The Baptist Messenger recently interviewed Teri Blanton, foster care coordinator for Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children (OBHC), and Amy Cordova, women’s missions and ministry specialist of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO), about the Oklahoma’s foster care crisis, discussing how churches can meet the need with the Gospel.
Baptist Messenger: In thinking about foster care, can you talk about the One Such Child program?
Teri Blanton: Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children’s One Such Child program started around 2016, in answer to Governor Fallin’s request for faith-based agencies to help recruit foster families, and when our then-BGCO Executive Director Anthony Jordan asked the churches—the Southern Baptist churches to step up. We are stepping up, and our goal is to recruit foster families from every Southern Baptist church across Oklahoma and to help churches either expand or start a foster care adoption ministry in their church.
Messenger: It has been reported that Oklahoma has about 8,500 children in DHS custody—somewhere there about, but rewinding a few years ago, the number was even higher.
Blanton: At the time, it was 11,000 children. So our faith-based agencies across the state helped to recruit foster families for those 11,000 children, and we are working to help to get children back to their biological families when possible and to get children out of shelters. That was a huge thing. The number is always fluid, so it changes from day to day. But right now, the average is about 8,500 children in need of loving homes and a place to find hope.
Messenger: Can you talk about the upcoming foster care rally?
Amy Cordova: The BGCO and OBHC are hosting an event at Edmond, First on Nov. 13. It’s a Tuesday evening at 6:30. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, is coming to speak at that event. We are going to host a guest panel of pastors across our state who are gathering their congregations to rally around foster families in support of them. Alex Himaya, pastor of TheChurch.At (formerly Broken Arrow, BattleCreek) will be there. Charlie Blount from El Reno, First and Cody Brumley and his wife Brianna from Jenks, First will be there as well. It will be a great panel. We have also invited 111 Project to do a simulation, about the life of a foster child and what that looks like. Oftentimes, these foster children have to grab just a few of their belongings, and then they go to a foster home. They are sometimes moved to different homes during their stay until they find a permanent placement or adoption. So we will walk our people through that during this event. It will be a very moving experience. We will have several exhibits at that event. We will have a DHS representative there, as well as someone from Indian Child Welfare, and several others. OBHC is, of course, partnering with us in this event, so they will have an exhibit table there.
Messenger: That’s great. There is no cost to attend, and people can pre-register at www.bgco.org/foster. What are some of the successes in foster care you have seen?
Blanton: In our first year, we worked with two different churches. We worked with Oklahoma City, Rancho Village. It is a smaller church, but their congregation wanted to reach out to the foster care community. They had a foster family going through certification at the time, so it was a way to celebrate that they had gotten certified. The church wrapped themselves around and nurtured that family. Then we did a special Vacation Bible School for foster families that first year, and it was fun. The children were experiencing some fun activities while their foster parents were receiving their recertification hours and so we thought that it was a very successful event. It is what kick-started our program. Then we had our second event at Jenks, First, and they did not have a foster care ministry started yet, but they were wanting to explore. While the kids were having activities, the parents were receiving recertification training, and from that event, they have had several families step up and become foster parents. They started a full-blown, wrap-a-round foster care program, not only for foster care parents in their church, but for people in the community. It has been fun to watch how they have sought to bring about a culture of community nurturing and providing hope not only for the children, but for the parents who feel that this is their calling. This is their mission to be temporary family and in some cases they become the forever family for children who have been in their care.
Messenger: In addition to fostering a child, what are some ways to plug into foster care?
Cordova: No matter what season of life someone is in, they can be a part of loving the children in our state. We had one idea out of a church of Weatherford, First. They throw birthday parties for every foster care child in their county. In this coming semester, for children who have aged out of the foster care system who do not have an adopted family or a biological family, we’re providing care packages for their finals week at college. There are other opportunities. We need nursery workers who want to love these children who have experienced trauma where there’s that loving, familiar face that a child can walk to and just have a good time while their parent goes to worship or their small group. There are all different ways that people can get involved in caring for the children of our state, and it’s our responsibility. It’s exciting to see, no matter what season or place you are in in life that someone can get involved somehow.