Updated: May 17
This Foster Care Awareness Month, I wanted to shed light particularly on the need for foster & adoptive families for older children, children with special needs, and sibling groups. In the US, there are over 100,000 children who are waiting to be adopted. Just in Texas, there are 954 children awaiting a forever home because their parents' rights have been relinquished or terminated. There are even more children who will enter the foster care system who seek a temporary (and sometimes eventual permanent) home. When you look at the pictures of the precious children awaiting adoption, you can see that many of them have several photos - meaning that each year, they have to take a new picture to update the website. Each year, they are hopeful that a family will see their photo and choose to see a child in need of a home, of a family, and of love. And each year, they are disappointed because the stigma that comes with older kids is extremely difficult to overcome. The Christian Church has been quick to jump in and tackle the need of Foster Care in the last couple of years. The numbers of Christians choosing to step up and become foster parents is amazing. But this part of the foster care system has been neglected - older children, children with special needs, and sibling groups.
Hope Fort Worth has seen this need and has jumped in to find forever homes for kids in need of one. Like America's Kids Belong, they make videos to advocate for children in need of an adoptive home, motivate and equip churches to care for the orphan and the vulnerable child, and provide training. I talked with Chelsea Reidland to get some more information about their organization, how it started, and how we can get involved.
What is Hope Fort Worth?
Hope Fort Worth was founded about 5 years ago by some close friends of ours: Andrew and Angela Holland. They were leading efforts at our church to help our congregation engage in caring for vulnerable kids. It was then that they realized how distant the “Church” as a whole had become from this issue. It’s clear in scripture that caring for the most vulnerable is a foundational calling of our faith. It’s also clear that with about twice as many churches in Texas as there are kids in care that something is wrong. So they decided to start Hope Fort Worth to advocate for and help these kids with the strategy of re-inspiring the church to action.
If just 10% of churches from each community would recruit foster/adoptive families from their congregation and build support communities around them when they do we’d flip this issue upside down.
In January of this year, my husband, Mark, and I (Chelsea) jumped at the opportunity to take the helm at this organization we love and believe in. We are continuing to push forward our mission of helping churches help vulnerable kids and families.
What programs do you have in place for older children in foster care/on the waiting list?
As adoptive parents of 3 teenagers, making sure older kids find forever families is particularly near to our hearts. It’s such a tough situation for them if they age out and statistically speaking, they don’t have much chance of success when that happens. Here are some of the programs that we offer
1. Hope Now: An initiative that empowers local churches to find forever families for waiting children in their local community.
We have two main goals:
1. Primary Goal: We hope to see many foster children on the waitlist in our community adopted as a result of church advocacy by matching one child waiting to be adopted to one specific church.
2. Secondary Goal: We want to inspire churches to get involved with caring for orphaned and vulnerable children.
Did you know?? There are more churches in Texas than kids in foster care waiting to be adopted!
We coordinate with OCOK to identify the children who are available for adoption and match ONE waiting kid to ONE church. That church agrees to be a Hope Now Church and advocate for their Hope Now Kid. The church will get to know the child through a video that we produce and a short bio about the child that can be shared to the congregation and on social media. Just seeing the face of these children reminds us that they are a child of God and need a family and just maybe that family could be ours. The church will also be provided monthly prayer requests to pray for their Hope Now Kid. We believe prayer is such a powerful way to advocate for these kids!
The Hope Now videos will break your heart for these kids who are in need of forever homes and inspire you to do something about it.
Here's Ken's video. Take a look.
2. HFW Match Events: Provide churches an opportunity to directly advocate for children in their community to potential adoptive parents.
Hope Fort Worth Match Events work to bring together potential adoptive families (both licensed and not yet licensed) and representatives of kids who are waiting to be adopted to find potential matches. Hope Fort Worth Match Events exist for several reasons:
1. We want to match waiting children from our community with their forever families.
2. We want to encourage licensed families in their journey.
3. We want to provide a great place for people who are not licensed to get all the information they need about the process.
4. Finally, we want to empower the local church by giving them a place to advocate for these children.
This Match Event will feature kids waiting to be adopted in our local community.
Here is Rose, who was adopted on April 29th. She and her family met at one of Hope Fort Worth's Match Events.
Before COVID-19 we would have a church host the event, the volunteers that advocate for the kids come from that church. The church also serves the families dinner and we have caseworkers, CASA workers and agency workers there to answer specific questions the families have.
During COVID-19 we are still having the match events through Facebook Live. During the live event we share about the need for more foster and adoptive families in our community and talk about how and why the children who are waiting to be adopted are older children. We have a Q&A time at the end for anyone watching to email or comment questions that we answer live. Families who are licensed to adopt fill out a form and receive information about kids that are in foster care and waiting to be adopted. Families who are not licensed, but would like more information on how to get licensed fill out a form and we connect them to a local agency.
What stories can you share with us?
Axel - He had been advocated at several match events and was getting close to 18. At our October match event we knew this would be our last time to advocate for him before he aged out. A family who attended that was originally looking to adopt a very young child was inspired during the match event to consider adopting older. They inquired about Axel and adopted him right before his 18th birthday!!
Katie - She was 17 when we filmed her Hope Now video. (I think everyone thought we were crazy for picking a kid who was so close to aging out.) The week her Hope Now church shared her video a family knew she was meant to be their daughter. They got licensed as quickly as they could and she moved and they finalized the adoption before she turned 18.
Trent - He was 16 when we filmed his Hope Now video. He had been in care since he was 7 years old along with his older brothers who had already aged out of foster care. We had been advocating for him for almost two years and now he is living with his forever family and they will finalize before his 18th birthday!
Who are some kids waiting to be adopted that you can share about?
Delyllah is our newest Hope Now kid. Here is her video. Watch it and let your heart be changed forever.
How has this ministry changed you and your perspective of the world, Jesus, and the church?
I have realized how much need there is in my own local community. My heart breaks for kids without a family. I have learned more about the statistics of what happens to kids who age out of foster care and how even one positive relationship can change the path of their life. Then when I learned how many churches are in our community I got really excited. This is a problem that can actually be solved. Jesus has a heart for the broken and the lonely. He goes to the broken, not away. He is more concerned about the lost than having a safe and comfortable life. When we live like Jesus our life looks different, but it is beautiful.
This is a problem that can actually be solved. Jesus has a heart for the broken and the lonely. He goes to the broken, not away. He is more concerned about the lost than having a safe and comfortable life. When we live like Jesus our life looks different, but it is beautiful.
What scripture do you cling to in order to keep moving forward and stay dedicated to your mission?
Psalms 68:6 God sets the lonely in families.
If that is what God is what God is about, then that is what I want to be about. My goal in life is to be like Jesus.
Chelsea and Mark's Story:
Mark and I always knew that we wanted to adopt. We even talked about it on our first date. It just seems unacceptable that there are kids without families. We don’t have a lot of money or really even time, but we can give a family. We got pregnant right after we got married and had 3 boys within a few years. Once our youngest son was potty trained we knew it was time to start the adoption process. We thought adding a girl right into the birth order would be the perfect thing to complete our family. We started the licensing process and got licensed to adopt in a few months. Our agency kept telling us about the need for older kids to be adopted, but we thought once all our kids are out of the house we will start adopting teenagers. It just didn’t seem “safe” to bring a teen into our family with young kids. At our first match event we saw pictures of so many teens that were at high risk of aging out of foster care. We went to two more match events and saw the same thing. I began to lose sleep thinking about all the older kids I had seen. I wondered who would be at their high school graduation? Who would be in the room when they had their first child? Who would dance with them at their wedding? Then I saw a picture of a 17 year old girl and her 14 year old brother. My husband and I knew those were our kids. Within the year both of the kids had moved in and we were waiting to finalize the adoption.
To say the past few years have been hard would be a complete understatement. Our home has seen brokenness and anger and sadness. We have learned about unconditional love, the hardest love to show and give over the past few years. We have learned how much God loves us in our brokenness. During this time, we started the HFW Match Events and Hope Now initiatives. We share our life story and advocate for the older kids who are at the highest risk of aging out. We train churches how to support families who say yes to the adventure of loving a child from trauma and support families through the journey. We got licensed as foster parents this year to start fostering teens and now are in the process of adopting one of those teens to be our forever son. We have lots of highs and lows, but our family is closer and stronger than I could have ever prayed for us to be.