The church has always been seen as a refuge for those with nowhere else to go. From feeding the homeless to caring for orphans, faith-based communities have historically been at the forefront of meeting the needs of their cities. A new initiative in Los Angeles County is recognizing the potential of these groups to impact the larger community and is inviting them to improve child welfare and the foster care system.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has unanimously approved two plans to collaborate with religious organizations to help the struggling foster system. The goals of involving the faith community are to find new foster parents and also to create supports for parents and children such as mentoring and visitation monitoring. Political organizers and faith community leaders can see the potential of the partnership and have expressed excitement for the impact this could have for children and families. Pomona pastor, Rev. Ivory Brown commented, “It is the job of the church—while these are your constituents, these are our congregants.”
Los Angles County has the highest number of children in foster care in the nation. Yet, over the last decade, the number of foster homes in the County has been steadily declining, from 5,938 homes in 2008 to 4,062 in 2018. And the statistics for the youth within the system are sobering. 70 percent of trafficked youth come from the foster care system, and after aging out of care, 1/3 of youth will become homeless and another 1/5 will become incarcerated. But faith communities have the power to step in and make a difference.
“People who are involved in a faith community, whether it’s the Christian faith community or another faith, tend to have a community where they support each other and care for each other,” Explains Shelly Radic, president of Project 1/27, a Christian foster parenting and adoption program. “And that’s also a great benefit to a family that fosters.”
The faith-based community is a sleeping giant…
The goals of the initiative are far-reaching and LA County leaders and the faith communities are hopeful for what’s possible. Beyond working with foster families, leaders recognize the power of churches to lend support to birth families and potentially impact the number of children who need to enter the foster system. Additionally, plans are in the works for welfare agencies to partner with faith communities to engage with the racial disparity within the child welfare system. 24 percent of children within the foster system are African American, while they constitute only 7 percent of the overall child population. The deeply integrated role churches play within communities could greatly impact the current state of this disparity.
It is certainly not new for faith organizations to engage with social issues. And in Southern California alone there is a history of churches supporting positive social change such as refugee rights and fair wages. Involvement in foster care is an incredible opportunity for faith-based communities to impact Los Angeles County. “The faith-based community is a sleeping giant,” said Rev. Brown. “We have so much to offer.”