At the tender age of eight, Carly Souza witnessed a classmate’s adoption and it made a lasting imprint on her heart. Watching that journey unfold, Carly knew that one day she wanted to adopt. Little did she understand then just how profound that dream would become.
Fast forward to today. Carly and her husband, John, have seven incredible children; five by the gift of adoption through foster care and two by birth. She’s also leading Fostering Hope, a Las Vegas church-based ministry she founded in 2012.
Fostering Hope is working alongside churches in the Las Vegas valley to grow the number of certified foster families, provide ongoing support for current foster parents, bring awareness and education to the unmet needs in the valley, and meet the practical needs of local agencies caring for children.
In the United States, there are roughly 500,000 children in the foster care system. In Clark County, Nevada, where Fostering Hope operates, there are approximately 3,500 children in foster care ranging in age from birth to eighteen years old. A heart wrenching 28% of these children have experienced four or more placements within the system. In February of 2017, Clark County reported 1,002 licensed foster homes, leaving a large discrepancy between available homes and children needing placement.
While the goal of foster care is reunification, there is a tension to provide beneficial and healthy interim care for a child who has been removed from their biological home. As a result of these experiences, children will likely have experienced trauma, abuse, and neglect. The statistics are dire for older children. More than 23,000 kids age out of U.S. foster care each year. Without the support that comes from an adoptive family or permanency connection, these children face tough odds. Many will end up with chemical dependencies, criminal records, pregnancies and even being trafficked. Few will graduate college. It’s a critical opportunity for every congregation to act on the biblical mandate of James 1:27.
According to Jason Weber, National Director of Foster Care Initiatives for Christian Alliance for Orphans, in the past “the church would kind of sit back and sometimes be critical of the state and talk about all the ways they’re falling short to a different approach of humility.” But now, states Weber, “Churches are saying, ‘Man, we were supposed to be at this party a long time ago. We’re here now. How can we help?'”
There is still a challenging amount of caution from all facets when it comes to engaging the church and foster care. Carly experienced that first-hand. She and her husband were thrust into the foster care world by accepting a placement of four siblings ranging from 7 months to 5 years of age, just five weeks after fast-tracking from attending the first informational session on how to become a foster parent to bringing the four children into their home. While she and her husband had a strong support system of family and friends to help, she realized the desperate need she had for a community who understood her specific situation and all the physical, spiritual and emotional needs that come with caring for kids with a history of trauma.
So Carly opened up her home to other foster families to meet once a month for encouragement and support. The group outgrew the space of meeting at her home so she asked her church if they could hold the support group there. With hesitation, they agreed. It wasn’t until a few years later, after hearing Carly’s heart to grow what was becoming a vital resource to foster families, that the church stepped in to provide more space, childcare, assistance, and now, a fully engaged church – even to the point of calling foster care a core ministry of the church and bringing on Carly as a staff member to run Fostering Hope.