Jennifer Travis has always had a passion for caring for vulnerable groups of people. As the Program Director of Foster Care at Lifeline Children’s Services—a child placing agency based in Birmingham, Alabama—she makes a difference in children’s lives every day. Not only is Jennifer a foster parent alongside her husband, but she also oversees the program that trains and supports families for the important work of fostering.
Jennifer’s Journey to a Child Placing Agency
In the decade before becoming the Program Director of Foster Care at Lifeline, Jennifer worked closely with vulnerable people. Her first job after completing graduate school was as a foster care social worker. Immediately, she was immersed in the world of foster care. She quickly realized how many children in foster care are “invisible” throughout the United States. The first reason these children seem invisible is because there is not always an indicator that they are in foster care. In fact, many children in foster care go out of their way to blend in and not bring attention to their situation. Secondly, as children move from home to home, it becomes clear that they rarely have a say in the matter. With no voice and no outward indication of being in foster care, these children are often forgotten about. Jennifer wanted to change that.
After initially working in child welfare, Jennifer began working with the chronically homeless. In this position, she continued to see intersections with the foster care system. Unfortunately, the majority of people Jennifer met who were experiencing homelessness either had been in foster care or their children were in foster care. She recognized how much healing needs to take place in the lives of people affected by both foster care and homelessness.
In late 2014, Jennifer began working at Lifeline Children’s Services. Prior to Lifeline, Jennifer had not worked in distinctly Christian environments. She knew she wanted to bring God and the Gospel into her foster care work. Doing so would radically change the foster care system, she believed.
Defining the Role of a Child Placing Agency
When asked about the role of a child placing agency, Jennifer’s response is simple: “We partner with government entities […] to provide training, care, families, and whatever is needed to meet the needs of children.” This partnership can take place on a state and county level. A child placing agency works with those child welfare departments to train and support foster and adoptive families.
The relationship between Lifeline Children’s Services and the government is unique. In 2009, when Lifeline started their foster care work, they approached the state government with an unusual offer: they wanted to partner with the state but not receive funding. Many child placing agencies that partner with the state receive money, but that comes with additional regulations. Lifeline wanted to be able to incorporate the Gospel into their training. So they proposed a partnership, and the state was agreeable. They have witnessed incredible collaboration with the state ever since.
Day-to-Day Operations of a Child Placing Agency
Each state runs its child welfare system differently, so child placing agencies in various states also work differently. In the past few years, Lifeline has expanded its foster care services beyond Alabama to multiple other states. While each state is different, one thing remains consistent: there is a need for more foster families.
Lifeline has had to be flexible as it expands its foster care services since the process varies by state. For example, in Alabama, Lifeline walks and disciples families through the whole process. They use the state-mandated foster care training while also incorporating the Gospel. They create a home study portfolio that includes the home study and all completed paperwork. Then, Lifeline passes the portfolio to the state, which reviews the portfolio and licenses the family. Once a family is licensed, Lifeline continues to provide support as well as foster care-related continuing education courses. However, families work heavily with the state once licensed.
On the other hand, some states require agencies to maintain the foster care license for a family. In South Carolina, for example, Lifeline licenses and maintains the license for their foster families. Because of this, they may have more frequent check-ins, calls, and visits to the family’s home. As in Alabama, Lifeline still offers post-placement support and continuing education.
Spreading the Word
One large part of Lifeline’s work in foster care is equipping churches to support foster and adoptive families. Foster care is intended to be temporary and with the purpose of reunification. Due to that unique calling and emphasis, families need support from their church to carry on. Lifeline has developed a curriculum for churches, such as guidance for how to start a foster/adoptive ministry. Churches often ask Lifeline to host informational meetings or set up a booth in their foyer on Sundays. Some churches request promotional materials and resources to share with their congregation, or they invite someone from Lifeline to speak in service.
Lifeline wants Gospel-minded families to answer the call to foster or adopt. Therefore, spreading the word about foster care through the churches is ideal. Whatever a church needs—whether resources, classes, speakers, or otherwise—Lifeline does its best to provide.
Churches are excellent recruiters of foster families for Lifeline. The state child welfare system has also promoted Lifeline’s work and training classes. But in Jennifer’s words, “Foster parents are the best recruiters of other foster parents.” When foster parents are open and honest about fostering, it encourages others to consider whether they are called to foster.
A Christian Perspective for State-Mandated Curriculum
As a faith-based child placing agency, Lifeline infuses the Gospel throughout the foster parent training they provide. While following the state-mandated curriculum, Lifeline incorporates prayer, short devotionals, and a Christian perspective into each session. It is a good reminder for families that there is an eternal impact of foster care. God created each person in His image. Fostering is an opportunity to show love to those who are hurting – both to the children and their families – and fill the need and desire to provide a safe, temporary family for these children that God placed within us.
Since the beginning of Lifeline’s foster care program, over 700 families have received training, and thousands of children’s lives have been changed. That number will continue to grow as Lifeline extends into more states. Churches have also downloaded hundreds of curriculum packets to begin foster/adoptive support ministries.
Preparation for the Mission Field of Foster Care
When people look at a child placing agency, Jennifer really wants them to know that there is a reason behind every requirement. Lifeline’s goal is to come alongside the state, churches, and families to equip them to help children. The goal is not to add unnecessary steps or red tape. Jennifer hears people sometimes say, “That’s so many regulations” or “There are so many steps that we have to go through.” The truth is that foster families will encounter trauma. Lifeline’s goal is to prepare families for the mission field of foster care and the spiritual warfare they will face. This preparation requires time, effort, and vulnerability. It is essential.
There will be challenging days as a foster parent. Lifeline’s desire as a child placing agency is to prepare foster families for the hard days so they know that they can run to the Lord. When the Gospel is the cornerstone for fostering, the hard days are worth it.