May is National Foster Care Month. This is a time, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), for communities across the country to renew their commitment to care for and invest in the more than 400,000 children and youth in foster care. It is also a time to celebrate those working to make a meaningful difference in these young people’s lives.
The cause is near and dear to many at the Beasley Allen Law Firm including current Alabama State Bar President and Personal Injury Section Head J. Cole Portis and Mass Torts Section Head Andy D. Birchfield. Both Cole and Andy passionately pursue James 1:27, which, in part, instructs Christians to look after orphans.
As a young lawyer Cole was impressed by a mentor who was a foster parent, but he did not see himself in that role until he was convicted while studying the Bible passage mentioned above. He and his wife Joy are foster parents and have had opportunities to affect the lives of more than 30 children in the Alabama foster system. In addition to foster children and their biological children, they have also opened their home to a number of children through adoption.
Cole incorporated his passion for helping children in foster care into his role as State Bar president. The theme of Cole’s platform has been “Loving Your Neighbor” and part of the platform challenges Bar members to become involved in the state’s foster care system.
“Not every member will have a calling to be a foster parent, but there are other roles where they can make a difference such as becoming a Guardian Ad Litem,” Cole said. “Our profession of advocates must advocate for one of the most vulnerable groups among us, foster children and orphans, in spite of the risk and sacrifice that it entails. We all have, at some point in our lives, received warmth and generosity from others and we should pay that forward.”
Andy and his wife Tanya were similarly convicted about the orphan crisis across the world in 2009. As the couple were returning to the U.S. from Moldova where they adopted their daughter Hope (they also have two biological children and two adopted children in addition to Hope), they knew God was calling them to do even more. With 153 million children who are orphaned world-wide as of 2015, according to InterAction’s Worldwide Orphans Foundation, there is plenty of need for their passion and desire to help.
They began working with their pastor and church family to plan an orphan ministry. Originally, they planned to partner with and help support an existing orphanage. However, they soon learned that the Lord had something more in store. In 2010, “Children’s Hope Ministry” was established with James 1:27 as its foundation and included three components orphan care, foster care and adoption. That same year, Haiti experienced a massive earthquake and many children were orphaned. A visit to the ravaged island country made it clear where the ministry’s support was needed most. In the small town of Jacmel, they discovered a young man caring for 16 children in a tent.
It was the sign they were looking for from God – the place where Children’s Hope Ministry could have a significant impact and meet some very large needs.
“It is easy to get overwhelmed with such a huge need, but with faith and through obedience, God has used our passion to bring along other supporters and caretakers for the children in Haiti,” Andy said. “The Father to the fatherless has given us hope and through Children’s Hope’s Ministry, we can share it with others.”
What started out as a rental house for that first group of orphans has now grown to include six dormitories housing more than 48 children from ages five months to 15 years. The ministry also supports nine church schools that enroll more than 1,100 children, a medical and dental clinic, and a Mission Home that houses up to 35 mission teams a year. Closer to home, Children’s Hope also partners with the Alabama Baptist Children’s Home, which helps provide foster care for some of the state’s children in foster care – approximately 5,000 according to the Alabama Department of Human Resources.
For more information or to support Children’s Hope Ministry, visit them online at childrens-hope.com or on Facebook @Children’s Hope Ministry.
Facts About Children in the U.S. Foster Care System
- On Sept. 30, 2015, HHS reported the following:
- There were an estimated 427,910 children in foster care.
- More than a quarter (30 percent) were in relative homes, and nearly half (45 percent) were in nonrelative foster family homes.
- About half (55 percent) had a case goal of reunification with their parents or primary caretakers.
- About half (51 percent) of all the children who left foster care in FY 2015 were discharged to be reunited with their parents or primary caretakers.
- Close to half of the children (45 percent) who left foster care in FY 2015 were in care for less than 1 year.
- According to AdoptUSKids.org, more than 1 out of 4 children in foster care are waiting for their forever homes.
Resources for getting involved in Alabama’s Foster Care System
- Guardian Ad Litem Certification
Alabama licensed attorneys interested in becoming a Guardian Ad Litem can contact Alabama’s Administrative Office of the Courts at 866-954-9411 to learn more about the certification process.
- Alabama Foster Care Training
To learn more about becoming a licensed foster parent, contact the Alabama Department of Human Resources 334-242-1310 at or online at dhr.alabama.gov/services/Foster_Care/Intro_Foster_Care.aspx for information about the Group Preparation and Selection or GPS classes.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Christian Alliance for Orphans
Children’s Hope Ministry
Alabama Department of Human Resources