Embrace Oregon is a movement asking the key question, “What would it look like if we as a community lived into embracing the most vulnerable children among us?”
And it’s no mystery where the most vulnerable children in our community go – through the doors of a Department of Human Services (DHS) Child Welfare office.
My husband, Luke, and I have been foster parent’s for 11 years and have 4 children, ages 9 and under, two of them we fostered before adopting them.
Two years ago I asked my certifier the question, “What are children doing when they are sitting in a DHS office awaiting a foster placement?” Her answer was, “We are scrambling each and every time to occupy the child.” This prompted me and others in my faith community to start thinking about what could be done to be a tangible blessing to both kids in this vulnerable time of waiting and staff who could have something to count on giving every child waiting in the office. (When I talk about my faith community working in partnership with a government agency, what I mean is people motivated by their faith to love and to serve with open hands and open hearts. No hidden agendas. No bait and switch. We are people who believe that everyone is better off when we are working hand in hand to love our neighbors.) Welcome boxes – age appropriate boxes to occupy children while awaiting placement – took off in a way nobody could have anticipated. The 300 that I had hoped would come in at my local branch have now turned into 7,000 boxes made by the community to date. Clearly, the idea of tangibly helping local children in foster care in this way caught on like wildfire with many churches at the forefront. But the beauty of these
Welcome Boxes is that they became the catalyst for some natural questions such as, “Why are these kids waiting for so long in the office in the first place? Why are there a lack of foster homes?” and “Would my help and support be welcomed in other ways?”
This flood of interest and involvement is what has led to the creation of Embrace Oregon.
Embrace Oregon is privileged to sit down with the DHS leadership in the tri-county area and humbly ask, “What are the needs of vulnerable children and families and how can we come alongside you to meet them?” So far, what we’ve heard from DHS has prompted us to focus on four areas.
1. We seek to create community awareness around the need for more foster families.
We have a need for 884 more foster families in the Portland metro area. This need became very real to me when our family recently said “yes” to returning to being on the emergency placement list in Multnomah County. I knew there was an urgent need for more certified foster families to be available on evenings and weekends when the DHS office is closed and child is taken into protective custody. I honestly wasn’t prepared to see how stark the need currently is in our community.
There was the call on a Friday evening at 5:30 to take in a 2 year old, a call on Saturday night at midnight asking if we had space for 2 girls, ages 6 and 8, found riding tri-met with their severely intoxicated father, a text on Sunday asking if we had room for a 7 year old boy found wandering the streets. There was a call for a child who showed up to school with bruises, and the 5 year old twins needing a home that could take them together so they wouldn’t have to be separated. These are some of the 23 heart-wrenching calls I personally have received in March and April of this year being on the emergency hotline list.
We NEED more safe, loving, nurturing homes – people stepping into Foster Care for all the right reasons – so that these vulnerable children in our community can experience warmth and safety.
2. We seek to create on-ramps to directly partner with DHS Child Welfare
We don’t want your two choices to be “become a Foster Parent” or “do nothing.” There are so many ways to use your gifts, time and talents in this middle space we call on-ramps. There’s tangible opportunities, like making an apartment starter kit for kids aging out of foster care and giving foster families a much needed 4-hour break through Foster Parent Night Out. There are opportunities to help with transportation of children in foster care and for small groups to be trained to wrap relational support around families that DHS has identified as being at-risk of having their kids removed.
Embrace Oregon is really excited to highlight a brand new initiative we’re just beginning and desire to launch at all Child Welfare offices in the tri-county area called Office Moms and Dads. Children now are given Welcome Boxes when awaiting a placement, but there is a lot DHS has to do in a short amount of time when taking a child into custody and searching for a foster home. Office Moms and Dad’s sole job is to care for and entertain the child during this vulnerable time of waiting.
3. We seek to develop a counter-narrative to create a more positive ethos around people and needs of DHS Child Welfare.
Often times in mainstream media we hear about the most egregious failures of DHS, selfish motives of foster parents and hopeless situations with birth parents.
As a foster and adoptive parent through DHS, I know there are many foster parents as well as DHS workers who have a deep desire to care well for vulnerable children and their families. Though I don’t have on rose-colored glasses, Embrace Oregon believes it’s important for our community to see and acknowledge the positive. I encourage you to visit http://embraceoregon-org.ekko.me/stories to read and watch our stories.
4. We seek to provide hospitality to both the families DHS Child Welfare serves and the staff who serve them.
Embrace Oregon is rooted in relationship. Relationship has been the foundation of this movement. One of the pillars of hospitality is the makeovers Embrace Oregon has done. We desire to have the Child Welfare offices communicate dignity, worth and value and to children and to staff who are often on the front lines of our community’s most heart-wrenching family situations. Six volunteer-led makeovers have been done so far. $167, 000 has donated by faith communities and local businesses. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive on all accounts.
Embrace Oregon is so much more than one person, one faith community, one organization. It’s a movement, a concept, an idea. I invite you to consider how you can EMBRACE. We welcome you joining us. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out our website.