By Bonnie Mentel
The Florida Baptist Children’s Home has been providing care for children for the past 112 years. It has headquarters in Lakeland, but offices and ministries throughout the state of Florida. It runs many foster care ministries throughout the state and recently expanded its program to the Tampa Bay area.
“Foster care is the heart of the church. There’s no doubt about that. It’s Christ’s calling – it’s what He calls us to do and we stand behind that mission whole-heartedly. It’s a major need in the Hillsborough County area and many people living in Hillsborough County don’t realize that,” said Director of Foster Care Ministries for the Florida Baptist Children’s Home Jodi Bennett.
Bennett said that there is a huge deficit of foster care providers in the area. Hillsborough county has more children in foster care per capita than anywhere else in the state. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office receives information regarding potential abuse or neglect of a child or children in a home.
“At that time, they’ll go out and perform an investigation. If they determine that the child can no longer remain safely in the home, they will remove the children. Initially, when they remove the children, they will look for a relative or non-relative caregiver; someone who the child is comfortable with. Unfortunately, many families don’t have that option and when they don’t, that’s when the children have to enter into foster care and that’s where we step in,” Bennett said.
In order to become a foster parent through Florida Baptist Children’s Home, the applicants should be a Christian who attends an evangelical church where they’re fairly active. The applicant must be 21 years of age, whether married or not. If the person is single, he/she must have someone who can provide emergency back-up care.
There is also a mandatory 21-hour course called “Professional Parenting Training” and one three-hour training session. These can be completed during weeknights in three-hour increments or on three consecutive Saturdays.
“During that time we start the home study process. That’s when we sit down with our parents and really get to know them; get to know their heart for children and why they’ve chosen to foster. We do some background screening in that process,” Bennett said.
There is a monetary allowance for foster parents, which is just about enough to take care of the child’s need. The Florida Baptist Children’s Home pre-qualifies applicants to ensure that they are financially stable.
“We believe that Christian families are the absolute answer. We want these children to know the love of Christ, especially when they’re going through such a traumatic situation. We obviously believe that Christ has the power to heal and that is exactly what these children and these families need,” Bennett said.
There is a huge need for foster homes that will accept a sibling group. Not many places can keep siblings together and it can be traumatic for the children to be split up. There is also a major need for homes that will care for teenagers.
The Professional Parenting Training class is typically offered quarterly, but if a church wanted to hold a session with three to five families, the staff would go to that church. The next regular session starts in July. For more info on becoming a foster care parent or to register for training, contact Jodi.firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.fbchomes.org/our-care/foster-care.