A couple of years ago I shared with the congregation something that was causing growing distress in my spirit. We had been spending lots of energy building ministries for our children (just this week we will be meeting in our beautiful new classroom space- view update here) but I was becoming increasingly aware of the number of vulnerable children in our community who were beyond the reach of our ministry, or that of any other church. I shared statistics about the sharp increase in the number of children who were in the foster care system because they did not have a home environment that met even minimum standards for safety and nurture. We had no idea what to do, but we could not simply look the other way.
We were not the only ones having the same conviction. Several churches in the area began praying and searching for wisdom at the same time. We came across a wonderful ministry, Fostering Hope New England. Their ministry is to “help churches care for vulnerable children and families impacted by foster care.” They helped us to form Fostering Hope North Shore– a local network of churches, para-church ministries, and social workers who are seeking to build an effective fostering culture. Every couple of months, you’ll find this group gathered in the CTR Parish Hall building vision, planning joint outreach, addressing specific needs that arise, and holding each other up in prayer. (Please contact Fr. Brian if you’d be interested in learning more about Fostering Hope North Shore)
Through this network, we have been able to serve the work of the local Department of Children and Families, building a positive and ongoing relationship between the churches and this state agency. Throughout Advent, CTR will again be donating gift cards that can be used by social workers to feed children on-the-go in moments of traumatic transition.
When those children arrive at the offices of the local DCF, they stay at a room beautifully renovated by our parishioners last year, and still occasionally cleaned and maintained by a couple of our parishioners. Earlier this year, the network collectively put on an appreciation event for all the social workers at the DCF. We learned that nobody had ever done such an event for them before—they tend to receive more complaints than thanks. A small number of our parishioners were involved in different aspects of this day.
These outreach events are valuable in three ways: (1) They encourage those who are serving local children every day, (2) They lessen the trauma experienced by children in difficult moments of transition, and (3) They provide a growing number of people with opportunities more clearly to see and understand the realities faced by local children. We call these “outreach” because they are clearly serving those who are not part of our community. But they are probably the least impactful ways in which we have served vulnerable children.
We have a couple of families in CTR that have adopted groups of siblings. We have another family that has been caring for a foster child over this last year. We don’t automatically think of what they are doing as “outreach” because the children are among us every week, but we have sought to change our view on this; these families have reached out to those who were outside and invited them in. They have welcome into their own homes all of the pain and trauma that these children have suffered. They are doing gospel ministry and healing ministry every day.
As these children have been among us, we have had to get educated on the effects of early childhood trauma. It changes the very wiring of a child’s brain in a way that is not easily reversed. Welcoming these children doesn’t simply mean having more children to care for; it requires specialized skill and understanding, adjustment of expectations, and an incredible expenditure of emotional and physical energy.
We have worked to build support teams around two of these families, helping to meet many of the practical and specialized needs that arise. While the efforts we have put forth here have been helpful, they are not sufficient. At the moment I see two specific needs sticking out:
First- we need a small group of people willing to show up and spend an evening with children so that parents can get some time apart to rest, regroup and strengthen their relationship.
Second- our entire congregation needs to educate itself about the effects of trauma. It creates special needs, so that many of our attempts to offer “help” can be counter-productive when we don’t understand. I am trying to organize a training event at or near CTR that will help us to become a more “Trauma-Competent Church.” If we wish to serve, we must get informed. This is non-negotiable.
If you wish to learn more or become more involved in serving vulnerable children with us, I would love to talk more.
Grace and Peace,