Mississippi Church’s Foster Care Initiative Embraced Statewide

Anna Griffin and her husband Scott adopted Skylar-Rose from foster care when she was 2 and a half years old as part of the Rescue 100 initiative of Michael Memorial Baptist Church in Gulfport, Miss. Photo submitted

What started as a pastor’s burden for orphans has impacted the lives of hundreds of at-risk children and their families as well as Mississippi’s child welfare system.

In 2015, as Tony Karnes of Michael Memorial Baptist Church in Gulfport was preparing a sermon, he took to heart James 1:27, which implores Christians to “visit orphans … in their affliction.”

Karnes, senior pastor of Michael Memorial, subsequently visited the Harrison County children’s shelter, which “was filled with children,” some who had been taken from their homes due to neglect or abuse. Karnes learned that the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services (CPS) removes children at a 4-to-1 rate on the Gulf Coast, compared to the rest of the state.

Some of the children in the shelter, which was intended for short-term stays, had been there for months because no foster homes were available, Karnes said. He returned to the church with a vision for recruiting 100 Harrison County families to be licensed as foster homes and to “rescue” some of those children from the shelter.

About 50 church families volunteered, but the state’s time-consuming foster home licensing process could span a year or longer. So Karnes and church members developed and proposed to CPS a streamlined three-month foster care licensing process that includes online and one Saturday of training.

Rescue 100 became the program’s named based on Karnes’s original goal.

Rescue 100 is promoted primarily in churches. More than 100 foster families in Hancock County and a total of more than 300 families statewide have been licensed since the program’s inception in April 2016, said Sabrea Smith, CPS director of Rescue 100.

It has helped create a “foster care movement throughout the church community,” Smith said. “We are seeing our churches wrap around not only our foster families and foster children, but even our biological families to help provide services for them to stay together.

“It’s just amazing to watch and be a part of,” Smith said. “We have churches all across the state now that are providing services like support groups, care closets, counseling, meals for our foster families. You just name it and they’re seeing a need and they’re jumping in there and getting it done, which takes a lot of the stress and pressure off of the foster care system.”

Karnes said he’s seen the impact of the foster care movement right where it all began.

“The shelter that was originally filled with children — that got my attention and got me into this — is now empty. Children don’t stay there more than a couple of days. … All those kids are living in wonderful homes now. But similar things have happened all over the state.”

Some children who might have otherwise been in the shelter have been fostered in homes of Michael Memorial church members licensed through Rescue 100.

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Source: Baptist Press