Our faith is much stronger because of what we’ve seen God do through the ministry of foster care,” he said.
One way the Hackers saw God’s grace was through the deep bond they developed with Rebekah, the mother of the first foster children the Hackers brought into their home.
Rebekah’s four children were returned to her in 2009, and since then she and the Hackers have been close.
Rebekah and her husband recently visited with the Hackers.
“I was with my kids’ dad — a bad situation — at the time my children were taken into foster care,” Rebekah said.
“Foster care seemed like a bad thing at the beginning, but it turned out to be sort of a blind blessing,” she said. “While I was getting my life in order, I knew my children were being well cared for.”
Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries (ABCH) stands in the gap to help find foster parents, with most of its children coming from DHR referrals. Its foster parents receive more help than usual, since they are assigned both a DHR social worker and an ABCH staff social worker.
“Our social workers don’t have the huge case loads that the state social workers have,” said Louise Green, vice president of special programs for ABCH. “This makes them more accessible, and this makes our placements more successful — that and a lot of prayer.”
LifeLine Children’s Services, a nonprofit Christian orphan care ministry facilitating private and international adoptions, also partners with DHR to provide foster homes for local children until they can be united with their birth parents.
Traci Newell, LifeLine’s education coordinator, said she and her husband Marc have had 11 foster children in their home and adopted the 11th child, now their daughter.
“When it comes to our foster parents, we stress our goal of reunification,” she said. “When foster parents share Christ with these children and they return home, it’s really a ministry to the entire family, including the birth parents.”
Steven Washington of Bethel Baptist Church, Dora, in Walker Baptist Association, recalled his launch into foster parenting.
“When my wife Angela told me she’d been praying and felt we should become foster parents, I told her she’d heard wrong,” he said. “I had all these fears about fostering. But after attending foster parenting classes, we tried it, and as God’s providence would have it, we both loved it.”
Mike and Melissa Jeffers of Wilton Bible Baptist Church, Wilton, in Shelby Baptist Association, were introduced to foster parenting through neighbors who were foster parents. The Jeffers made the decision to become respite parents, foster parents who keep foster parents’ children for extended periods of time for various reasons. They also accept children needing emergency placement.
“When we made the decision to become foster parents, we set three specific goals: to provide a stable, loving home; to introduce the children to Christ; and to provide them with life skills that will hopefully help them break the cycle of living that initiated their removal from their birth families,” Mike Jeffers said.
Tammy and Chris Liddell, members of Grace Life Baptist Church, McCalla, in Bessemer Baptist Association, adopted their daughter Lynzie from an overcrowded orphanage in China with minimal facilities. It’s a place they say they will never forget.
“Every time I look at Lynzie, I think how many more are over in China who will never get the opportunities she has,” Chris Liddell said. “And to think that I was the one who wanted my own (natural-born) child, my blood. I thought I’d feel something missing. But with Lynzie, there was an immediate bond between the three of us. This was God. I’ve never doubted that for one second.”
The Liddells said the adoption process was expensive but that a lot of the costs can be offset by tax refunds that kick in during the years after the adoption is finalized.
The needs for foster care and adoption are tremendous. Although churches and individual church members are answering the call, there’s still room for many more.
“There’s such a disparity between the number of children and the number of homes,” Newell said. “Foster care is going to be around until Christ returns, and it’s a tremendous missions field.”