Creating More, and Better, Foster Families

  • Religion
  • 2006

Religious donors have worked productively with churches over the past decade to get needy children adopted into permanent families, as the 2005 entry below catalogues. In addition, where children are not candidates for adoption, donors and believers have united in some remarkable ways to improve the availability and quality of foster care. Most children whose family lives become disrupted remain legally connected to their parents; they merely go temporarily into state care. On average, they spend about five months outside their natural home while authorities work to stabilize the parents. It is much better for most children if they pass this time with a foster family rather than in an institution. But in many places there are not enough foster families to go around, especially not enough good ones.

Social entrepreneur Bill Hancock and philanthropist Rick Jackson (both of whom are devoted Christians who grew up in disrupted families) went to work on this problem, starting in 2006. They knew that, historically, church members tended to be the most patient and effective foster parents, and reasoned that a church congregation could be a valuable support to any fosterer if volunteers were trained and organized to help. Jackson, who had created 25 companies as a health-care entrepreneur, provided strategic advice and offered to fund the effort single-handedly for five years.

Hancock researched where children in need of fostering in their home state of Georgia were coming from, then started visiting churches in those neighborhoods to see if couples in the congregations could be aided and encouraged to take on local children in need of sheltering. Organizing circles of church members who will help the families that volunteer to foster or adopt turned out to be crucial. Individuals who can’t commit to full-blown fostering can at least offer respite care, babysitting help, assistance with food and clothing, emotional support, and other backup that makes the church programs work.

The Jackson/Hancock nonprofit, now known as FaithBridge Foster Care, has been enormously successful. The foster families recruited from churches by FaithBridge methodically draw on support from their congregations, and 96 percent stay with fostering. These couples have already served hundreds of children across a growing number of Georgia counties. The nonprofit spends about $3,600 per case, which compares to an annual cost of $90,000 (and far worse social outcomes) for a child housed in an institution.

The organization now has satellite operations in two other Georgia cities, in Florida, in New York, and in Arkansas. FaithBridge estimates that its model of improved fostering can easily be duplicated in 17 metro areas where three quarters of the nation’s demand for foster care is currently located.