Editors Note: This is second in a series focusing on adoption. Each year over 135,000 adoptions take place in the United States and nearly 100 million Americans have an adopted member of their immediate family. If you have ever considered adoption, just know that not only are you changing a child’s life, but your own will be forever changed.
Mary* came home to her condemned house with no windows or power. A single mom, she had no bed and slept on the floor with her daughter. The money she earned from her job paid for food and little else. A neighbor noticed. Concerned for the child’s well-being, the neighbor notified the Department of Family and Child Services of the living conditions.
This story is too familiar in South Georgia and it often does not end well for the child or the parents. But one local organization is doing what it can to ensure families get what they need to stay together and the children have a chance at success in life.
Called to Care, according to Laura Maxwell, director for the South Georgia region, is a supportive ministry of the foster and adoptive community and the families and agencies that serve those children. This region contains 20 counties including the I-75 corridor from Turner County to the Florida line.
There are numerous services offered by the group. For families like Mary’s, they help to acquire much-needed items. In her case, through Called to Care and DFCS, a home was provided with beds, air conditioning, and plumbing.
Other services include journey bags for the kids entering temporary care, which come with toiletries, a hairbrush, a toothbrush, etc. The items distributed depend on the age of the child. These resources are available if a foster family needs them as well. They get clothing bags including seven outfits, shoes, underwear, socks, and pajamas.
In addition to the various goods Called to Care provides, they also aide domestic and international adoptive families by supplying grants to help cover the cost of adoption.
Through frequent fundraising events and with the help of local volunteers, the group raises money throughout the year for families as they move forward in the adoption process.
No one wants to see a family torn apart because of lack of work or a means to get there, making the ministry more than just a handout organization. Along with DFCS, Called to Care works with biological parents to help them get back on their feet with job interviews, housing, and transportation. This process and support helps get the children back to the home and ensures a better environment when they get there.
Sadly, the number of kids in care has tripled in the last two years, due in large part to drug use. With a parent who has had an addiction, relapses are often not a matter of if, but when.
Currently, Tift County alone has around 130 kids in foster care. There are roughly 1200 in the region under DFCS.
With so few families willing to foster, the ones that do frequently take in several children at a time making one of the most requested items extra beds. When a family gets a call to keep a child or multiple children, there is often an issue of where they will sleep.
Aside from drug use, another issue plaguing local parents is poverty, as in Mary’s case. Being unable to afford decent living arrangements doesn’t necessarily make them bad parents. Many have had a catastrophic incident or a layoff from work that has led to their present condition.
In these cases, DFCS attempts to look deep into the matter to ensure that there is truly a danger to a child prior to removal from a home. In many cases, education about the services available through Called to Care is crucial to helping them take better care of their children.
October will be five years for Called to Care. The first four were like triage said Maxwell. Citing a popular foster care blog, she said, “It’s like standing at a river and seeing children float by and trying to pick out which ones we can save. Eventually you have to find out who is throwing the kids in the river and fix that.”
The operation is largely volunteer based, but Maxwell and former foster mother and now adoptive parent Gentry Colson, are the only staff. Funding largely comes from financial donors. There is almost always a demand for more bodies to fill the needs local people face. It takes money, but much of the ministry involves simply driving to a house and talking with an individual who has no one to speak with about life.
Maxwell believes the essence of Called to Care is caring enough to simply meet individuals where they are and listen to their story. Relationships are the key to helping people out of these conditions. But Maxwell says it is hard to find people who are willing to commit to relationships with these individuals.
Maxwell emphasized that people can invest in little ways, which can grow into large benefits for others. “Our goal is to help expose citizens in our area to ways they can help pour into these families and children. It doesn’t have to be a large commitment. Small steps add up to huge impacts.” Something as simple as spending time with the kids and showing them positive encouragement may help them overcome the negative situation in which they live. Orchestrating a birthday celebration for a child or hosting a bake sale to raise funds for adoptive families are other easy ways to contribute to your community.
The number one reason families don’t adopt or foster is the question of what will it do to the biological children in the home. According to Maxwell, it creates kingdom builders. It models what you want the next generation to do with what they have. “It has been good for some of the volunteers to expose their children to the realities their peers live in daily. It helps for them to see how they can help make the world a better place,” she said.
Called to Care has its sights on launching a new ministry called Care Communities to train local churches to help families. In describing the inspiration for this venture, Maxwell said it is similar to rebuilding the broken wall in the book of Nehemiah. “This is a responsibility of the Church. The Bible says to care for orphans.”
Citing this responsibility as a legacy left to Christians, Maxwell said it is one of the greatest ways to share the love of God. “Nehemiah reminded the people of their heritage. Through seeing a family foster and adopt, a child can see the heritage of love and care Christ wants us to do.”
The goal of Called to Care to act as a bridge between area churches, DFCS, and the families that need help. In the last few years, the organization became a stakeholder on the DFCS board and it hopes to continue to make a positive difference in local communities.
*Name changed for privacy.