Gift of Love:CHILD-Faith-Based Initiative

Each year, more and more children end up in foster care in the United States. Right now, that number stands at about 126,000. Taking a closer look, there are about 17,000 in Texas and in the 22 counties surrounding East Texas, there are about 1,000 children. In an unprecedented move, the Texas legislature is now asking the public sector for help. About a year and a half ago it passed a faith-based initiative. In this report, we look at how the program works and how it could be the solution to a growing problem.

Hundreds of babies, toddlers and teenagers are removed from their homes in East Texas because of abuse and neglect. "That abuse and neglect is an issue that's not going away. It's getting worse. We're picking up more children and, we as citizens, are responsible for those citizens in our community. We have an obligation to them," says Tami Brown.

Tami Brown of Sulphur Springs was hired to help solve the problem. She was the first faith-based recruiter in the state. Brown says, "Faith-based communities are much more stable. They're much more closely knitted and oriented and they have a larger support system."

This faith-based initiative was passed by the Texas legislature in June 2003. It's called CHILD; Congregations Helping In Love and Dedication.

Texas Governor Rick Perry says, "In a perfect world, everybody would have a mom and a dad and a job and would live happily ever after. That's the perfect world. We don't live in a perfect world."

Governor Perry says this is the first time the state has turned to the public for help, creating a partnership. "We've got a different philosophy, I think in Austin, Texas anyway, where legislators aren't afraid to say 'We're people of faith and we need to work with faith-based organizations to help government help people who, through no fault of their own, can't help themselves.'"

The goal of CHILD is to recruit and license as foster parents at least two families from each congregation in the state. It could end the problem of sending children hundreds of miles from home because of lack of foster homes and, ultimately, find more children permanent homes. "Once they hear the need, that these kids are in their communities and they are basically homeless and displaced, they have responded," says Brown.

One of those East Texas churches responding, is First United Methodist Church in Sulphur Springs. "Because I think this is what church is all about. We're called to love our neighbor and important neighbors are our children," says Reverend Julie Halstead, Associate Pastor of First United Methodist Church.

Reverend Halstead sees advantages for foster children taken in by congregations. "Not only do they have their immediate family, or foster family, to care for them but they have the church family to look out for them. The church coming together looking out for them not only while they're in the church building but at school and when they're playing in a neighborhood. All of those things coming together are so important."

Another advantage is the training time. Usually, it takes about nine months to a year to adopt through the state. This faith-based program cuts that time roughly in half because the case workers are able to speed up the training with smaller classes and they can be scheduled at the convenience of church members right at their facility.

With no end in sight for the growing number of children in foster care, many are hoping Congregations Helping In Love and Dedication will be an answer to prayer.

Governor Perry says, "The fact of the matter is, a safe and comfortable place to call home and knowing that there's going to be somebody to love them and take care of them. That is a powerful thing that people of faith understand and desire to give to these children."

If you'd like to know more about CHILD - Congregations Helping In Love and Dedication - call our Gift of Love hotline. The toll free number is 1-888-kids-275.

Gillian Sheridan reporting.