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This IS Our Problem: Fixing Foster Care in America, My Part (And Yours)

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Last night it was bitterly cold. The heat in our office building hadn’t been working so the staff and I worked most of the day with our coats and hats on. We thought the conditions were impossible, brutal, unbearable. We complained to management. We complained to each other. And then, just as I was about to head home to a delicious meal with my family, my cell phone rang and I was suddenly reminded that even the worst conditions I have ever faced are the best conditions some children can imagine.

It was a social service worker, a friend of mine, calling to ask if I could wait a bit longer for a group of caseworkers to come to our facility. They had just abruptly removed 4 children from deplorable conditions. Their mother was nowhere to be found. The kids needed pretty much everything; from clothing to shoes to comfort items. Of course, I agreed to wait.

In situations like these, it’s the waiting that is sometimes the hardest part. I wonder what I’m about to see. I wonder how bad it will be. I wonder if these children will be crying. I wonder if they will be scared. I wonder if I will be able to hold it together so I don’t make them feel even worse.

I opened the door twenty minutes later to three caseworkers. One was carrying a baby. One was carrying a toddler who was not wearing any shoes or socks. The other 2 children walked in on their own; 5 and 7 years old. Immediately, the 7 year old made eye contact with me and I could see she had been crying. She looked up at me and almost began to cry again.

I knelt down and took her hand and told her my name. Then I asked hers and she whispered it softly. Then I asked her if she would like to go look at some toys. Immediately, her face changed. She smiled a bit. “Yes!”

Over the next hour and half the caseworkers and I split our time between walking the children through our toy closet, helping them choose their favorites, and attempting to find enough clothing in the right sizes to get the children prepared for their first night away from home.

Beneath her dirty clothing, the baby was covered in feces. It took two workers to clean her up. One of the men came out and sat down, head in his hands, and said “How can people do this?” For me it’s always so hard to see that type of raw, vulnerable emotion, especially from a big, strong, tough-looking guy. I didn’t know what to say to him.

When the group was ready to leave, the 7 year-old girl turned back and gave me a hug. I held her as tightly as I could. I wanted to take her home.

It was then I started to think about my own kids; 7 and 8 years old. Their biggest worry of the day was doing homework. They were waiting at home for me with their amazing, attentive, super supportive dad. They were playing games in their playroom. I didn’t feel guilty for this joyful loving home I have. But I did feel like I wanted to get back to sharing it.

So I will. I am hopeful that in the coming months my home will be reopened to accept foster children like the four amazing kids I met last night. That is the part I want to play in this solution.

But that may not be your reaction and that is totally OK! There are dozens of ways that you can also do something super amazing to ensure these beautiful, innocent children get the love and support and hope they need. Because they need all of us in on this.

To be honest, I don’t even care why you decide to help. Just do something other than read this, feel bad and go on with your day. Do it to be a good example for your kids. Do it to better your community. Do it because you can…because you had a loving family, or you didn’t have a family at all, but you are here and healthy and able. Do it because if you don’t, who will?

Let’s just all come together and loudly and proudly make a commitment that we will be one part of the very big village we know it takes to raise a healthy, happy child.

Below are some of my favorite ways to get involved but I want to hear more. Join me in using #MyPartOurVillage and tag @OneSimpleWish on Twitter.

Here are 5 ways to get started in doing YOUR part:

1. Grant a wish!
It’s a simple, direct and beautiful way to share some joy with a child impacted by foster care and abuse and neglect.
2. Consider becoming a CASA.
Court Appointed Special Advocates are amazingly dedicated volunteers who act as a voice for a child in court and are a stable source of support for kids who need it.
3. Read Foster Focus Magazine
Learn more about what is going on with foster care in America and the inspiring kids and adults who are working hard to fix it.
4. Consider becoming a Foster Parent.
All you need to know is here. And you can email me too!
5. Tweet about other foster care or children’s rights organizations that you support. Tell us what you do and how to do it. Don’t forget to use #MyPartOurVillage and tag@OneSimpleWish so we can share your ideas!

Please remember that whatever you choose to do, one way or the other, it will matter.

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Support KONTENT of KHARACTER

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Good afternoon Foster Care Kids Need Love Too family! We are NOW partners with Kontent of Kharacter for each shirt the company  sales, they will donate %10 percent proceedings to our organization. We need your love and support to establish this monetary investment to our organization.  PURCHASE your SHIRT & HOODIES at https://teespring.com/kontentofkharacter “Together We Can Make A Change” HAPPY NEW YEAR! WE LOVE YOU…

Young Girls In State Care To Get Transitional Home

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Construction is slated to begin soon on the Caribbean’s first independent living complex for wards of the State, following Friday’s official groundbreaking ceremony at 24 Lady Musgrave Drive, New Kingston.

Upon completion, the facility will be equipped to house at lease 40 young women who have reached the age of 18, when, by law, they are required to leave their places of safety, irrespective of whether they have a job or place to live.

Under the Transitional Living Program for Children in State Care, these young women will spend up to two additional years in the care of the state.

Dr Luz Longsworth, principal of the Open Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), used the groundbreaking ceremony to announce the gift of 30 one-year scholarships to the pioneer residents of the complex. Another 15 such scholarships will be provided to young men, also wards of the state, at the tertiary level as well.

Luis Moreno, United States ambassador to Jamaica, gave a commitment that his country would fund a similar facility for young men, to be built in Manning, St Elizabeth. The United States Agency for International Development is funding the Kingston facility at a cost of US$1.45 million under the Development Grants Program, in what Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna described as a game-changing partnership.

With the Jamaican Government donating prime land space in New Kingston’s ‘Golden Triangle’, the project will be implemented through the collaborative efforts of the Caribbean Child Development Centre, Child Development Agency, the Social Welfare Centre, and the UWI Project Management Office.

Meanwhile, Rosalee Gage-Grey, chief executive officer of the Child Development Agency, spoke to the importance of this intervention.

VERY SIGNIFICANT

“It is very significant because we have about 700 children that leave care each year. Some of them are in foster care, and the foster parents will continue to keep them; some can be reintegrated with their own families. We have some who come into Kingston for tertiary education and need a place, and so it will provide a space where they can move from university to work for the period of the two years, and so its very significant,” she told The Gleaner.

“And it’s semi-independent, meaning that they will take care of themselves, with some support. So they will be comfortable with individualized spaces, and we will continue to provide the support, the life skills for them to transition successfully.”

A clearly excited Hanna gave this response when asked to gauge the significance of the new facility.

On a scale of 1-10?

“Eleven!” she answered, noting that it will address an area of need that has been neglected for too long.

“It’s a long time in the making, and its something that I’m very pleased with; conceptualized it, UWI came on board, USAID came on board, and now they’ve said to us, we are going to be working on the contract for the one for the boys in St Elizabeth. We gave the land, UWI is giving the social work and the training, USAID is putting up the money, so there is a lot of equity going into this,” she added.

However, the youth minister would not commit to the completion timeline for the Kingston facility or the start-up for the one slated for St Elizabeth.

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Church hopes to match kids with foster families

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WAYNESBORO — Sonya Payne remembers her best birthday ever.

It was in 2010, the day she legally adopted her foster daughter Ariel Simone Payne, 16.

Ariel wasn’t the first child that Payne has fostered. In fact, Payne estimates that she’s legally fostered 40 children since 1993, and taken in over 70, even if only temporarily.

“That’s why we call her superwoman,” said Ariel’s adoptive sister Taimonique Payne, 15 and a half years old.

Payne decided to become a foster parent while working with battered women, and seeing the effect it had on both the women and children.

“It was too much,” Payne said. “I told my husband, we have to do something to help these kids.”

She read about her first foster child in the newspaper in 1993 and the rest is history.

Even with families like the Paynes, there are still local children in the foster care system that do not currently have homes and are at risk of aging out of the system, which severely affects their chances of success once they become adults, said Jennifer Eccles, foster parent and member of the mission team at First Baptist Church in Waynesboro. There are 163 kids in foster homes locally, but 14 that don’t have somewhere to call home.

That’s why the church decided to hold a summit about foster care, with a panel of foster care workers, parents and adopted teenagers, to inform the community about the need for more participation in the foster care system.

The summit was Sunday afternoon and about 25 people attended, Eccles said.

“The church feels very strongly that we have a calling to help these kids in our community,” said the mom of six. “They need families.”

One of the main focuses of the summit was on the need for care for older children and children with siblings, specifically, Eccles said. Removing the stigma that older children come with more problems is key.

“This is not about bad behavior,” Eccles said of why children end up in the foster care system. “It’s because of abuse or neglect.”

Both Ariel and Taimonique spoke about being adopted and what they would tell other foster parents if they could.

“Never give up on your adopted kids,” Taimonique said. They may have difficult behavior and difficulty adjusting, but never to give up.

For more information about foster parenting call Jennifer Edson or Heather Hudnall at Shenandoah Valley Social Services at 540-245-5800.

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New Law That Keeps Older Kids In Foster Care Creating Need For Parents

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A new law that just took effect keeps foster children in the system longer to help them transition into adulthood, but it also creates a new problem.

Derik Moss-Clark, 18, said he had a rough childhood.

He had been left alone in hotel rooms, abandoned at his house and even sold drugs in eighth grade to pay the rent.

“I got woke up daily getting abused, beat, burned,” he said.

He has been in and out of the foster system since age nine.

He knows that many kids in similar situations aren’t ready to move out on their own at age 18.

“We want to leave the system, we want to live our own lives, but because of what we’ve been through and the trauma we’ve dealt with we are not necessarily ready,” he said.

That’s why he supports the new law that just took effect January 1. It allows foster children to stay in the system until they’re 21.

Before they’d be forced out at 18, left to deal with the problems of the world on their own. They would get some assistance from the state. This new law allows them to receive more benefits.

But now there’s an even greater need for foster parents.

Nicole Pulcinimason is a representative with Kids Central INC and works closely with foster children.

“The whole state is looking for foster parents to this group of children,” she said.

DCF leaders said taking on this responsibility is more like a mentor role – rather than a parental role.

“We need foster homes and foster parents who are dedicated to these kids, bring them into their home, and help guide them into their decision making,” Pulcinimason said.

Moss-Clark has found a family with his church and his girlfriend’s relatives.

He’s in his second year of college taking businesses administration classes.

“I want to tell everyone that you don’t have to be what your life has been, you can take every day as a challenge, you can be better than what your parents were, better than the people around you, the situations you walked through,” Moss-Clark said.

Derek is excited for the future, but he knows there are other teens just like him who need the same hope and help.

Right now DCF said there are 200 teens who will turn 18 this year. More than 500 are between the age 18 and 21.

Foster Care Until Age 21 Has Backers

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A group of child-welfare advocates is launching a campaign to get Ohio to join the growing number of states that extend foster care to age 21.

Between 1,000 and 1,300 Ohio foster youths age out of the system each year when they turn 18, and too many exit to a bleak landscape with scant resources and support, said Mark Mecum, executive director of the Ohio Association of Child Caring Agencies.

Homelessness, crime and early parenthood are common experiences. Success in college and on the job is often elusive.

“Investing in this population by extending supports brings forth all sorts of benefits to society,” Mecum said. “Those benefits far outweigh the costs.”

He said that 25 states plus the District of Columbia have programs to stretch foster care to age 21 for youths who want to keep services as they work toward independence.

“All the states that are as big as Ohio already have done this,” Mecum said.

The Fostering Connections Act of 2008 allows states to use federal foster-care money for eligible youths up to age 21, rather than 18.

State and local governments, however, still pay a share of the cost.

And in Ohio, with a county-based system of 88 public child-welfare agencies, budgets vary widely. Some county agencies, such as Franklin’s, are resource-rich and receive money from property-tax levies. Others, especially in rural areas, are pressed.

Mecum said the Ohio Fostering Connections task force plans to ask the state — and not the individual counties — to pay the local tab for foster youths who remain in care after age 18.

“Part of our research will be showing the cost benefit to doing this in Ohio,” he said.

Mecum said the group, which is meeting later this month, is contracting with an Ohio State University professor to develop a cost estimate.

Chip Spinning, executive director of Franklin County Children Services, said the agency is interested in the idea. “We realize that many of our kids in our system, and even in the general population, are not ready to make it on their own in the adult world at that age,” he said.

But extending the age limit won’t be as beneficial as advocates hope unless the extra years of care are designed to prepare the youths for independence, said Crystal Allen, executive director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio.

Without program improvements, some experts agree, foster-care extensions may only delay homelessness instead of prevent it.

“Just doing more of the same isn’t sufficient,” said Amy Dworsky, a senior researcher at Chapin Hall, a child and family research center at the University of Chicago. “You need to provide them with the kind of housing options and experiences that are going to help them.”

Dworsky said extended foster care already is making a difference in high-school and post-secondary education. She thinks that re-entry provisions also are important, so that foster teens who decide not to continue care after turning 18 have a chance to change their minds.

In states where care extends to age 21, most foster teens opt to stay. “I think the youth know a good thing when they see it,” Dworsky said.

Mecum said the task force wants to make clear the struggle that many foster youths face. “These kids are more likely to be homeless than other kids, and new information from the state of Ohio shows that they’re also likely to be targets of human trafficking,” he said.

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Fostering A Better Future

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Family of Foster Care Kids Need Love Too, Vicki and Brian Bolick adopted a 7-year-old girl this year after first serving as her foster parents. For this article, they chose to keep her identity private.
Family of Foster Care Kids Need Love Too, Vicki and Brian Bolick adopted a 7-year-old girl this year after first serving as her foster parents. For this article, they chose to keep her identity private.

 

Brian Bolick had his arms wrapped around his 7-year-old daughter, playfully hugging her captive.

“What’s the magic word?” he asked.

She wiggled a bit before yelling “please,” but he only hugged her closer.

“It’s peanut butter,” Bolick exclaimed, as he opened his arms and the giggling little girl went running.

From watching them, it’s unlikely anyone would guess they aren’t biologically related.

What not even the Bolicks would have guessed, though, is the path that brought the family together.

Brian Bolick and his wife, Vicki, had been hoping to adopt an older child for years but didn’t know where to start.

“It’s a weird chain of events that got us to where we are,” he said. “To me, it was kind of fated in a way.”

It began when Bolick signed up in 2009 for Leadership Forsyth, an educational program that helps community members learn how to get involved.

Each year’s class selects a service project, and Bolick recalled hearing from many nonprofits with suggestions.

He felt a personal call to help when listening to the executive director of a then-emerging organization called Supporting Adoption and Foster Families Together, or SAFFT.

“I remember Ashley [Anderson] up there making her presentation,” he said, “and just me thinking, well this is exactly what we’ve been talking about. There’s no excuses. Here’s a way.”

They had planned on having a child naturally, Vicki Bolick said, “but it just never happened.”

Feeling happy as a family, but not whole, the couple had floated the topic of adoption for years. It wasn’t until hearing Anderson speak that they really began the process.

Brian Bolick decided to get involved with SAFFT even if the group didn’t select that project, but apparently others were as moved as he was with the organization’s work.

The class voted to renovate a home to create a safe visitation center for families. When the project was complete, Brian Bolick continued his work with SAFFT by joining the nonprofit’s board.

The couple had learned a lot about adoption through volunteer work with SAFFT and the friendships they formed. But even so, they had little success at first working with a private agency.

“We had more resources at our disposal than I would say the average person, and yet it was still very difficult,” he said. “Months and months would go by, and we would never hear from them about any children. We couldn’t understand it.”

What they eventually learned was that the path to adopt a newborn baby and an older child isn’t the same.

Older children are in foster care, and are typically reunified with a biological family member or adopted by their foster parents.

“If you want to adopt an older child, you pretty much need to be a foster parent,” Brian Bolick said.

Anderson, SAFFT director, suggested they work through the Department of Family and Children Services, or DFCS, instead of the private agency.

“Why don’t you guys just foster,” Anderson recalled saying, “and if a child is meant to be, it will happen.”

They started as a respite foster family, or one that is approved to care for a child when the primary foster parent cannot or needs a break.

In spring 2012, the Bolicks first began to spend time with the girl who would eventually become their daughter, whose identity they chose to keep private for this article.

They were about to leave for a cruise that April when they received a call from DFCS asking if they could take the girl for a week while her foster parent was out of town.

They canceled the trip.

“We knew that we were a possibility for her, and we loved her so much,” Brian Bolick said.

The couple got to spend more time with the girl. By June, they were approved as her foster parents.

Vicki Bolick said the months afterward were an emotional wait, wondering if the adoption would happen or if someone would come forward for her.

“You just don’t know,” she said. “So we took a chance because we felt like even if it didn’t work out, at least we would have made an impact and otherwise we were always better because of her.”

In March, the wait was over. They became a family.

There’s no doubt in their minds that they were “just meant to be,” Vicki Bolick said.

The years of waiting and of confusion hadn’t been without reason.

“It never felt right until we met her, and then I just knew,” she said. “I remember the first time I saw her. It was at the SAFFT Christmas event.

“We were just looking over at the playground and she was playing. I didn’t even really know much about her story, but I remember just looking over and I told Brian, ‘That’s going to be our child someday.’”

The Bolicks have continued their involvement with SAFFT — only there are three of them now.

The organization recently moved into its new, larger building on Castleberry Road, and Vicki Bolick lent her interior design talents — with the help of her daughter — to make the place a welcome one for children, the one their girl remembers.

The two are also willing to share their story, in hopes that others thinking of fostering or adopting can learn something about the difficult but rewarding journey.

Foster care, they found, still has a stigma. Some people would question why they were doing it.

Brian Bolick said he also thought people didn’t understand the true benefits of adoption and fostering.

“People say, ‘Oh, that’s a great thing you guys are doing,’” he said. “It’s really, we’ve gotten a lot more out of it.”

As Vicki Bolick recalled, Forsyth County Juvenile Court Judge Russell Jackson told them early on in the process that they didn’t need “a child,” but “the child.”

And they found her, she said.

“I always felt she was born in my heart.”

Meet Lisa Foster Care Kids Need Love Too Member

We want to thank Lisa Sternberg a member of the Foster Care Kids Need Love Too Family! for sharing her story. Meet Lisa, 27 years ago this day, DEC 20th 1986, five days before Christmas, I became a foster kid. I entered the “system”, set to be another statistic. The cards stacked against me, set to fail by society standards. Just another kid with a messed up life thanks to the sickness of a father. And it sucked…. a lot….and it hurt….still does. I spent years holding my breath waiting for life to go back to the way it was before, not understanding then that that life would have destroyed me even further than it already had. I almost gave up, I was ready to fail, I was ready to let the cards fall, I was part of the system…..
But what the system and the cards and society didn’t know is that there was this seed planted in me, long before anyone knew my name. I had this power to be an overcomer. I had this strength that no one else saw in me but God. I ran from Him, hated him, tried everything I could to destroy his creation…me. I drank as a teen, long before sixteen. I smoked. I attempted suicide, more than once, more than twice, more…, I was raped, I was promiscuous, I did drugs, I did all the things the world was telling me would make me feel better…and if I did them I would be normal, loved, not a number….all lies. Truth, God was there thru it all, waiting for me to fall.
Even thru all the turmoil I tried to put my best face and foot forward, and I had goals. I have traveled a lot and seen enough to feel life. I graduated high school with high honors and a full scholarship to College (from the system DCFS). I served my country (GO ARMY). I have a good life and great friends. I finally stopped being mad at God and let him have my life, he had it all along, and I just had to realize it would be better if he was in control. But perhaps the best thing I have ever done and the greatest lesson in life is the fact that I gave life to three beautiful children who will, God willing, never have to say on this day….I became a foster kid. Please support our movement. It takes a brave person with courage to share a sadden story. send your monetary donations to our cause https://www.wepay.com/donations/fostercarekidsneedlovetoo “Drawing Success” for the youth of our nation Happy Holidays!

Foster Care 5K set for Saturday

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Trinity Baptist Church is sponsoring the Foster Care 5K Saturday for the fourth straight year. The name, however, has been changed.

Previously, the event was called The Jesus Day 5K. Since the event assists families of foster care parents, the church decided to change the name to the Foster Care 5K.

The church works with the Oklahoma Department of Health and Human Services to benefit foster parents in Pontotoc County. Participants may sign up on line by going to trinityada.com, according to Chris Snowden, associate pastor.

This year’s event is expected to attract 140 foster children and their parents. They will also be the recipients of a special room full of gifts and much needed items, which will be purchased with some of the revenues from this race.

This year’s race begins at the Kerr Dome on the campus of East Central University.

Starting time is 8:30 a.m. with pre-registration beginning at 7:30 a.m. at the dome Saturday.

For more information, call Snowden at 580-320-2463.

Also send your monetary donations to https://www.wepay.com/donations/fostercarekidsneedlovetoo

DC Pastor Couple Mobilizes City Churches to Fill In Foster Care Gap

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A couple who co-founded a church in Washington, D.C. has brought their passion for providing for kids in need of a home and family to the nation’s capital, where over 3,000 kids are either in or on their way to the foster care system.
Aaron and Amy Graham while establishing the District Church learned about their new community and were convicted to share their fostering passion with their congregation. DC127, the initiative heading up this coordinated effort, aims to mobilize Washington’s dozens of churches to replace the current foster care waiting list with one full of families in line to receive.
“It’s surprising how many people there are that are committed to children welfare but how professionalized it has become,” said Aaron to The Christian Post on Monday. “There are incredible agencies and social workers… but the church has largely been absent.”
The Grahams found themselves accidental foster parents several years ago when they were co-pastoring the Quincy Street Missional Church in Dorchester, Mass. The couple devoted much of their time to the neighborhood’s youth.
“One of the youth that was 16 asked if he could stay with us for a couple of nights,” said Aaron. “We ended up fostering him for the entire summer.”
This interest in fostering and adoption, in combination with Amy’s Master’s degree and work experience in social work and Aaron’s community organizing background, led them several years later to adopt two children of their own.

Now years later after their first foster care experience, the Grahams have mobilized D.C. churches with the goal of “uniting to reverse the foster care wait list in Washington, D.C.”

Still in its beginning stages, the initiative in May brought Chelsea Geyer on board as the project coordinator to begin building partnerships with existing stakeholders. Greyer has spent much of her time meeting with government agencies like D.C.’s Child and Family Services, as well as other foster care NGO that have tackled these problems for years.

“What [DC127] didn’t want to do is recreate the wheel,” said Geyer. “We want to figure out how we can complement what is already being done.”

The organization took its name, DC127, from groups in Arizona and Colorado that shared similar foster care visions and James 1:27, which reads, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

While The District Church is fully on board with the DC127 initiative, the reality is that many of its roughly 300 attendees are transient twenty-something professionals – a population with a limited tradition of working in its community

Nikki Heidenreich, who has been attended the church for several months, understands this phenomenon well. “The tone of our church has been to challenge us in the short time we’re here and to say, ‘don’t be here and not invest in it,'” said Heidenreich. “Still, so many are striving in the city for themselves and their own ambition. D.C. is a means to an end and the problems of the people and their families who have lived here just get swept under the rug.”

The District Church sees aligning these 20-somethings with churches that have more couples, families or individuals with capacities to serve specifically as foster parents as key to sustainably tackling the foster care problem, through prayer gatherings, workshops, education and trainings.

“We don’t want people to just sign-up and think that this cause is just a cool-thing, without realizing how difficult it really is to foster and adopt or do the millennial thing – get distracted by the next thing,” said Aaron. “We’re really trying to educate people on how important it is to support families that are fostering or adopting. We need people that will pray, cook meals and babysit.”

Aaron also acknowledges the necessity the importance of DC127 leading frank and honest conversations about the impact race will have on their work.

“Anyone who is a student of D.C. culture knows that race underlies every conversation,” he said. “We want to help those who are considering [foster care] if there are transracial aspects, so that they can make informed choices. Too often people assume that because race isn’t an issue for them, it won’t be an issue for their family. Unfortunately, there’s the reality of our world and many people still see things through the lens of race. We are committed to helping to educate.”

Heidenreich is appreciative and supportive of the hard work that her church is tackling.

“I am proud of my church,” said Heidenreich. “Some churches can over-extend themselves and not be effective. I think they’re really doing their homework. It’s a brave move. There’s simpler things they could

.