The greatest need

We recently shared a news article on the Encourage Facebook page about youth in foster care being housed at the Cuyahoga County Department of Job and Family Services. We asked Encourage Intake Coordinator Angel Sigler to share more about the critical need and how we can respond.

I hear voices crying out about the need for more foster parents in our communities. Voices saying that there are not enough homes for children in need of safety. On one level this is true, but there’s a greater need in this situation. The bigger challenge is that there are not enough foster homes with the ability to provide care for children with high-level needs—especially if that child with behavioral needs is a teenager. Not many families are willing or trained to welcome them and address their unique needs. Those are the children living in the DJFS buildings.

Here’s the greatest need: foster parents who are willing and trained to take in children with high-level behavioral issues caused by trauma and help them find their way through all the pain to find healing and a new way to manage all they have experienced.

The emotional and behavior challenges of a traumatized child do not instantly go away once you love them and give them a safe environment. It is a long process, but the end is so worth it.

There are boys and girls completing their individualized therapy programs at residential treatment centers, including CCHO, waiting for a place to go. These hurting youth came into residential care because their compounding losses made them unable to adapt and function well in a foster family home. They’ve spent an average of six to nine months working their programs, participating in therapy, and now they are ready to try their new skills in a family setting. With few foster families willing or able to help them acclimate back into a family unit and the greater community, these children wait in limbo and begin to lose hope that a family will ever want them.

My heart hurts for these precious kids.

We need families to say yes to opening their hearts and homes to teenagers even if those teens are angry, struggling with drug issues, or facing mental-health concerns. If we don’t help these youth find their way out of the pain—which often looks like anger and self-medication—they will become adults with no support system, no healing, and ultimately no hope. That is heartbreaking. And the cycle often repeats with their children.

The system is only as broken as you and I allow it to be. Is reform needed? Sure. Do we want children living in the DJFS building? Certainly not. But what choice does the county have until more families respond?

Here’s my invitation. Lean in to fully hear my heart.

Will you step up and fight alongside and for these kids? Not like cheerleaders on the sidelines, but in the field getting dirty with them? They really need you—stable, caring adults—to help them find themselves in the midst of the chaos.

Patience, flexibility and a willingness to learn TBRI skills. When foster parents implement this posture and these tools and welcome kids with high-level behavioral needs into their homes, that’s when we’ll see the miracles begin to happen. Our promise at Encourage: we commit to coming with you every step of the journey—training, coaching, empowering and celebrating.

Learn more about becoming a foster parent today.

Blessings found in fostering

President Ronald Reagan issued the first presidential proclamation establishing May as National Foster Care Month in 1988—that’s just one year before Encourage Foster Care officially began. While we serve foster families all year round, this is a great time for us to acknowledge and celebrate these special families and all that they do to help kids heal from neglect, abuse and trauma.

We are grateful that God has prompted our network of foster parents to open their hearts and homes to children and teens in this meaningful, supportive way.

“From our 30 years of caring for youth in foster care, we have seen how a safe and stable environment with caring adults is a critical piece to their healing and growth,” said Encourage Director Shawn Pedani, LISW-S. “We hope you know how much you are appreciated for the day-to-day support that you provide.”

Throughout this month, we’ll be sharing a new series–Blessings Found in Fostering. We’ve asked Encourage families and staff to tell us what they’re learning and the God moments they’ve seen along the way.

View all of the foster care blessings stories.

Let’s use this month to connect and encourage one another as we are apart more often than we would like. If you have a story or blessing to share, please contact Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

You are not alone

As we continue in this challenging time due to the coronavirus, we are incredibly grateful for your prayers and support. We want to be a resource of hope and encouragement to you as well.

We want to remind you of truth. Jesus overcome sin and death and He is still in control today. Sovereign over every detail. Our shield and defender. Our comforter and friend.

The changes brought on because of the health crisis will affect each of us differently. Triggers to past trauma. Job loss or financial insecurity. Relationships complicated by sheltering in place together. Isolation from family and friends. Depression. Anxiety.

You are navigating uncharted territory. But you are not alone. Encompass counselors are just a phone call away to support you.

Our dedicated therapists support individuals and families with mental health and relationship concerns. We’re also here to help with increased anxiety and other struggles due to COVID-19. Counseling services are available for children, teens and adults through our new confidential telemental health option.

In the days and weeks ahead, our experienced Encompass clinicians will also be sharing resources to help keep you encouraged and connected. Check back frequently for our latest information.

View COVID-19 resources.

Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month

The month of April is Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month here in Ohio. In 2018, more than 16,000 boys and girls entered foster care in Ohio, an increase of 28% since 2013 (source: PCSAO). Nearly 65% of those children were removed from their home because of physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and/or alcohol/drug abuse by their guardians.

Making sure kids are safe and loved is our heart at Encourage. Children and teens coming from volatile situations need a safe place to process their trauma so they can find healing. We are grateful for the passion and commitment of foster families who help abused, neglected and traumatized youth discover hope and experience unconditional love.

We asked Emily Frazier, LISW-S, Clinical Director of CCHO’s Children’s Residential Center to answer a few questions to help you better understand the affects of abuse as well as how you can be eyes and ears for children in your community.

Trauma disrupts connection and influences our ability to understand ourselves and develop healthy relationships with those around us. It can impact psychological, social and educational development. This contributes to multiple barriers or hurdles a child must navigate.

Read the full article here which also includes information on ways you can help if you suspect or know that a child is being abused or neglected.

Thank you for all that you do to help kids feel safe and loved in your own homes, schools, churches and community.

Yes, You Can FosterToo.com

We rent our home.
I am single.
We have full-time jobs.
We have two dogs.
I am divorced.
We are retired.
We don’t live in Wayne County.
We home school our children.
We are scared to say yes.

There are so many questions that come up when you consider fostering. Sometimes prospective parents aren’t sure if they can even become foster parents. We understand. Our team is here to walk beside you through this process and help you feel empowered. Because, yes, you can foster too!

With those questions and nervous feelings in mind, we are hosting a special info session on Tuesday, August 6 from 6:30 to 8pm at the Wayne County Library. This informal and authentic conversation is open to anyone who has any questions about becoming a foster or respite parent. Or even questions about mentoring a foster child or teen.

Encourage staff and seasoned foster parents will be present to share from their personal experiences and answer your questions. Spoon Market & Deli will also be providing some delicious food for our gathering. Please rsvp today so we can serve you well.

For additional information, please contact Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

Foster care perspective

One of the greatest needs within foster care is homes for teenage youth.

Providing them with a stable environment increases their likelihood of graduating high school and going on to college. Their home life experience may have been unstable, but that doesn’t decrease their God-given potential and dreams.

Cordelia Crenshaw, the new Miss District of Columbia USA, grew up in the foster-care system. Her determination helped her achieve a strong education and she is now a social worker and founder of a nonprofit. She recently shared her personal struggles and perspective on youth in similar circumstances.

Here’s what a lot of people don’t understand: To live in foster care is to live in a state of inconsistency. Due to a lack of resources, there simply aren’t enough quality foster homes, and rising housing costs make it even harder for foster families to find the space they need. This especially affects kids in urban areas. As a result, many more children end up in institutions, which are often rife with abuse and poor conditions.

(Read the full article.)

Fostering a teen means giving support and stability at a time when education and relationships are significant. We would love to talk with and help you with questions regarding opening your heart and home to a teenager in foster care. Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist would be happy to speak with you by phone or in person. Reach out today at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

We also invite you to join us for an informal and authentic conversation on Tuesday, August 6 with Encourage staff and seasoned foster parents. Yes, you can fostertoo.com!

In brokenness and beauty

Our Encourage team recently had an opportunity to travel together to the Children’s Alliance for Orphans’ Summit, held this year in Louisville, Kentucky. This was a wonderful way for our staff to consider how we may better recruit and serve families who provide care for children from local children services agencies in Northeast Ohio.

Our team came away refreshed, refueled and embraced by many wonderful speakers, workshops, and special times of praise and worship. The CAFO conference was a breathtaking reminder to focus on His faithfulness.

The 2019 conference theme, In Brokenness and Beauty, It is Well, resonated deeply with each team member. It was stated by the conference organizers, “We believe that this, after all, is where life-to-the-full is found. Not easy life. But the best life. If beauty and brokenness must come together, we choose both. Whether in times of great joy—seeing good fruit rise from our love and our labors—or grieving in the hurt of it all, we know that the hands of our good Father are beneath and above and all around, holding us in His great love.”

We see this image play out each day with the lives of children placed with our foster families. Children come from very broken and disturbed backgrounds. They are often full of fear, distrust and uncertainty. Through consistent care and kindness, our Encourage families embrace these children and help them go from a place of fear and into an opportunity for God to instill hope and peace.

Here are a few quotes that stood out to our team members:

“If a man’s castle is his home… then a foster home should be a hospital.” – Krish Kandiah

“Behavior is the language of children who have no voice.” – Karyn Purvis

“Don’t guard your heart, open you heart.” – Pam Taylor, Foster mom

“We are on holy ground here, when untold agony begins to find its voice. If there ever is a sacred moment, it is when a soul whose torment has been suppressed and silenced finally begins to speak.” – Richard Fenn

In response to her experience at the CAFO conference, Annita Justice, Foster Care Coordinator, said, “I am forever grateful that we join the broken, vulnerable moments with the children we serve as it empowers us to be agents of change in identifying beauty amidst a painful circumstance. During these challenging times, we allow the children to embrace their beautiful worth in Christ who loves unconditionally.”

Courtney McConahay, Foster Care Coordinator, also reflected about her time at the Summit. “God has called us to care for the fatherless/motherless, orphan, foster child and adoptee. He can restore us and make us new again. Only our Father can do that. It is only through Him that I— that we—can walk along side these children, foster-adoptive parents and bioparents and participate in His will for them, to watch Him break the chains of bondage in all of us. This is where beauty is restored. This is how it is well. My prayer for our agency is that we can lean in and share that encouragement, that we can face trauma and fear head on knowing God is with us and is moving, restoring, bringing beauty from ashes (brokenness) and we can proclaim—It. Is. Well.”

Home studies in process

Celebrate with us!

Our network of foster parents is growing. There are currently 14 families in the midst of the home study phase of the certification process to become foster parents. That means a minimum of 14 children will have a safe place to call home in 2019. That number increases if families are able to take more than one child at a time—most commonly through a sibling group.

These 14 families have expressed a desire to open their heart and home to children in need. They have attended the required 36-hour pre-service training and have begun making their way through a lengthy checklist that Encourage Foster Care and Ohio Department of Job and Family Services uses to qualifies their home as safe and welcoming for children in foster care.

We have the unique responsibility to match children in the foster care system with the family that can best meet the need of that particular child or sibling group. A home study helps us do just that.

Home studies take place over the course of at least three home visits and includes items that you might expect such as a safety audit of the home’s physical structure. Background checks, financial statements, medical forms and references are also submitted during this step. The goal is to determine that the individuals (and animals) in the home and the physical spaces in the home are prepared to care for the physical and emotional needs of a child.

Our licensing staff utilizes the home study process to further get to know the prospective foster parents, their family background and parenting styles. This guided self-assessment helps foster parents consider the attributes of children (ages, genders, behaviors, physical or medical needs) that would be best matched with their home and family life. There are conversations about expectations for children who have experienced abuse or neglect and how to adjust home routines to best include them. This dialogue is critical to successfully placing children in a foster home.

Paperwork is not the most fun thing. Most would agree with that. But as items are checked off the certification checklist, we see families demonstrate a heart for fostering and the dedication needed to make it work. We are so grateful for these families and will be surrounding them with encouragement each step of the way. Please join us in praying for these 14 families over the coming months as they complete their home studies and prepare to open their homes.

If you have questions about becoming a foster parent, we are here to support you. Please contact Heather Huebner at huebnerh@ccho.org or 330.462.1118.

Blessings this year

Encourage’s director, Shawn Pedani, LISW-S, reflects on the year . . .

Our team recently had a year-end get-together and reflected on all the highlights and blessings we’ve seen from God this past year within Encourage. I thought I’d hear their excitement of the new growth with more foster families and the ability to place more children as well as new local church partnerships who share in the same passion to help children locally.

However, what I heard was worth noting and sharing with our extended Encourage family. The staff shared that while they were thrilled with the addition of 19 new families (not including the current 12 in process), they were even more thrilled with the growth internally in our department. Our team was ecstatic about expanding to neighboring communities and churches as well as the depth of our staff.

Team members voiced their feelings about growing together with one unified purpose. One team member shared, “I feel like we are bigger but at the same time more singular in our mission.” Another commented that we were making strides to implement Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), an evidenced-based model for parenting traumatized youth, to all of our treatment families. A staff who joined the team in 2018 felt she was “welcomed into a wonderful community that will support, uplift and challenge you in the workplace.”

I simply love that about our team.

With a busy 2019 in the works as it relates to trainings and licensing families, I’m happy to report the progress of new programs launched in 2018. We are seeing wonderful development and rich connections with our new mentor program: A Friend in Fostering. While not everyone can take in a foster youth, everyone can help or volunteer. We are also beginning to see more and more families considering and taking in youth who are otherwise, a challenge to place. We believe this comes as result of the additional trainings and support we are providing through the First Fridays events and TBRI curriculum. This will be a continued focus in the new year.


Looking forward to all that God will do in 2019,
Shawn

Protect the vulnerable

As the second Sunday in November approaches, we are reminded of a word used less frequently in our country today. Orphan Sunday is a special day set aside to raise awareness for children who face life without a biological parent to love and guide them. Our loving God cares deeply for these precious ones experiencing vulnerable circumstances. He has included and instructed us, His Church, to respond to their needs. Isaiah 1:17 (NIV) says, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”

A lesser known definition of the word orphan is one without protective affiliation. Encourage Foster Care children have lost one or both parents as a result of death, drugs/addiction, abusive behavior, and other difficult and painful situations. We know they are not orphans as this definition reads because God is in His great wisdom created a plan so the defenseless would not be without protection. They are not alone because they have us.

There are 47 foster parents at Encourage who have said yes to opening their hearts and homes to one or more foster children. They have completed required training and prepared welcoming spaces to best care for these young lives. We are wholeheartedly grateful for their service and are committed to providing a strong support system to help them be successful.

Not everyone is called to become a foster parent, but we are all called to defend those without protection. James 1:27 (NLT) says, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress.” Here are five opportunities for you to prayerfully consider:

Become wrap-around supports

Practical assistance from the local church community can be extremely helpful (and encouraging!) to foster and adoptive families. Consider household chores and yard work, shopping or babysitting so mom and dad can go out on a date. Transport a child to weekly appointments or drop off a home-cooked meal.

Start mentoring

Encourage’s A Friend in Fostering mentorship program is looking for enthusiastic, dedicated, caring adults to provide our youth with support through life transitions and to help instill independence, confidence and everyday life skills.

Use those skills

God has gifted each one of us with unique talents and abilities. From haircuts to orthodontics to car repair, you can use your skills to give a gift of love to a foster child, home or adoptive family.

Donate your birthday

Rather than gifts, ask your family and friends to support vulnerable kids through an established and accredited foster care organization. Gifts to Encourage Foster Care (through our parent organization Christian Children’s Home of Ohio) provide critical services that meet the unique needs of children in foster care.

Share this post

Orphan Sunday acknowledges children in need around the world. There are 20,000 children in foster care in Ohio alone. Use your social media platform to advocate on their behalf. Share this post and why it matters to you personally.

Let’s utilize November 11, 2018 as an opportunity to stand up for children in foster care. Use your voice in person or through digital outreach. Consider giving your time or financial resources to ensure that these children are protected.

Adapted from a resource on the CAFO website.