An estimated 153 million orphans around the world and countless children displaced from their homes through family crises are faced with an ongoing shortage of resources to meet their basic needs. In the Houston area, including Fort Bend County and counties throughout Southeast Texas, the number of children in the Foster Care system exceeds the number of licensed foster homes to care for them. Families who are stepping up to provide a solution for children in these vulnerable populations don’t have to go it alone.
Legacy 685, an adoption, foster and orphan care ministry of Houston’s First Baptist Church, connects, equips and sustains families and organizations locally and throughout the world with financial resources, education, and other practical help in navigating the unique situations they face. Legacy 685 derives its name from Psalm 68:5, which reveals that God forms “forever” families and sustains family members during their healing journey.
Late last year, Legacy 685 expanded its presence to the Sienna Campus of Houston’s First where it will focus on assisting foster and adoptive families in Fort Bend and surrounding counties.
“We want to shore up families in crisis,” said Legacy 685 Director Toni Steere. “In this way, we love our neighbor as ourselves.”
The launch of Legacy at the Sienna and Cypress Campuses of Houston’s First in 2018 carries forward Steere’s vision and leadership for the ministry founded by a church member at The Loop Campus more than a decade ago. Largely led by those who have or are currently adopting or fostering, all Legacy trainers and mentors are themselves living out the mission they seek to advance in the fostering and adoption community.
“Many foster and adoptive families do not have the support system they need,” said Courtney Scott who with her husband Tyler, children’s minister at the Sienna Campus, lead the campus’ Legacy ministry. “It has been a privilege connecting families with each other and being a listening ear and resource for them.”
The Scotts have themselves been in the trenches caring for children with traumatic life stories. Before Tyler joined the staff at the Sienna Campus, he and Courtney spent four years as family teachers at a residential treatment home in Omaha, Nebraska. There they lived with nine high school boys where they provided a stable home life while raising their own young family. Their ministry at Nebraska’s Boys Town laid the groundwork to be Legacy leaders and mentors.
Steere works with local leaders like the Scotts to create and sustain vital partnerships that will advance the breadth and quality of services to fostering and adoptive families wherever Legacy can make an impact.
One such Legacy partner is Fostering Family, begun last year by former Houston’s First member Amber Knowles, who worked as a pediatric nurse practitioner until being called to assist adoptive and fostering families. Knowles and her husband Drew adopted their three-year-old son through foster care and took in his biological brother, who they will begin adopting later this year.
“We have such a tight-knit church community,” said Knowles. “We had wonderful support in fostering and adopting and we wanted others in our situation to experience the same kind of support.”
As Knowles and her husband lived as fostering and adoptive parents, she began to explore the system in more detail and walked away with a few vital observations.
Knowing Houston’s First was a key player in the orphan care community, Knowles explored ways she could create a ministry to strengthen fostering and adoptive families and the organizations that serve them in the Houston area.
“Everyone I talked to, even outside of Houston, regarded Toni Steere as one of the most well-versed and connected in the community of fostering and adoption,” said Knowles. “The best way to impact the foster care community is to be strategic in our collaboration and in unifying the church to care for vulnerable children.”
Fostering Family partners with nine Houston area agencies: Arrow Child & Family Ministries; Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS); DePelchin Children’s Center; Homes with Hope; Upbring; Pathways; Presbyterian Children’s Homes (PCHAS); Arms Wide Adoption Services; and Grace Manor.
Fostering Family’s training equips fostering and adoptive parents, and collaborates with agencies, churches and businesses to build bridges between them and families who foster and adopt. Knowles teaches Babysitter Certification Training classes, which include Trauma-Informed Caregiving, Child Protective Policies, CPR, and Medications. She is also a Trauma Competent Caregiver trainer.
“If there is a lack of support for these families, they may stop fostering,” said Knowles. “These couples need occasional date nights, grocery shopping trips alone, and time away to be refreshed. Becoming a State-certified babysitter is a great way to support fostering families.”
Knowles will lead the next Babysitter Certification Training in early summer at the Sienna Campus to train family, close friends or church members to care for children in a specific foster family while the parents get away for a few hours.
Steere understands that not everyone is led to adopt or foster children, but she says lending a hand makes a world of difference in the lives of those who do. “Not everyone can do everything,” said Steere, “but everyone can do something.”
Gatherings, Bible studies, training and special events are held at the Sienna Campus of Houston’s First or other nearby locations to connect, equip and sustain fostering and adoptive families. To learn more, contact Legacy 685 here.
A baby came into the foster care system in Fort Bend County last year, and the closest location with a foster family to care for a six month-old child was in Austin, Texas.
The baby’s family lacked the financial resources to make the trip to Austin to stay connected with the baby. Though the family was actively working their plan with the state to have the child returned, the bond between the child and the biological family grew thinner and thinner.
This particular family had what it takes to raise this little girl, but because they did not have the funds to visit her in Austin, it was counted against them, and the judge terminated parental rights.
Her biological family suffered an incredible loss as the baby girl was adopted into another family. It could have been avoided had she not been placed outside the region because of a lack of nearby foster families.
— Toni Steere, Director, Legacy 685