Above photo, top row: Justin and Christie Hayes. Bottom row: Marley, Jonah, London, Ethan, Carter, Meagan.
June 2021 – “If a child does not find love and acceptance in a family, they will turn to whoever will show them love and acceptance,” said Justin Hayes.
A 2019 Children’s Bureau report listed more than 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system. In East Texas, a group of God-fearing foster and adoptive parents began to see how this issue impacted their community and wanted to do something about it.
To minister to everyone in the system required the recruitment of as many people as possible. And what better place to start than the church? In 2019, The Fostering Collective (TFC) officially opened its doors as a support system for families, children, and the church to grasp the necessity of foster care.
TFC executive director Justin Hayes and his wife Christie previously worked with an orphan ministry in East Africa. As the Lord began to move in their hearts, they soon realized what they were called to do in the States.
“I felt they were taking better care of orphans in East Africa than we were in East Texas,” said Hayes.
The couple began fostering and has adopted three children while raising three biological children. But Hayes did more than grow his family. He began shining a light on foster care in his hometown through TFC.
“We are driven by one statistic,” said Hayes. “It says that over half of foster families quit within the first year due to lack of support.”
Hayes testified that fostering came with many emotional challenges. Yet, he was thankful for the couples who walked beside them daily, reminding them of God’s call and how they were obedient. At TFC, he and his team do the same.
Building a bridge
Located in Tyler, Texas, TFC strategically ministers to 10 counties. Known as a bridge ministry, TFC reaches out to potential families, government agencies, and churches to help them better understand the needs of foster care.
“What we do is similar to air traffic control,” Hayes continued. “We operate as a bridge between many other organizations and child placing agencies in the area to help connect everyone to churches.”
TFC connects East Texas through monthly meetings with agencies and specific support groups for the family. For example, the Dad Collective and the Mom Collective focus on serving parents individually, and the Family Collective helps connect children and parents for a time of fellowship and equipping.
“We talk about our families, our kids, and our struggles,” said Hayes.
Through these groups, TFC gives families a chance to connect and express what is going on in their lives. By providing a sense of community, TFC encourages families to carry on.
Serving older children
Due to their age, older children and teens are harder to place. When teens do not have a placement, they are often held at a Child Protective Services office or a temporary location, leaving them susceptible to dangers.
In 2017 the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found that of 25,000 runaways, 1 in 7 were victims of sex trafficking. Eighty-eight percent of those runaways fled social service care. As well as trafficking, children from foster care often land in the prison system. Of those on death row, 80% of inmates were once foster kids.
At TFC, with such shocking statistics, it became obvious that something had to be done to raise awareness. So, driven by passion from the Lord, TFC began working with other organizations to share the need for more foster families and more support throughout the community.
Learning to let go
Foster care is a temporary placement for children. The ultimate goal is to restore the child to his or her biological family. With this in mind, TFC spends time teaching potential foster parents to understand the importance of reconnection.
“We spend a lot of time talking with couples about what it means to foster. But also, what it means to be ready to let go,” said Hayes.
Not every child can return to his or her family, but those who can, should. Before choosing to foster, parents should understand the goal is to restore children to their families rather than only rescue them from imperfect situations. Along with this, foster parents should desire and pray for the biological parents’ redemption.
“I heard a judge say we’re not looking for the best family because that’s not what they need,” said Hayes. “They need their biological family if that’s a possibility.”
Calling the church
“If we can come alongside churches and offer support to foster families,” said Hayes, “we will help them continue fostering as well as thriving, as those around them support them.”
Fostering in a Christ-centered environment can change the life of a child who has not known or felt love. God’s Word is clear when it comes to caring for the most vulnerable, and the church must be called to action.
“The church is called to care for these children,” Hayes continued. “Other ways of caring for them will fall short. The government has tried to care for children, but without the love of Christ, these children will not understand real love.”
The next step
▶ TFC provides churches with statistics, ways to minister, and opportunities for congregants to engage. Contact TFC at thefosteringcollective.org or 903.253.9144.
▶ Reframing Foster Care by Jason Johnson.
▶ The Connected Parent by Karyn Purvis, Ph.D., and Lisa Qualls.
Fostering impact at AFA
Several AFA employees are foster parents and were pleased to share its impact on their families.
Before fostering, we never understood all the things these kids go through. They suffer pain for losing all they knew. We also never knew the love we could have for a child that wasn’t biologically ours.
— Adam (and Amy) Sudduth
One revelation we had is how much we had not appreciated our parents and the difficulties they may have had raising us. Another is how quickly children learn and grow, and every moment is a teaching moment.
— Robert (and Beth) Youngblood
We have never been more exhausted, but it is so worth it. We feel like fostering is about as close to being like Jesus as you can get. God calls us to put our whole hearts out there, and our hearts might be broken at the end. We open our home, family, our entire lives to strangers that we end up falling in love with. We’re thankful God called us to foster.
— Anne (and Will) Cockrell
The Lord has taught us patience, love, endurance, and compassion through fostering. The biggest lesson is that fostering is as much for us as it is for the child. Usually, when we think of fostering, we think of “saving” a child, but we have learned that sometimes God places a child in our path to save us as well as the child. God has incredible ways of working in our lives and providing for our needs in ways that sometimes we don’t even know that we need. We have seen His hand at work through fostering in incredible ways that changed not only the lives of the children in our care, but also our own.
— Bo (and Heather) Hefner