As COVID spread this year, adoption, foster care and pro-life counseling ministries met the crisis with faith and changes to their day-to-day operations.
“The pandemic has definitely made a challenging work even more challenging,” said Ramona Conrad Cooper, vice president of Missouri Baptist Children and Family Ministries. “The majority of adoptions that we help facilitate are when children or youth are in state custody due to abuse and/or neglect.”
The organization, an affiliate of Missouri Baptist Children’s Home, has served at-risk children for decades. It runs a treatment foster-care program for children and youth who have behavioral and emotional needs and are unable to live with their own families but do not need the structured environment of a residential facility.
“Relatives such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and foster parents are essential when children must be removed from their parents,” Cooper said, adding that if the parents’ rights are terminated, relatives and foster parents often step up to provide a forever home for these children through adoption. “We are required to provide regular visits to the home prior to adoption finalization to ensure the child is doing well.”
Social-distancing regulations have required that many of these visits be accomplished virtually or through a curbside visit. If family members are not available or are unable to be considered as alternate family placement, then the organization must look into foster care as a safe alternative for the children.
Cooper said foster parents may be more hesitant about taking in children who may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. This can make it difficult to find a home, especially on an emergency basis. The pandemic also has made it a challenge to recruit people as foster parents.
Ruth Tisdale, director of Client Services at Advice & Aid Pregnancy Centers, said the pandemic is a personal as well as organizational challenge. The organization, which has an office in Shawnee and Overland Park, Kan., serves women in unplanned pregnancies and helps guide them to adoption if they seek that alternative. “The work done at Advice & Aid is ‘essential’ to those experiencing an unexpected pregnancy, and even more during a health crisis,” Tisdale says.
“Literally overnight, we were thrust into deciphering information and making decisions that we had never dreamed of before this pandemic,” she said. “Walking into the offices alone during this uncertain time was one of the most overwhelming times of my life.”
Social distancing also changed how Advice & Aid deals with staff and meetings. “I felt a great responsibility for the safety and health of the staff, volunteers and clients that entered our locations,” Tisdale said.
Tisdale and her team continued to evaluate and determine what the next best steps were to service their clients and keep them and their staff safe. While shortening their workday, and work-week, they worked to meet as many of their clients’ needs as possible. She says they accomplished this by limiting the number of people in the office on a daily basis. Normally, the staff works with a large number of wonderful volunteers. However, they chose to have the volunteers discontinue coming in to assist at the office.
It was during this time, they noticed another change that was taking place.
“While there were many personnel and procedural changes happening, we also noticed a change in our clients,” she says. “We went from seeing about 30 percent of clients being abortion minded to 70 percent being abortion minded in a two-week period.
With fewer volunteers, she says “the heaviness emotionally and spiritually was beginning to take its toll on me and the rest of the staff. We were so excited to invite our volunteers back in June. Our volunteers are truly fearless and courageous in this battle for life!”
The Show-Me-Christian Youth Home also had to adapt to a new normal when the pandemic hit. For more than 50 years, the home has served as an alternative to state-based foster care, provided from a Christian worldview. At each of the 10 homes and two campuses in Missouri, children of any age from across the country find a safe, stable, loving home and family, and ongoing community of support designed to help them overcome the struggles of their past and find success for their future.
With the guidance of professionals, a customized environment is created for each young life to thrive. Children have the opportunity for a self-paced education, professional counseling, therapeutic services, sports, the arts and signature programs designed to develop the character and life skills they will need to become successful and productive adults. Children don’t “age out” of the Show-Me program, they “age-into” healthy adults. Going beyond the limits of traditional foster care, Show-Me continues to serve a bridge to adulthood by providing them with the necessary resources and support networks they need to make the transition.
The organization’s flexible and self-paced educational format, Accelerated Christian Education, works well with the pandemic. With the use of rotating schedules, families were able to meet with school administrators for testing. Regular counseling sessions were maintained through video conferencing. In May, all 46 students in Show-Me’s care were able to complete their classes with passing grades, and the five seniors were able to graduate and received their diplomas.
“Due to social distancing, this year’s graduation was a small event with only immediate family attending,” stated Director Chad Puckett. “Those not able to attend in person watched the ceremony online. Face masks were as much in style as the traditional cap and gown.”
Although they had to adapt to the new standards to maintain a healthy environment, he said the changes also brought about some good.
“There were even benefits to being quarantined at home,” she said. “No longer having to juggle sports schedules and church visits, house-parents found some much-appreciated downtime. The kids helped with projects around the house and campus. Some of the older boys helped Nathan Smith finish putting together horse stalls for Leadership U.”
The extra time also helped the three new sets of house-parents get settled into their new surroundings. Families coordinated movie nights on the lawn, pool times and other activities for the kids. Pick-up games of volleyball, basketball and kickball were organized. They united around kitchen tables and backyards to play games or talk. Using their musical talents, some kids lead worship in the homes on Sunday while others sang or read scripture..
As the world braces to continue to deal with the COVID epidemic, and adapt as well as it can, Puckett had this to share.
“COVID-19 may have caught the world by surprise, but not God,” he said. “We know that times like this magnify problems and hardships for families. Too often, children are the ones caught in the middle. Situations like this reflect on how crucial our ministry is to take care of these vulnerable lives, and to show Christ’s message of love in action, not just words. In faith, we continue to strive ahead carrying on the mission He has given us. And, thanks to you, we know that we are not alone.”
The decrease in current foster families also limits the respite options for foster families. However, despite the new challenges and difficulties the pandemic has presented, people’s faith through God’s love has come through and answered the prayers of children needing placement.
“Despite all of the challenges, there are wonderful people out there,” Conrad-Cooper said. “They’re the relatives and those who say yes to foster parenting, motivated by Christ’s love, who step up to the plate to care for these special children and youth.”
Tisdale, with Advice & Aid, says God was at work in her staff and volunteers as well. “Our volunteers are truly fearless and courageous in this battle for life!” she says. “We are so thankful to God for His amazing provision, His faithfulness, and His goodness!”
–Amy Buster | Metro Voice