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While churches aim to meet the different needs of ministry, the foster care system is often overlooked. However, Citipoint Church in Mount Vernon, Washington, launched such a ministry, called Foster Church, in April 2019.
Senior Pastor Brent A. Kimball started Foster Church with Dani M. Needham, who heads the ministry. In seeking to help underserved areas, Kimball realized that congregations in the community of 35,219 people had no connection with the reception system.
âAlthough some Christian families are foster families, the Church as a whole was relatively uninvolved in the world of foster families,â explains Kimball. 49.
Kimball and his wife, Jessie, developed a heart for the foster world after adopting three foster children. The Kimballs, who married 30 years ago, tried for 10 years to have biological children.
Jessie had two miscarriages and was later diagnosed with cervical cancer. Cancer surgery prevented her from having babies. The Kimballs therefore became adoptive / foster parents. They adopted their son Jared in 2002 at the age of 6. A year later, Titus, her 2 year old son, joined the family and in 2006, 1 year old Sophie joined the crew.
Needham, 46, also knows the joy and hardship of fostering. Over the past three years, she and her husband, Geoff, have welcomed 10 children in care and 30 in short-term respite, while also having three children (now aged 21, 16 and 13).
Needham worked in foster care for 20 years at Service Alternatives, a private social service agency. After she and Kimball started Foster Church, she stepped down as a trustee to lead the ministry on the staff at Citipoint.
Foster Church began by providing support to foster families by connecting them to the Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). Kimball uses the analogy of a three-legged stool versus a four-legged chair. The three legs of a stool are foster children, parents and agencies. The stool can be useful, but is not the most stable; however, the church can add a fourth leg for more stability, he says.
âIt’s a lot of work being a foster parent, so part of the Foster Church initiative is for teams of people to come around each foster family and support them in a way that mitigates some of it. stress, âKimball explains. “Not everyone can be a foster parent, but everyone can do something.”
Foster Church has a watch team for each host family at Citipoint. These congregation volunteers provide weekly meals, transportation, clothing, home repairs, mentoring, and prayer.
Citipoint hosted its annual Foster Church weekend event from August 13-15. The homestay evening on the 13th allowed parents to drop off their children so that they could go to dinner courtesy of the church. Children from 25 families took part in a carnival night at Citipoint with a bouncy house, dunk tank, games, cotton candy and prizes.
Back to school on the 14th focused on teenagers, giving them free backpacks and tennis shoes. On the 15th, volunteers served local social workers by collecting 25 bottles of water for them from the congregation. About a hundred volunteers contributed to the making of the weekend.
Citipoint also hosts craft and coffee evenings, where parents can connect with other foster parents over free coffee and in-home crafts. For Thanksgiving, the church is bringing food baskets to DCYF for birth parents whose children have recently returned home. When the DCYF offices closed during the coronavirus pandemic, Citipoint offered its facilities for welcome visits.
Foster Church partners with nonprofits such as Olive Crest, which recruits and trains foster parents, and Safe Families for Children, which works to prevent children from being placed with a host family. Safe Families for Children helps families in crisis by taking care of their children in the short term.
Needham says most cases of child neglect come from families in crisis or isolated and lacking enough support.
âIf the church is doing a good job supporting families in the community who are struggling, then the church can take the place of government in some ways,â says Needham.
Kimball has written a guide for churches called “Foster Church Playbook: How your local church can become an adoptive church”. The book has been distributed to congregations that are part of the Olive Crest System and the Assemblies of God Northwest Ministry Network.