Churches are Vital in Helping Vulnerable Children

By Timothy Cockes

NASHVILLE (BP) – The task can seem daunting. Most estimates put the number of children and teens in foster care at 400,000 at any given time. But Send Relief’s Family Advocacy Ministry (FAM) program is trying to tackle the problem one child – and one church – at a time.

Josh Benton, vice president of North American ministry for Send Relief, explained FAM is a “step-by-step ministry strategy that helps churches serve and advocate for vulnerable children and families.”

Meeting the great need should be a priority for all local churches, Benton said.

“No matter what community, city, or state you are in, vulnerable families are present,” he told Baptist Press.

“This isn’t a ministry opportunity that is somewhere else; it’s everywhere. Churches have an important role of recognizing the need that exists, articulating the biblical call to meet the need, and blessing those in their congregation who are led to pursue the ministry opportunity.”

Benton made it clear that the ultimate goal of FAM ministry is fulfilling the Great Commission.

“At the center of every FAM is the Gospel,” Benton said. “Because FAMs are church based, each FAM is designed to care for the physical and emotional needs of families and children but also point to our ultimate need, salvation in Christ.

“When a church goes on mission, it is obediently following the call of the Great Commission. In serving others we all can meet the needs of people around us, but we also have the opportunity to share the Gospel. When we do this, many will come to know Christ and followers of Christ will grow in their faith. This ultimately gives glory to God by proclaiming His name and strengthening the local church.”

One recent challenge for FAM and the foster care system as a whole has been the difficulties brought on by the pandemic.

Benton said although exact statistics related to foster care are sometimes hard to discern, the pandemic had negative effects on vulnerable children.

“When you factor the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, foster children faced a disrupted support system that they would typically receive in an educational environment,” he said.

“Children in foster care, many who have already experienced the trauma of abuse and neglect, experienced added isolation and uncertainty during the pandemic.

“Because of COVID restrictions, there were disruptions to normal routines such as visitations with family. Several would have experienced placement delays into foster families as well as delayed court hearings for family reunification or adoption placements. We all experienced disruption during the pandemic, but those disruptions were magnified for kids experiencing trauma.”

FAM helps churches with three ministry goals: prevention, connection and intervention.

Prevention helps churches develop ways to support and preserve biological families in need. Practical ministry often looks like babysitting or providing meals for these families.

Intervention refers to the role churches can play once a child does end up in the foster care system. Once a child enters the system, FAM equips churches to surround foster families within their congregations with support and also help raise up other church members to become foster parents.

Connection is the final stage of FAM, where adoption becomes the goal for children who cannot be reunited with their biological families. Supporting adoptive families, along with raising up new ones, goes along with this step.

Benton asked Southern Baptists to offer prayer for both foster children and foster families.

“Pray that children in your community would know they are loved by God and understand that He desires to be in relationship with them,” Benton said.

“Pray that children in foster care would experience a feeling of belonging in a foster family, a church community or a group of friends within your community.

“Pray that God would lead them as they work through hurt they have experienced in their past and in their present.

“Pray for endurance and for strength for foster parents in your community as they invite children into their families. Pray that your community would rise up and stand by these parents while encouraging and supporting their needs.”

More information about Send Relief’s family advocacy ministry can be found here.

Published November 15, 2022

Timothy Cockes

Timothy Cockes is a Baptist Press staff writer.