Child welfare officials have long struggled to supply licensed foster parents to all the children needing them. With national statistics showing that as many as half of new foster parents quit within the first year of care, the problem is difficult to solve.
Epworth Children’s Home in Columbia, S.C., is making progress with an approach that has been tried but seldom sustained: Partnering with churches to help with the recruiting and retention of foster parents.
With a $550,000 grant from the Endowment, Epworth is partnering with South Carolina churches in Beaufort, Charleston, Columbia, Florence, Greenville, Spartanburg and Dorchester counties. Congregants are opening their hearts – and sometimes their homes – to hundreds of foster families in practical, meaningful and transformative ways.
Epworth’s primary goal is identifying and recruiting foster families within congregations. “Our pastors preach, teach and pray in ways that help people hear the call,” said the Rev. Kathy James, director of church relations at Epworth. “When someone hears the call, we help them become licensed through Epworth. We also identify foster families who need support and connect them to a partner church. We are that bridge.”
James stressed that churches often struggle with a one-size-fits-all model, so her work helps identify customized opportunities to serve. “Every church is good at something, so we tweak those strengths in ways that help. Churches really need something tailored to them,” she said.
For example, in addition to financial donations, some partner congregations fill “first night bags” with clothing, toiletries and toys for children who arrive in foster care empty-handed. Others provide free space for community support meetings, build welcome baskets for newly licensed families, prepare and deliver meals, or provide respite care to offer foster parents an occasional night out.
We want church to be the place where people become foster parents and then receive the support they need through the process.Reverend Kathy James | Director of Church Relations
“We want church to be the place where people become foster parents and then receive the support they need through the process,” James said, noting a strong response to the program among partner churches. “In 2022, we had about 50 participating churches who made 90 different commitments to serve foster families in some way.”
Foster parenting is a big commitment, and James acknowledges it’s not for everyone. Still, her work is grounded in the belief that every parishioner can help, regardless of age, health or wealth.
“Foster parent recruitment is a perennial challenge for state and local child welfare agencies,” said Ravenel Curry, chair of the Endowment’s Child and Family Well-Being Committee. “This church-based foster parent recruitment and support effort is a promising new tool in the fight to provide safe, loving and happy homes for every child in need.”