Days of prayer by The CALL to raise awareness for Foster Care Awareness

Annually, May is recognized as Foster Care Awareness Month, this year is no different. 
According to the website childwelfare.gov, Foster Care Awareness month is “a time to acknowledge foster parents, family members, volunteers, mentors, policy makers, child welfare professionals and other members of the community who help children and youth in foster care find permanent homes and connections.” For 2020, the theme for national Foster Care Awareness Month is “Foster care as a support to families, not a substitute for parents.”
During a speech last year Deborah West, county coordinator of the The CALL in Drew County, said “It is the community that says we see you and you are not alone because the Lord sets the lonely in families, (Psalms 68:6) and we are that family.” 
Our local area has many agencies who work year round to support the children of Drew County who are in the foster care system for a variety of reasons. The Arkansas Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries, Vera Lloyd Presbyterian Family Services, Arkansas Department of Human Services, Children’s Advocacy Center of South East Arkansas, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children, The CALL and Families in Needs of Services all work together to support the children of Drew County and to bring awareness to the mission of the state and local programs for foster children.
The CALL in Drew County is one of the agencies that support local foster children and is an organization that was founded on biblical principles.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress …” James 1:27
This Bible verse, specifically the call to care for orphans, is what began The CALL (Children in Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime) organization. Its mission is “to educate, equip and encourage the Christian community to provide a future and a hope for children in foster care in Arkansas.”
In 2007, Mary Carol Pederson and her husband Jason were foster parents when they learned how few families there were in the state of Arkansas and how many homes were needed, Deborah West, the Drew County coordinator for The CALL explained. 
Mrs. Pederson went to her pastor for help because of the verse above. West said she realized this need was the church’s job and a biblical mandate. Her pastor agreed, West continued, but said there was no way they could do it by themselves. They gathered other community church leaders and The CALL was born.
Since its inception, The CALL has grown to 43 counties. The CALL now goes into churches and educates the congregation about the need for foster homes in Drew County.
“Our family is not big enough yet to meet the need of our Drew County kids,” said West in her speech, “most of our organizations are understaffed, they don’t have enough volunteers and there aren’t enough foster families to take care of our kids.”
In the four-county area of Ashley, Desha, Chicot and Drew, The CALL in Drew County covers, there are only nine homes open, West explained, meaning almost all the kids in Southeast Arkansas are sent out of the area. 
“When a kid gets removed from their home, that is a traumatic experience anyway,” West noted. “Most of those kids from hard places. Usually, their school and their church are their only support system. Not only have they lost their family, they have lost that built in support system they have created for themselves. It is equally traumatic.”
When a child goes in to foster care the goal is always reunification of the family, West said. There are usually weekly visits involved. If a child is sent out of the area and the parent is unable to travel, the case worker has to take the child out of school and travel with that child back to Drew County for their visits. 
“They miss a whole day of school,” West added, “so now, we are behind academically while also being damaged emotionally and having all this trauma in our life.”
The CALL works to recruit and train foster families within the local churches in order to mitigate the damage and trauma caused by a child’s removal from their home.
“What we try to do is educate the church, mobilize the church, for them to understand the need for kids to stay at home,” West explained. “For them to grasp that it is our job, as a Christian, to do that and a lot of churches don’t teach that. 
“It’s like you don’t know you need a flu vaccine until you are told you need one. So, if people don’t know we don’t have enough homes then they don’t know we need homes.”
That is the message that The CALL is trying to get out.
“We just need 20 churches in each county—and not one kid will have to leave Southeast Arkansas,” West pleaded.
The CALL is not just preaching to the choir. West and her husband, William, have four children that found their family in the Wests about seven years ago. The organization supports those families who do answer the Christian mandate to care for orphans.
According to West, The CALL supports the families through getting approval to be a foster family, support groups and by helping the churches understand what type of support a foster family will need after a placement has been made. This could include everything from bringing meals to a family who just received a child to helping with the housework to just having someone who can listen when things get a little rough.
Normally to raise awareness for Foster Care, The CALL participates in flocking, where they are paid to place a flock of flamingoes in yards around town. This helps to raise awareness, get the community involved and helps raise money for their foster care mission. However, in light of the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, The CALL is postponing any flocking until restrictions have been listed. They will host the event later in the year as the circumstances permit. 
However, The CALL isn’t sitting this month out. This year, during the month of May, the organization will be hosting 31 days of prayer on Facebook. Each day, beginning Wednesday, April 28,  The CALL of Drew County facebook page will post an image along with a prayer. 
During these difficult times, The CALL of Drew County seeks to raise awareness but is sensitive to the needs of the community and asks for citizens to join them in the next 31 days of prayer.   

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