Jessica Smith

DC127 Stand Sunday Prayer – 2017

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Stand Sunday is November 12, 2017. Please join us, and others around the world, in lifting families in foster care up in prayer. Feel free to use this prayer in your community and modify as you’d like. You can find a pdf of this here.

Reader:

On this Stand Sunday, we join with your people across our city, country, and world to pray for children. We know that love for these precious children begins not with us, but with you. You pursued us when we were wayward and alone. You adopted us as your children. You invite us to address you as a parent and to live as your sons and daughters. Truly, we love because you first loved us.

Church:

Lord, hear our prayers.

Reader:

You tell us also that you are near to the downtrodden and destitute. Your heart aches for children that face the world alone. You champion the cause of those who have no one else to take their side. And you call us to do the same.

Church:

Lord, be near to these children. Use us to be your hands and feet.

Reader:

We pray that you would rouse us to share your heart. We ask that you would stir your people to passion and vision and action on behalf of children that have no family and those in families who are in crisis. We lift up to you the 960 children in DC’s foster care system. Provide them with stable homes, whether adoptive or biological, please give each of these children a loving family to grow up in.

Church:

Lord, hear our prayers.

Reader:

We lift up to you the over 1,700 children in DC who are at risk of entering foster care. Provide for their needs. Give each father and mother who is working so hard to care for their children the strength and support they need to stabilize their family.

Church:

Lord, hear our prayers.

Reader:

We also remember the over 415,000 children in foster care in the United States. As this number rises alongside the national opioid epidemic, give wisdom to those who are responding. Bring relief for the overburdened foster care agencies, and call new foster families to respond to the overwhelming need.

We remember the millions of children globally who have lost their parents to disease, war, and poverty. As you promise to do, place the lonely in families. Be their defender, their provider, their hope, and their peace. Bring healing to children affected by trauma and bring peace to those displaced by war. Help us to do the same.

Church:

Lord, hear our prayers.

Reader:

For each social worker, foster parent, teacher, therapist, lawyer, doctor, and every other person working on behalf of the children in DC, around our country, and around our world, we pray that you give them rest. May you be where they find their strength. Equip them with the training and financial resources they need to care for these children.

Church:

Lord, hear our prayers.

Reader:

And for your church – may you move the people of God to respond to the needs of children. May we see your reflection in each of their lives and respond knowing each of these children and youth are your image bearers. We confess that we have often lived with little regard for their lives, please forgive us. Move us to take up their cause, driven by your love so that we can be part of your transformation in our world. May we respond when you call us.

Church:

Lord, may we respond to your call.

All:

We commit this all to you, the One who is a father and mother to all, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Climbing the Mountain

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Recently, Raessa, DC127’s Family Support Coordinator, was asked to reflect on 1 Peter 4:7-11 for a sermon her pastor was writing. We couldn’t pass up sharing these wise and encouraging thoughts about the important role community plays, especially when God calls us to love deeply, practice hospitality, and offer grace.

1 Peter 4:7-9 says, The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

I always wanted my life to have the same threads of hospitality, friendship, and faith that I witness directly through my parents. Whether it was a family, child, or animal, our door was always open to anyone in need. I got to witness the beauty of community, but I also learned firsthand that it wouldn’t be easy. I knew it would mean saying yes to doing and seeing hard things and having the lines between my professional and personal lives blurred. What I didn’t anticipate was finding the type of community who wanted to do this with me, and for me, and around me.
everest-sunset-3c5b9db899428da7d995a0ac58446e9b

This means that on hard days it feels like I’m climbing a mountain and every hard decision, every hard story I hear, every time I feel like I’m working in vain, feels like I’m trudging up this cold, rocky, isolating, mountain that God has asked me to climb. But, to look around and see other people climbing with me, means we get to pull and push and hold each other up and live the type of hard, messy lives God has asks us to live together.

We talk a lot at DC127 about how we likely won’t see the end of our work, we won’t see the full impact we’ve made and we won’t see a miraculous turn of events where every child gets the childhood they deserve. There isn’t a “top of the mountain” here. However, I don’t for a second underestimate how powerful it is that the people I am in community with aren’t deterred by impossible work. Impossible work with unknown results is what I watch my parents do in their communities for their neighbors, and I am so proud to live a community that allows me to live that out in DC. There’s just something about not being in it alone and feeling understood that make it possible to keep climbing.

Giving Thanks: Finding the Blessings in the Challenges of Serving Others

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By: Amy Hammond

fullsizerenderThanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.

Don’t get me wrong: I love celebrating the birth of our Savior and the renewing of faith that it brings each December… as well as the promise of redemption that comes alongside Easter Sunday. But Thanksgiving, to me, is a reminder to celebrate one of the most important tenets of walking in a life of faith: gratitude.

I have nice clothes, a safe home and a dependable car. I’ve been blessed with a devoted husband, a loving family and a supportive church community. These are all gifts I thank God regularly for giving me.

But what about my calling—my ministry? Am I thankful for the acts of service God has called me to?

As a foster mother, I’ll be the first to confirm that the things He asks of us are not always easy. From blow-torching lead paint off the walls in preparation for getting our license, to the equally fiery battle faced every day in advocating for the kids I serve—this is far from an easy job.

Particularly when it is time to let go.

My husband and I had a little boy placed with us in July at just a few weeks old. He was so tiny… and so sick. We spent many sleepless nights trying to understand this little one’s needs. One very specific feeding protocol and doses of medication later, this tiny guy has blossomed into a strong, happy and healthy six-month-old. He lights up when we walk into a room, and snuggles against our chests when he’s ready to sleep. As young as he is, he has grown to understand that he can trust us to take care of him. People who are not his family. People who—as is the case for many foster children—he might never have seen again once home with his family.

img_5468That’s why, as hard as we’ve worked to get to this point with this little human, we’ve worked twice as hard to show the same love toward his family, too. It started with letters and baked goods on visitation days, and has transformed into something much more. We’ve been invited to celebrate birthdays and graduations. A new house. And soon, even in the midst of loss we are bound to feel, we will also celebrate the reunion of this child we have come to adore with his wonderful mother.

Don’t get me wrong: Relationship is messy. It has meant forging new territory, all while trusting that the promptings we hear come from God. We are following where He is leading us in loving on this family, even when it might feel foreign to everyone involved.

Throughout this journey, people have shown us gratitude. They thank us constantly for what we do, for the sacrifice we must be willing to make. But the truth is, we don’t have to do this… we get to do this.

Matthew 20:28 says, “Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” I have served this baby boy and his family, not for earthly recognition or eternal reward, but because this is not my life. It is His breath in my lungs, so I live God’s gift in a way that honors the One who gave it. Serving His children is such a blessing to me, and a calling I am incredibly thankful for.

There are moments in serving when you know unequivocally that God walks alongside you. His love for us is evident in the blessings that overwhelm by their magnitude, those bigger than you ever thought to pray for.family-pic

Two weeks ago this beautiful little one’s strong and selfless mother asked us to be his godparents.

Even as I was mourning the end of this season, God was still writing the story.

There’s a question my church asks often: Are you putting a period where God has put a comma? With this holiday quickly approaching, I beg you to pray about the story He’s writing for you right now. Let’s look at the struggle with gratitude, as this is the gorgeous mess He’s using to mold us. Let’s give thanks that He is the savior of the world, and He carries that world—and all of us, so precious in His sight—within His capable hands.

Amy is a foster parent in Washington, DC. She and her husband, Adam, have cared for 4 children in foster care over the last year. 

What Happened To You? A Lesson In Trauma Informed Care

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By Amanda Coquyt, DC127 Fellow and MSW Candidate

DC127 is hosting a Trauma Informed Care Training on October 6th. This blog explains why trainings like this are so important for volunteers that work with families who may have experienced trauma. Learn more and RSVP for the training here

When I started as a social worker in the foster care system in 2008, I thought I was going to change the world. I had dreams of connecting with children and families, fixing all of their problems, and knowing what an impact I had on their future as I left them to live happily ever after. Did I mention I had zero experience with the foster system before I got my social work degree? It’s also worth noting that I had led a pretty great life overall. Trauma was a foreign concept that we skimmed over during my brief training to become a case manager. But, I quickly learned that trauma impacts a person from infancy throughout their adult lives. Not only does trauma impact individuals emotionally, but it also impacts behaviors, personalities, and relationships.

Fast forward to 2009. I was a seasoned case manager by that point (it doesn’t take long!) and had one incredibly challenging 16-year-old teenager on my caseload, Melissa. She was confident, intelligent, and outgoing. She was also manipulative, sneaky, and struggling with addiction and depression. While we didn’t start out on the best of terms, Melissa came around and we had a decent rapport. And then she ran away. And then she ran away again. And again. No matter where we placed her, Melissa ran. One day she called and told me she was ready to stay put, but she needed to pick up her things from the location she had been squatting at while on the run. I was so excited! I had finally gotten through!

So, I picked her up and left her at her new foster home with the expectation we would see each other the following week, and I headed home filled with pride at how I had been able to get her to stay put. Sure enough, about 15 minutes after I left I got a phone call from Melissa’s new home- she had run away again, taking all of her belongings with her. I was stunned. How could that happen? I had just done everything Melissa asked, and even stopped at McDonald’s to get her a chicken sandwich! I had been kind and helpful. What more could she want?
That’s when I learned perhaps one of the most important lessons about BC1C7B577Churt children. Melissa didn’t do this to damage my pride or waste my time.
She told me she would stay so I would come pick her up from a situation she no longer wanted to be in. She told me she would stay with the condition that her belongings be picked up so I would fit everything into my beat up little car and get her dinner. She did what she had to do to survive. We all cope the best way we know how, and Melissa’s traumatic past had taught her that sometimes you have to manipulate people to get by.

Melissa had been in care since she was 5 years old and was separated from her only sibling. Melissa’s parents had been in and out of her life. Melissa was left to take care of herself the only way she knew how because she couldn’t count on anyone else to do it, at least not for very long. Melissa’s past shaped how she dealt with her present.

I had not suffered any significant trauma before jumping headfirst into child welfare. I certainly didn’t know how to recognize it in others. Even now, all these years later, it’s still easier to react to surface behaviors than to truly dig deeper. Perhaps the best tool I have learned throughout my time as a case manager is to be aware of the possibility that a person could have experienced significant trauma in their lifetime that I may never know about and this trauma affects the way they function in everyday life. Rather than asking why a person is acting a certain way, we need to ask what may have happened in their past to create a need for these behaviors. Recognizing trauma in a person can be very difficult, and understanding it can be time-consuming and exhausting. But the potential positive outcomes can be life-changing. We aren’t here to fix people. We’re here to support hurt children and families in their healing process.

DC127_Foster_Adopt_ParentsMelissa still calls me. Now 24 years old and a mother, we speak at least weekly (and more often when she’s down on her luck). She doesn’t always like what I have to say or the suggestions I make, but she listens. She isn’t the most financially successful person, but she provides a safe, stable home for her daughter. She may not have a formal education, but she is still one of the most empathetic young women I know. She is being treated for her lifelong mental health issues. She is engaging in counseling to process her lifetime of pain.

Thankfully, for Melissa, her trauma now means a commitment to do things better for her daughter, Shannon.

fullsizerenderAmanda grew up in central Florida and worked in the foster care system there for 8 years. She relocated to DC in 2014 and is currently earning her Master’s degree in social work from Catholic University. She’s working with DC127 from May 2016 to December 2016.

10 Questions About Being A Family Friend, Answered

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You might have heard us talk about Family Friends, and when you hear that term, it might be a little confusing. Have no fear, this blog is here.

Family Friends have one main goal- build an intentional friendship with a parent experiencing a tough time, encourage them, and be a listening ear.

So, what does this look like exactly? Instead of us explaining it, we brought in one of our wonderful Family Friends, Robyn Brooks. Robyn was one of our first Family Friend’s and she took some time to tell us what she’s learned through this process.

First off, what is a Family Friend?

“A Family Friend does just what it sounds like- becomes a friend. The difference is you’re intentionally forming a friendship with a parent that may have no one else in their life they can rely on. So you become that person they can vent to, bounce ideas off of, or just talk about life with. Like any friendship, it takes time to build a relationship so you have to be consistent and in contact on a regular basis. It doesn’t always have to be in person though. You can also text or talking on the phone.”

What drew you to the Family Friend role?

What activities do you do with the parent you’re paired with?

“We have met at a park and let the kids play while we chat.  I went to my Family Friend’s child’s birthday party.  We’ve met up at church and had lunch afterwards.  The activity really isn’t as important as a listening ear.  I am a mother myself (although you don’t have to be a parent to be a Family Friend), and I have had, and continue to have, times as a parent where I am frustrated, confused, or not sure how to proceed.  For example, I wonder: How do you address disobedience in a firm, yet gentle manner with a child who is very sensitive and has a strong desire to please and is easily upset with perceived parental disappointment?

I bring up my parenting struggles because in that time of learning and adjusting to your child’s needs, the last thing I have desired is a lecture or an article to read.  I have needed a listening ear to talk to, to tell stories about my child, and help remember that parenting is a long-term game.  The biggest asset of the Family Friend role is the ability to be a sounding board and provide small nudges after the relationship is established.”

What does a typical month look like as a Family Friend?

“It varies and we are still finding our rhythm.  My relationship may be a bit atypical, in that the biological mother actually has her children full time, so our activities are planned with them in mind.  I call once per week or every other week.  I work full time and we have struggled to find a consistent phone chatting time.  We have had some success when I am able to call on my lunch break.  When the weather was warmer, we were able to meet in person once or twice per month at a park.”

What is the time commitment for a Family Friend?

“I usually make some contact with my parent, whether it be through text, phone call, or email, 3-4 times a month. Sometimes it’s as simple as texting that I’m thinking about her or that I hope she is doing well. I try to meet her in person once or twice a month. In the beginning, we met more in-person to get to know each other better and form a solid relationship. I also pray for her and her family on a regular basis.”  

Did you have a connection with the parent right away?

“Building a relationship takes time. Just because a parent has fallen on hard times doesn’t mean they are going to trust you right away- you have to earn it. My parent and I had a few similarities right from the start (we live close to each other, both have 2 young children, etc.) so we talked about that a lot at the beginning. What’s important is that I was open and honest and asked questions when I didn’t understand something. I also made a point to be consistent. Even if I didn’t hear back from her right away, I wanted to make sure she knew I really cared about her and that I wasn’t going to leave her.

One nice connection we have had is through the children.  At the conclusion of our first visit, we walked from the park to the parking garage, about 4 blocks.  Our daughters, who are very close in age, held hands the whole time. That was very sweet.”

Where do you go if you need help or have a question?

“First, I go to my Family Coach. He’s great about responding, but if I can’t get a hold of him I contact Safe Families staff.”

What’s the difference between a Family Friend and Family Coach?

“As a Family Friend, I form an intentional friendship with a biological parent. I talk with her regularly and give her a place to vent, ask questions, and talk through situations. Family Coaches also talk with parents, but they take a more formal role as they coordinate and talk about goals and progress. While Family Coaches work with everyone involved with a placement, Family Friends primarily focus on the parent.”

How much interaction do Family Friends have with the parent’s children?

“As a Family Friend, my main focus is on supporting the parent. Because we both have children, we often meet at a park so our children can play while we’re talking. My parent has also started coming to church with me so I see her whole family there.”

How has being a Family Friend impacted your relationship with God and your family?

“I have found this role fulfilling.  Having small children, it can sometimes feel like I don’t have much to give outside of keeping the household running.  Prioritizing being a Family Friend sometimes means saying no to preschool parties my kids are invited to or rearranging a weekend to be able to meet.  Doing that – reordering for the sake of being a Family Friend – reminds me that my life SHOULD look like that – reordered to love others as I would love myself.  Hearing the details of another’s life helps compassion grow and makes me ask God, “how else can I serve you?”

 

To become a Family Friend fill out a short application here. Then, you’ll attend a training session. You can find the next training session on our event calendar. Feel free to email Jessica at jessica@dc127.org with any questions.

What is a Family Coach Anyways?

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zac and savannah Dc127 picYou might have heard us talk about “Family Coaches” or maybe you haven’t. And when you hear the term “Family Coach” you might just be confused. Have no fear, this blog is here.

Family Coaches = awesome. Family Coaches are what make Safe Families a movement, and they make it possible for us to continually be serving new families and not put a cap on how many families our network can serve.

Family Coaches have three main goals:
1. Make sure the children are safe
2. Make sure Host Homes have the support they need
3. Make sure biological parents have the resources and support they need to move forward

So, what does this look like? What does the Family Coach role entail exactly? Instead of us explaining it, we brought in one of our star Family Coaches, Zac Murphy. Zac has been working with Safe Families in DC for about a year and he’d like to tell you a little about his role as a Family Coach and what he’s learned:

First off, what is a Family Coach?

“When a Host Homes cares for a child, they need support and help coordinating with the child’s parents. That’s where I come in. I visit the Host Home and children on a regular basis, ensure everyone is safe, and make sure the hosts have things like babysitters, clothing, bedding, etc. We talk about how they’re feeling and I update them on the children’s parent’s progress. I also work with biological parents to ensure they are moving forward and have access to needed resources.

Family Coaches keep track of all the moving pieces for a particular placement. Whether it’s someone to talk to or a tangible resource- communication is key and I make sure that’s happening. I report directly to Safe Families staff and can come to them with any questions or concerns.”

Why did you want to be a Family Coach?

Do you need a background in Social Work or Case Management to be a Family Coach?

“I’m a paramedic, so I’m used to working one-on-one with people in what can sometimes be stressful situations. That being said, I have no background social work or case management. The most important thing is that I like working with people, I’m organized, encouraging, and can rally people together. Many people with backgrounds in social service gravitate towards this role, but it’s certainly not a requirement. Family Coaches attend a training to prepare them for the role and they are supported by staff.”

How much time does each case take?

“I usually spend 1-3 hours a week working on stuff for Safe Families. I check in with my Host Home weekly, whether that be in-person or on the phone, and talk with the biological parent at least bi-weekly. Depending on the week, I may also spend time coordinating tasks such as arranging babysitters or transportation, finding resources, or attending a meeting with mom. I only work on one placement at a time, though.”

What tools and supports are provided to Family Coaches?

“I talk with Safe Families staff a lot. If I ever have a question or concern all I have to do is call or email and I get a response shortly after. I also have access to a huge database where I can look up resources all across the city. Before I started Coaching, I went through a day long training that prepared me for the role and gave me lots of resources to look back on.”

Who do Family Coaches have the most interaction with?

“As a Family Coach I get to interact with just about everyone. I talk with my Host Home weekly to make sure they have everything they need and I also get to interact with the children during my in-person visits. I talk with the placing parents bi-weekly during my check ins and sometime I interact with Resource Friends, if a family needs something. In addition, I speak with Family Friends to make sure they’re doing well. I also have more interaction with Safe Families staff then the other volunteers on my team.”

What does a typical week look like for you?

What’s the difference between a Family Coach and a Family Friend?

“Family Friends focus on being friends with the biological parent- they are really there just for the parents. They talk with them at least once a week and give parents a place to vent, ask questions, and talk through situations. Family Coaches also talk with parents, but it’s in a little bit more of a formal role since I coordinate the whole placement. While Family Coaches work with everyone involved with a placement, Family Friends primarily focus on the biological parent.”

How has being a Family Coach impacted you and your relationship with God?

“My time as a Family Coach has been very rewarding. I love how I get to see the families we serve progress forward over time and embrace community. It’s also great to witness the Host Homes living out biblical hospitality and loving on people in their neighborhoods.  God has been teaching me to put my assumptions aside and instead see people through His eyes, which has deepened my relationship with Him.”

 

Interested in being a Family Coach? Email us at volunteer@dc127.org today!

 

 

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