The Child Welfare System: State and Faith

By Felicia Mason-Edwards
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child welfare system workers

“I’ve only come to do Your will.”

These may be words that we have uttered many times, but really, what does this mean for each individual?

For me, it means trying to understand God’s purpose for my life and how my work – professionally with the child welfare system, and personally. Trying to see if it fits in that purpose and plan.

Texas Child Welfare System

I have worked for the state of Texas for over ten years, and my heart is to serve the most vulnerable populations, children and families affected by the child welfare system and or by mental health-related issues. 

In Texas, I can use my faith and work to help those who fall into the categories above. Not many people can say that, but Texas has a faith-based program within its child welfare system. We can reach out to faith communities and ask them to help live out their faith and serve children and families who need them most. Yes, it is amazing that we can ask the church for help. As agencies, whether you are state or not, we know that we cannot do this work alone. Too much is at stake as we are talking about lives. That is a big responsibility, and we must get others in the community involved to help.

Church and State Collaboration

This work has not come without its challenges. There is a separation between church and state for a reason. Furthermore, the languages that we both speak are different. But when it comes to the most vulnerable, especially children, we both are like-minded and have the same mission: To care for the widow and orphan (James 1:27), which to us all is clear. Now how we go about accomplishing the mission may look different, but we are laser-focused when it comes to caring for children.

As an agency, we started slowly and wanted to learn from the faith community how this would work. How do we work smarter, not harder, but partner better with each other for the kids’ sake? What we (the state) quickly learned is that we do not dictate anything in the church. We take direction. For government, that is a huge philosophical shift. We are used to dictating what families do through service plans, how they are to act and respond, and if we do not like that response, possibly impose consequences for the family. These consequences may even impact the children negatively, in some cases, placing them in the foster care system.

Connect the Faith Community

We learned from our faith partners how to be a partner and not a dictator and listen intensively and effectively and sit in humility. Was it easy? Absolutely not. Philosophical shifts take time, and for a large organization with over 10,000 employees, let’s just say we are still shifting.

What we also learned is to invite people into our organization and to the families we serve. We allowed the church to help us be creative by pushing the state to think of ways to connect the faith community with families. Even if that is through a church throwing a big quarterly birthday party, which happens in Lubbock, Texas. Let the church bring in their partners, such as police officers, state troopers, and Texas Rangers, who happen to be church members. Also include partnerships from the local child-placing agencies and businesses. We learned that matching children with officers had a wonderful impact on not only children but the officers. So much so that 19 of the officers have become foster parents, and seven kids have been adopted. Let the church serve how they serve and watch the results.

The Need for Beds

bunk beds for kids in child welfare system

Texas has over 31,000 children in the child welfare system, so we get a lot of requests. The number one request we receive is for beds – for children in foster care, those going into kinship care, or those returning home to their biological families. Sometimes we take for granted that we will be in a nice warm bed with a fluffy mattress when we close our eyes. Many children and families we serve have never had that opportunity. Therefore, we are partnering with several churches to help meet that need. They can build beds like a ministry in Abilene called Boots on the Ground or Pure Religion in East Texas or those ministries that purchase beds. Currently, we have over 20 bed-building ministries across our state, and the list keeps growing. Allow people to serve and watch God move in ways you have never seen.

Clergy in the Court for Kids

Another program we started in Texas with the help of Bishop Aaron Blake is the Clergy in the Court for Kids. The state partners with Clergy from across Texas and brings them into courtrooms to see, hear, pray, and then respond. We want them to see the families in their community as they are, hear their stories, and pray for them and the outcomes of their case. They also go beyond prayer. They find ways to help meet their needs – whether that is help by paying light bills or finding employment opportunities, or providing words of encouragement. All of this makes a difference for a family, and it shows another way people can help families within their community. You can make a difference right here in your zip code, neighborhood, and even across the street from your church. 

It has been amazing to meet with church officials and see that they can make a huge difference in the life of the child or family and the church you belong to when they have the will and a plan. It has been a blessing to see how foster and adoptive ministries are impacting how the church serves.

I’ve Only Come to Do Your Will

However, once again, I am challenged by saying, “I’ve only come to do Your will.” What does that mean now? As I reflect on my time, I realize the work God has me doing is about Him getting the glory and me getting the growth. Even when I want to stay because it is comfortable, I realize that He has another plan, which is always better than what I could have imagined.

Yes, I was an instrument used to help create something wonderful at a state that needed it. I was able to help bridge the gap and build lasting relationships. I supervised 14 faith-based staff, and if I could replicate the program and the staff across the country, I would. I’ve asked the question, what else do you have for me to do? To be honest, I am not sure I am ready for the answer. But I will listen, and I will be obedient because I know You know what is best for me. 

God Has A Plan

Texas Faith-Based program is not about me; it’s about you. And with tears forming in my eyes, I know that this is a time of transition to bigger and better things. Even in transition, through pain, there is always another chapter to the story. So, let go and let God be God. He has a plan for your life. You are a piece of the puzzle. Let Him use YOU, and place you where you need to be. It’s about your growth. 

As I await God’s direction and next steps, I am holding fast to “I have come to do His will.” During the ups and downs, the good, bad, and sometimes even ugly, He remained my anchor.

It is His will that keeps me and His plan that will last. So, as I leave and move into another space, I will continue to say with a smile that I have only come to do Your will. Now, what’s next?

Copyright © 2021, Felicia Mason-Edwards

Wait No More
Focus on the Family’s Wait No More program prepares hearts and homes for children in foster care. Everyone who feels called to foster, adopt or support a foster/adoptive family can be involved through our nationwide events and resources. Each day, we help advocate for kids in foster care to experience the love of family, no matter how long they’ve waited.
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