LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – How can churches in Kentucky help keep children out of the foster care system or, once they are there, make sure they have what they need to begin to heal and feel the love they need?
One way is through the new Gateway program of the Orphan Care Alliance. The program allows social workers to post needs of at-risk families and foster families for churches to see with hopes that church members can help meet those needs.
Meeting the requests of social workers throughout Kentucky to keep families together is a goal of the expanding Orphan Care Alliance Gateway program, said Executive Director Darren Washausen.
“There are various needs always being sought out by social workers who are trying to reunify biological families, keep kids and parents together,” Washausen said. “Social work can be a thankless job. They need help.”
Social workers spend a lot of valuable time trying to find out what these families and foster families need and then trying to figure out how to meet those requests, he said. Volunteers from church congregations throughout the state can allow some of those needs to be met.
“The Gateway intent is to allow social workers to be able to put needs that they have for foster families into the system and then, on the other side of the equation, getting church congregations to be a volunteer for Gateway,” Washausen said.
Physical needs such as providing beds or cribs to meet home living standards, fixing a leaking roof or even mowing a law to meet neighborhood code can make a difference in keeping a family together, he said.
Sometimes children are removed from foster care not because of abuse or neglect, but for physical reasons that could have been easily prevented.
The program has worked well in Jefferson County where as many as 50 social workers are signed up and receive volunteer assistance, Washausen said. The goal is to take the initiative beyond the Louisville area.
Dale Suttles, the head of Sunrise Children’s Services, the orphan care arm of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, endorsed the statewide expansion of the Gateway program.
“I think this is what we’re called to do,” he said. “I just think, as far as Sunrise goes, we serve families in 120 counties. Our foster families have needs. This is a way Christians can get involved in a unique way. It’s a way for them to get off the sidelines.”
Suttles said “families are in dire need of furniture, groceries, cribs, helping with housing. Orphan Care Alliance is trying to center on these physical needs of these families, families struggling to keep family together or foster families that don’t always have the way to meet needs because they could be limited financially.”
The churches were a logical starting point toward expansion of the program, Washausen said.
“It’s very easily expanded throughout the state,” he said. “We’re not charging the state or churches or individuals. We’re simply trying to make a connection. If there’s a need, let’s meet those needs.”
OCA Gateway is currently moving into counties south of Jefferson County in the Salt River Trail Region, Washausen said. They are also working with a “little pocket” in Winchester, Kentucky, he said.
“We can get the volunteers ahead of time in the system that can meet those needs,” he said.
Getting churches and its members involved as part of the volunteer force is essential to the ultimate goal of keeping families united.
“The number one need is to get the churches signed up for Gateway,” Washausen said. “It’s not the churches we need as much as the members. It’s the congregation members that drive the activity.”
The OCA Gateway is an interactive way to meet needs that come from state workers who are onboard with the program, according to Washausen.
The online forms allow volunteers to see the needs and then meet them, he said.
“There is such a need throughout the state to provide homes for kids,” Suttles said. “We don’t have enough. Christians are called, if they can, to get involved. Then we need to surround those homes with the support they need. It’s time for all for us to just get involved.”