Join our co-hosts Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber and their special guest, Katrina Campbell who is the director of training with FaithBridge Foster Care. In this episode, you’ll learn the surprising similarities and differences between state-based and faith-based foster care agencies. You won’t want to miss this insightful episode!
Announcer: Welcome to The Adopting and Fostering Home Podcast. Whether your family has been on this journey for years or you’re just getting started, we’re here to support and encourage you along the way. And now your hosts, Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber.
Lynette Ezell: Welcome back to The Adopting and Fostering Home Podcast. We are joined again today by Katrina Campbell from FaithBridge Foster Care Agency. And today we really want to dig into why people should consider working with a faith based agency.
Tera Melber: Because wouldn’t you agree that we get this question?
Lynette Ezell: We get it a lot.
Tera Melber: Working with foster families, just helping meet needs, that’s why you and I really focus on, raising awareness in churches, and they’re like, “Oh, but why do we need to go through-
Lynette Ezell: Right. Why not just go straight through the state? Why would we need to go through a faith based agency.
Katrina C.: And I think that’s a good question and I hear it a lot, and I’ve thought it personally. Because you think, “Well, if I have great support around me in the church, if my husband and I are strong foster parents, then why do I need an extra layer, more people in and out of my house?” But I can tell you, over the long course of time and not just through myself, but also other people, it is critical. I think the first thing is they understand your mission. There’s prayer that’s involved. They pray for us. They pray for us. Not just from a case manager perspective, but also they pray on a higher level. They pray about what to do and how to do and what to advocate at the state level and maybe even the national level. What do we need to fight for on behalf of the children?
Lynette Ezell: So Katrina, I have a logistical question because people may not know. So when you decide that you want to become a foster parent, and say you choose a faith based agency, does that mean that you never have contact with the state at all?
Katrina C.: That’s an excellent question.
Lynette Ezell: Or how does that work? I know people are gonna ask that because they ask me that question a lot.
Katrina C.: Of course. Well, actually, every agency is under contract with their state. So what the faith based agencies do is they basically come alongside of the state and they help recruit, train, license, and manage the cases in partnership with the state.
Lynette Ezell: So rather than going through foster care classes with a state worker, then they would get trained from a biblical worldview with an agency like the one you work with.
Katrina C.: Absolutely. It’s the material that the state provides and requires, but then it’s layered with scriptures, we can pray, we can actually talk about things that maybe matter from a Christian view, not just a world view, and professional view.
Lynette Ezell: Right. So then after you get licensed as a foster family, you’ve been trained by your faith based agency, you have a case manager on the state level that comes to your house and does things.
Katrina C.: Correct.
Lynette Ezell: But then you also have a consultant with a faith based agency. So what’s the difference in those two people?
Katrina C.: That’s a good question. Number one is the case manager at the state level actually manages the case.
Lynette Ezell: Okay.
Katrina C.: And some states are a little different where they may give more freedom to the agencies. But I’ll speak just on behalf of ours, but there are little nuances that are different in different states. So they’re responsible for making sure the case plan is followed so that the children can return home. But for your extra case manager, what you have to realize is they are an extra lens to the case as well. They may even be subpoenaed. They may even have conversations with a guardian ad litem or the case manager themselves and advocate of what they say. Because when you look at the case loads that the state case managers have.
Tera Melber: It’s unbelievable.
Katrina C.: I don’t even see how they manage for long periods of time. It’s unbelievable. And so the turnover rate many times is so high on one case of your children being in your home, you may have five case managers from the state simply because of the load.
Lynette Ezell: And not necessarily on any fault of their own.
Katrina C.: No.
Lynette Ezell: It’s just what they’ve been handed.
Tera Melber: It’s so much stuff.
Katrina C.: It’s so much.
Lynette Ezell: So the consistency factor is a big deal.
Katrina C.: Absolutely.
Lynette Ezell: And having an extra set of eyes on the case, well, just as an advocate for your family, but also an advocate for the child. It’s almost like when you need brake pads and you don’t have brake pads, you know.
Katrina C.: You’re in trouble. Yes.
Lynette Ezell: But if you have good brake pads, which would be the extra consultant, then it puts a little cushion there and makes things potentially go a little more … not necessarily smoothly, but you know that you have another advocate for you.
Katrina C.: Right. And I think they also understand the mission. This is not just being a professional child welfare social worker. This is a call. And so when you see them join you with the spiritual warfare piece of what we’re doing is really building children just ways to cope that maybe they’ve never had. They can join. I’ve watched them interact with the children as well as the families, and sometimes I just need prayer. So you’re not doing it alone. And so they understand the bigger picture from God’s view, not just child welfare.
Lynette Ezell: Right. What I really love that I’ve heard you say before is when you walk in to being a foster parent that it is more than just instrumental care of children. It’s even more than teaching them how to have coping mechanisms for the trauma that they’ve experienced. It’s even more than teaching them bible verses and helping them see who the Lord is. You’re engaging in a spiritual battle of epic proportion.
Katrina C.: Absolutely.
Lynette Ezell: Because you’re fighting for the souls of children.
Katrina C.: Yes.
Lynette Ezell: And so who doesn’t want an extra warrior coming alongside you, battling against the enemy.
Katrina C.: I think it’s not talked about enough.
Lynette Ezell: I agree.
Katrina C.: About the importance of having professional social workers that know the expertise of the system but they have the faith to believe God has a plan for each of these children. I’ve witnessed children that have been in very difficult places, and because they’ve seen so much, they have seen them all the way through, pouring into them themselves through a professional way but using the lens of Christ, and they change. They believe in them more than just social work. Does that make sense?
Tera Melber: Right.
Katrina C.: They believe God has a plan and a purpose for them and also for you. Sometimes you just need hand-holding a little more with certain children. And they can come alongside and sometimes it’s really just prayer. Let’s get you back on track because it’s such an emotional ministry.
Lynette Ezell: And they help you see beyond the-
Katrina C.: The current moment.
Lynette Ezell: The current moment. Yeah. And I need … Tera, you do that for me. Kevin does that for me. Katrina, you do that for me, help me to see beyond, “Okay, Lynette,” they reel you back in. And I’ve seen that happen with faith based agencies with some foster families in our church. And when we’d have a panic moment, and you can see I’ve even … I’ve called you I think one time on Christmas Eve and said, “Katrina, help us here.” And you were able to say, “Okay, let’s look at this,” and bring calmness that only comes through the fruit of the Spirit.
Katrina C.: Yes, absolutely. If you do not separate and leave your emotions at the lower level, you can get tripped up with what you believe God wants and we’re not God.
Lynette Ezell: That’s a good point.
Katrina C.: And a case manager can do that because they have the expertise to understand. We have to work with the state, we work with judges, we work with the biological families. There’s so much involved that they can departmentalize much better than a foster family that’s on the front lines.
Tera Melber: Absolutely. And I even saw in my daughter, when she fostered, being able to … the extra support that she got, then being able to minister to her state social worker and being able to form a relationship. She was kind of equipped and kind of given extra tools. Because she’s young, first time that she’d fostered, and given extra tools to be able to love this person. They made a friendship.
Katrina C.: Yes. We’ve even seen case managers, what we call consultants at our agency, and they would go to the hospital with birth parents, with case managers, take them things that they need, help them document the cases, not working against … we are a team here. So how can I help you? Even there have been times like on getting forever families and getting permanency for children could mean adoptions. And our consultants actually do the work so that they can have permanency quicker. And it’s not in their role, it’s not in their scope, but they’re a team, they really do see the team approach is critical. So it’s an extra person.
Tera Melber: That’s right. And I love too what I’ve seen faith based agencies be able to do is they know their families so well, it’s community. And they’re able to say when a child comes into care, “This child would really benefit from being in this family.” It’s more of a … it gives so much value to the child other than just slapping them in the first open bed.
Katrina C.: And that is so interesting you say that because if you listen from … and again, this is no criticalness, it’s like they just need a bed. But when you go through a faith based agency, they want your family to thrive in their ministry.
Tera Melber: Yes. I think that’s what I was trying to say. I love that.
Katrina C.: And so I have witnessed, because I actually did intake for a year for our agency, and what I found is I would say, “Oh, the Ezell’s would be wonderful for this sibling group of three.” And the consultant would tell me no. And they would say, “Well, this case …” when you would describe what the case is and the needs of the children, and they would know the family and maybe what they’re going through or what they experienced last time, and they want them to succeed next time as well. So you have foster families that have done it for a long time, not just one and done if you will.
Lynette Ezell: Right.
Katrina C.: And so they have said no. The foster parents never knew that there was a match that came in and they weren’t even called. And do we want children to be placed in Christian homes? Absolutely. But we want your family to thrive and you know they would be better with this.
Tera Melber: Isn’t that just … it’s just so sweet of the Lord to put that on someone’s heart to start these faith based agencies like this and to support families. Because we do wanna thrive. We don’t wanna look like we’re a defeated world.
Lynette Ezell: That’s right. And you want foster parents, when they succeed to continue on.
Katrina C.: Absolutely.
Lynette Ezell: Well, one question that I get really often is are the kids at faith based agencies placed in homes different from … where do all these kids come from and how does that all work?
Katrina C.: Yes, they are all in custody of the state. So, the state calls the agencies, the faith based agencies, and they say, “We need a bed for this.” And so we look for matches with our families, and we always respond with, “We have a family for these children.” Because that’s really what we’re after is not filling a bed but having a home and a family for these children. So the state calls the agencies. And so I’ve heard so many times, “Well, they will call their families.” It’s like, look, if you look at statistics, they do not have enough families even within their own system. So we as a body of Christ even need to work with faith based agencies so that we can be a difference and even help the state.
Lynette Ezell: Right. So, does that mean if you go with a faith based agency that sometimes it takes longer for you to get a placement because the state is trying to place kids with their families first and then you’re kind of-
Katrina C.: We hear that too. But one thing you have to do is number one, you have to trust God with your placement. If you have to wait … We have had some that have been approved and got placement within the hour that we received licensure.
Lynette Ezell: Yes. I hear more of that than what you’re about to say probably.
Katrina C.: Yes. And then we’ve had others that wait six, nine months. And it could be that their age range is so small. And that’s something that you have to remember is that sometimes if you wait it could be their match is so limited. But here’s the thing, and I want to really advocate in a bigger way but I really don’t have the voice for this, but if they place the children in our homes, we will work with them. We’re not against them, the state. So it’s like if they look for a bed, they may even say to your home, one of your families, “We need you to take another child.” So you may go up to 10 children. Have you ever heard that? 10 children in a home. And it’s not necessarily like that they have a large house and they have the capacity, but they have a bed. So if we wait, don’t we want to trust God with that? That we don’t want just us to provide a bed, but we want to provide a home.
Tera Melber: That’s right.
Katrina C.: And so even if they do that, you still have to trust God with your placement. Or get involved with respite. I always say get in the mission. If God’s called you to this and you’re waiting, then offer respite, offer care to the other foster families that maybe had a higher capacity in their ability, help them while you’re waiting.
Tera Melber: We say over and over, if the Lord is wrestling you, if you cannot stop thinking about this, getting involved in foster care, then take a step in a direction.
Lynette Ezell: Just do something.
Tera Melber: Do something. Go to a class about respite. Call someone about doing respite or babysitting or help Tera and I do Restore and Dignity, pack a duffel, go make a meal for a foster family. Or if God’s calling you to foster care, that’s the great … to us, that’s the … to me, that’s the biggest calling. And so do it. Take a step and do something.
Katrina C.: And one thing you said I really want to address. If you’ve been waiting, and you have this anxiousness inside, maybe God’s wanting you to expand your capacity. We hear sometimes only go in birth order.
Lynette Ezell: We didn’t do that. Just upfront.
Tera Melber: Yeah, neither did we.
Katrina C.: I just want to … Exactly.
Lynette Ezell: We thought we had to, but the Lord said no.
Katrina C.: Right. And it’s not there-
Lynette Ezell: I’m so grateful.
Katrina C.: Yes. I have seen people that had toddlers that took teenagers. I’ve seen families where they have taken … I think one is even at your church, where they put one in the middle. They knew the personalities of their children, and they put foster children in the middle of their own birth children. But if God is saying that and you’re waiting, then maybe he wants you to go a little bit wider with your range, or maybe be willing to take a sibling if you have the space.
Lynette Ezell: Right. And when you’re praying through that and considering that with your spouse, really also seek the counsel of your consultant, seek the counsel of godly people around you.
Katrina C.: That’s excellent.
Lynette Ezell: Because I’ve seen where we’ve both adopted out of birth order, we’ve seen other families succeed where they’ve been married for two years and they took a sibling set of five. And you’re like, “What in the world?”
Katrina C.: Yes, we’ve had that.
Lynette Ezell: But then we’ve also seen families jump into it without seeking godly counsel and it was an absolute disaster.
Katrina C.: Absolutely.
Lynette Ezell: And then they start scrambling, wanting godly counsel in the midst of the chaos.
Tera Melber: But you can often look to those people and they can affirm with the Lord, the Lord will help affirm that feeling, and seeing your family situation and how you deal with stuff. So enter those waters lightly for sure.
Katrina C.: No, this is actually great. This is a great lead-in. A faith based agency like ours may so to you, Tera, “You think you can handle four.”
Tera Melber: But you can’t.
Katrina C.: But let’s start … No, here’s what we’d say, “Let’s start with two.”
Lynette Ezell: Right. I’ve heard you say that so many times.
Katrina C.: Yes, let’s start with two.
Lynette Ezell: But the state will say, “Four? That’s awesome.” Because they’re desperate.
Katrina C.: Yes. And again, you can’t blame them. I always say to families, “Well, if they put another child in your home, it’s because they trust your work because they’ve seen it. But it doesn’t mean it’s best for your family.” And so our agency actually says on the front end and after a placement, so both, they can say, “Okay, you say you have room for four,” but as they talk with you through the home study process, they may say, “You know what? Let’s start with two. And let’s see how you do. And then after your first placement, if you feel like you have the capacity then, then let’s do it.” Because they want you to succeed in your ministry, not fail. Because it hurts the children ultimately because if there’s a disruption-
Lynette Ezell: Then you’re starting all over again.
Katrina C.: You’re starting all over again. So I’ve seen that. I’ve also seen where consultants, you know how I’ve said they may not call you, I’ve also seen consultants know their families and call and say, “Tera, I know your capacity says through the age of eight, but we have a 12-year-old and a six-year-old and I really believe your family could handle it. Would you pray about it?” And we’ve seen it, and it’s happened. So that case manager with the faith based agency knows you personally and they are able to sometimes stretch or sometimes say, “Not yet.”
Lynette Ezell: That actually happened to us. Our program director called us and said, “I know that you said you only want a placement younger than Jonathan, but I have a little girl that’s 10 months older than him and I think she could do great in your family.” Let me tell you, I was sweating bullets. But she’s with us still today. So I did appreciate that because I do feel like sometimes we get nervous about what we can and cannot handle and that people can see within us, through the affirmation of the Lord, “Yes, I believe that you can.” And I should say really quickly that I don’t mean to vilify the state in any way by saying that they would put six in your house. But I do know that there is such a need. And when they see a family that does have the beds, that they don’t want children to have to sleep in a hotel room or on their office couch. So they are trying to find a place for the kids. But the extra layer of having a believer walk alongside you and say, “I know that these kids need a placement but I’m not sure you’re gonna need to take six kids right now.”
Katrina C.: You know another point too that I’ve seen over the years with a faith based agency is you, those first six to eight weeks, I always say you hit that mark, and you’re like, “Okay, I can’t handle it”
Lynette Ezell: Six to eight weeks? Mine took like four days.
Katrina C.: Must have been a tough-
Lynette Ezell: We’re like, “Holy cow.” Sorry, go ahead.
Katrina C.: They have a great call on their lives, don’t they? But a family consultant might say to you, “Okay, let’s try some new tools. Let’s get you some respite.”
Lynette Ezell: That’s what I’ve seen. I love that part of faith based agencies.
Katrina C.: Because you may need a reprieve, but maybe God wants you to refresh and reflect on why he’s called you. And he knew that child was coming into your home. Again, trusting the sovereignty of God, of God placed that child in my home. Why? And I heard some doctors that are really into TBRI say, “Usually he’s working within yourself and wanting to do something in you at the same time that he’s doing something in the child.” But the consultants are amazing because they may require you to take a few respite or some breaks before you disrupt. And when I say require, it’s like, “Look, don’t disrupt. Let’s just give it different tools, different ways before you give up.” And I’ve even seen families end up adopting those children. So it really was having that case manager walk them through a difficult time in the placement.
Tera Melber: How sweet of the Lord as he sanctifies us and grows children that he brings the body of Christ around us to help accomplish his purposes.
Katrina C.: So true.
Tera Melber: And his plan is to set children and families. And this is just a beautiful picture of that.
Katrina C.: It really is.
Lynette Ezell: Well Katrina, we are so grateful you came today. It’s an honor to be your friend.
Katrina C.: Thank you for having me.
Lynette Ezell: And to even be close by where you could be in the studio with us today. So we appreciate you and all that you do. So we’ll have some resources available in the show notes so that if people have further questions they can go there. So thanks so much for being with us today.
Tera Melber: Thanks, Katrina.
Katrina C.: Thank you for having me.
Announcer: You have been listening to the Adopting and Fostering Home, a resource of the North American Mission Board. For more information about today’s podcast and other relevant resources, visit sendrelief.org.