When Gayle and David Middleton, of Alpharetta, received a call from FaithBridge Foster Care asking if they were ready to take in a special-needs child, they prayed about it.
The couple signed up to be foster parents after providing respite care for another foster family. As recent “empty-nesters” and parents of four grown children, becoming foster parents appealed to the Middletons.
The more they prayed about whether or not to take the child in, the more they thought about how the child must feel.
“We both had the thought come into our heads at the same time, ‘He’s just a scared little boy,” Gayle Middleton said.
According to FaithBridge, more than 120 children in Hall County need foster parents. FaithBridge is a Christ-centered adoption and child placement agency based in Alpharetta.
“The problem we’re solving is there are not enough families in Georgia counties to serve the needs of children who need a foster home on any given day,” said Bill Hancock, co-founder and CEO of FaithBridge.
Hancock has been working with foster children for the past 30 years. He said building community relationships, or “bridges,” between the people who need help and the people who want to help is important to the ministry’s mission.
FaithBridge is expanding into Forsyth and Hall counties and working with churches to recruit more foster parents and support volunteers. The organization specifically hopes to recruit five new foster families, two respite families to act as “extended family members” and 15 volunteers to help with transportation and baby-sitting needs.
The organization will hold three Encounter FaithBridge events at Concord Baptist Church in Clermont this week to provide those interested in getting involved with information.
“Too often when someone chooses to become a foster parent, they get involved in serving children and find a very complex foster care system,” Hancock said. “It can be very complicated and difficult to navigate. Often it can leave them feeling overwhelmed with the bureaucracy and not supported in their work of foster care.”
Hancock said everyone involved in the foster care system needs support, from the children and their families to the foster parents. His organizations aims to provide that support through a Community of Care. FaithBridge works closely with the Department of Family and Child Services and local churches to garner support and build relationships.
Hancock said several churches in Hall County have become involved in the mission and hopes more will in the future. He explained churches make a natural partner for the organization, because they provide a community of people with a clear purpose around restoration of family and helping neighbors.
“Those values are very much aligned with foster care ministry,” Hancock said. “Children in our communities need our help. Families are struggling. Those families need support.”
Gayle Middleton admits it wasn’t easy for her to learn how to care for their child. In the first few months after moving in, the 8-year-old boy wouldn’t look them in the eye and didn’t want any physical contact. In the year since, Middleton said she’s watched him improve and learn to trust people and express his emotions.
“There is a real little person in there,” Middleton said. “You just have to identify them and their needs and the first thing is they need to be loved and need to be accepted.”
Though he lives with the Middletons, the child visits his parents and siblings every week for a few hours until the issues separating them are resolved.
Hancock said the average stay for a child in foster care is 145 days and about 70 percent of children are reunited with their families permanently. And while some children are victims of abuse, Hancock said most children enter the foster care system because of depravation, lack of supervision, housing or health care.
“Too few families understand the situations of children either in foster care or at risk of entering foster care,” he said. “Too few families understand their situations and too few know how to intervene. That’s what FaithBridge hopes to change, through our seminars, through our trainings. This is to help people learn how to bring action to their compassion and do it in a confident way and intervene early. And if it’s too late and you take a child from home, (it’s) how you can keep them from re-entering that system.”
Middleton said the reward is greater than the work it takes to raise a foster child. But she couldn’t have continued to care for him without a strong support network.
She encouraged anyone who is curious about working with foster children to attend one of the informational events and “take it one step at a time.”
“You think it’s going to be difficult,” Middleton said. “But it’s common sense stuff. It’s just loving him and meeting him where he’s at.”