2014-05-29 / Faith

Churches promote foster care

1,000 children in Ventura County are in need of a loving home
By Becca Whitnall

CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME—Providing safe, nurturing homes for foster children is the goal of a Ventura County initiative to involve churches in encouraging their parishioners to become foster families. CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME—Providing safe, nurturing homes for foster children is the goal of a Ventura County initiative to involve churches in encouraging their parishioners to become foster families. Ventura County officials are asking area churches to promote foster parenting.

They’re not asking them to foster children but are asking them to foster families, foster love and foster hope.

The Faith in Motion initiative is one of the ways the county is hoping to help narrow the gap between the 1,000 children in Ventura County needing foster care and the 350 spots currently available for them.

“Our goal is to engage faith communities to help ensure every child grows up in a caring, loving home,” said Elizabeth Thasiah, county children and family services manager.

“The rationale behind the initiative is that faith communities already have a focus on serving vulnerable communities, and foster children are some of the most vulnerable among us.”

A number of the children are hungry and homeless, she said, and though the county finds beds for them in group homes, that’s not the answer.

“We have beds for children, but what kind? We need loving, stable, caring, compassionate homes for children until we can find a permanent home,” Thasiah said. “Group homes are for emergencies. Children need families.”

Sometimes the emotional pain of being a foster child goes beyond being separated from their parents, Thasiah said.

She said that recently in Ventura a pair of siblings lost what stability they had because the agency had to remove them from their school, where they were athletes and honor students, and send them to separate homes in Simi Valley because that’s the only place they had spots for them.

To prevent similar incidents, Thasiah said, the agency is asking churches to recruit families to offer foster care, providing more options for placing foster children.

Kirk DeWitt, pastor of Conejo Church in Newbury Park, thinks churches can help make a difference.

“The number of kids needing homes is about equal to the number of churches in the county,” he said. “If just one family from each church said yes, the problem would be gone.”

Thasiah said the agency also hopes churches will offer backup to the families who do take in foster children.

“Foster families aren’t successful without support,” she said, “ and churches already do meal ministries and already have youth groups and maybe offer homework help and offer safe communities that offer exactly the kind of support foster families need.”

DeWitt acknowledged that not all families can take in a foster child. But, he said, even if they can’t do that, it’s important they do something. He has encouraged congregation members to become involved with organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, Court Appointed Special Advocates and the soon-to-open James Storehouse, which provides supplies and assistance to foster children and youths who will soon age out of the foster system.

So far, his church has raised about $90,000 to help open a James Storehouse in Newbury Park.

“The reason it’s called James Storehouse is because James talks in the Bible about caring for orphans and widows,” De- Witt said. “It’s really something that, if we believe in the Bible, we really need to step up and do.”

To help introduce the new initiative to Conejo Valley churches, the county, foster family agencies and Child Welfare services hosted a breakfast for 40 people from 23 congregations at Newbury Park’s Lighthouse Church on May 15.

“It sounds like a good idea,” said Jenna Murphy, 38, of Newbury Park, who had recently learned of this and similar programs. “Why not ask people who would foster for the right reasons, who are moved to do it from a good place, to foster?”

A former foster child herself, Murphy said her own lessthan ideal experiences in the foster system about 30 years ago might keep her from bringing a child into her home, but she would be eager to help in other capacities.

“After all, no matter what things a parent might have done that their kids end up in foster care, it’s never the kids’ fault. There’s no reason we can’t all rally around the kids,” she said.

To learn more about Faith in Motion or about the possibility of fostering a child, call Thasiah at (805) 654-5594 or email elizabeth.thasiah@ventura.org.

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