Texas Baptists launch effort to address foster care crisis

David Hardage (center), executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, introduces leaders of the Faith Fosters Texas initiative (left to right) David Ummel, director of Faith Fosters Texas; Matt Homeyer, assistant dean for external affairs, Baylor University's Truett Theological Seminary; Jon Singletary, dean of the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University; Felicia Mason-Edwards, division administrator of faith-based Programs, Texas Department of Family & Protective Services; Trevor Woodruff, acting commissioner, Texas Department of Family & Protective Services; Eron Green, president and CEO, South Texas Children's Home Ministries; Todd Roberson, president and CEO, Children At Heart Ministries; and Albert Reyes, president and CEO, Buckner International. (BGCT Photo)

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WACO—Texas Baptists launched a multi-faceted, collaborative effort to address the state’s foster care crisis and respond to the needs of vulnerable children.

Messengers to the Baptist General Convention of Texas annual meeting in Waco approved a resolution endorsing Faith Fosters Texas—a multi-year initiative announced by Executive Director David Hardage.

Last year, Hardage convened a summit involving representatives from various BGCT-related child and family services agencies to develop a plan to empower churches to become involved in foster care and in ministry to foster families.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is working with the BGCT, Buckner International, Children at Heart Ministries, STARRY, South Texas Children’s Home Ministries, Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work and Truett Theological Seminary on the initiative.

Faith Fosters Texas organizers want to educate and equip churches to fulfill the biblical mandate to care for vulnerable children and families; engage congregations to embrace and support  children in foster care; and leverage resources to make a positive micro-impact on foster care.

Partners in the Faith Foster Texas coalition developed a variety of resources posted online at faithfosterstexas.org.

‘Everyone can do something’

David Ummel of Buckner, director of Faith Fosters Texas, emphasized the importance of Texas Baptist churches around the state becoming involved.

“We want to impact the child maltreatment rate on a state level, not just a regional level,” Ummel said. “We have to be able to have an impact on the number of children waiting for adoption. We have to care for kids who they can’t find placement for. We have to wrap around families who are willing to participate in that.

“Everyone can do something. Where else would God want us to be than right here?”

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In his report to the annual meeting, Hardage read a portion of a letter from Gov. Greg Abbott commending Faith Fosters Texas “for its mission to transform the lives of vulnerable children and to work with local churches to positively impact their communities through engagement centered on foster children and their families.”

The resolution that messengers to the annual meeting approved quotes several Scripture verses regarding care for vulnerable children, and it notes “a quarter of a million Texas children may be in dangerous circumstances.”

The resolution cites Texas Child Protective Services data reporting 280,911 alleged victims of child abuse or neglect, 66,382 confirmed victims of child abuse or neglect, 30,378 families receiving preservation services, and 17,500 in foster care.

‘Be the hands and feet of Jesus’

Messengers resolved to encourage churches to be engaged in the Faith Fosters Texas initiative. Texas Baptists hope to involve at least 540 churches—more than 10 percent of their affiliated congregations—in foster care initiatives.

The resolution also encourages churches “to make prayer for suffering and struggling children in Texas a priority in their preaching, teaching, worship and service.

In addition to encouraging individuals to pray about how they can respond personally to the foster care crisis in Texas, the resolution also urges “increasing financial support for all of the Texas Baptist institutions involved” in Faith Fosters Texas.

“Churches are uniquely positioned to come around families who need support in our communities,” said Nita Riggins, director of foster care services at STARRY.

During a workshop on foster care at the annual meeting, Riggins emphasized not only the need to raise awareness and recruit good foster families, but also to be involved in ministries to sustain foster, adoptive and kinship families, as well as youth who transition out of the foster care system.

“It is an amazing opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” Riggins said. “A kid can’t have too many people to love them.”

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