TEMPE, Ariz. - We recently talked to the Director of the Department of Child Safety, Greg McKay. He told us the amount of children in the system is declining for the first time in a decade. Many of those improvements were made possible with the help of churches that are now working alongside the state.
"Really helping child welfare to be less government centered, but more church centered," said Berisha Black, Executive Director of Arizona Foster Care Initiatives.
On Monday night, a group of couples attended a class mandated by the state to become foster or adoptive parents. Rather than holding the class at a state facility, it took place at Redemption Church in Tempe. Redemption is just one of 85 churches in the state now working with Arizona 1.27, an organization collaborating churches, recruiting and developing foster and adoptive families -- helping them thrive.
"We work with churches to know how to recruit their families out of just their general attendants through an orientation that is faith based, but also checks all of the boxes that the state requires a family to learn and so we kind of married those two," explained Katie O'Dell, Director of Arizona 1.27.
Arizona 127 started in 2013 with just three churches.
O'Dell adds, "Foster care and adoption is a hard go, so we just have the philosophy that children need families and families need community."
The program brings classes to each church, state mandated and biblical. It also develops support groups for foster parents.
"We all like to do things that our friends are doing or to know people that we attend Sunday mornings with are kind of in the same boat and so that was our goal, to really build community of foster and adoptive parents," said O'Dell.
The non-profit Arizona Foster Care Initiatives also lends a hand to these churches that have stepped in.
"To equip them to do the work to engage in foster care, to engage in prevention, to walk alongside a birth mom on that journey as a parent partner," said Black.
O'Dell says over the years, about 3,500 people have gone through the first orientation at their church. About one in four of those people have become foster and adoptive parents.
Arizona Foster Care Initiatives - www.fostercareinitiatives.org
Arizona 1.27 - az127.org
Redemption Church - tempe.redemptionaz.com
Arizona Dept. of Child Services - dcs.az.gov