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North Idaho foster family program partners with churches

By Kaye Hult

To support North Idaho’s hard-to-place foster children, their birth families and foster families through partnering with faith communities, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare initiated a new program, One Church, One Child (OCOC), a year ago.  Jennifer Bokma is developing the program on a one-year contract.

Jennifer Boekma

Jennifer Bokma and Heidi         

Photo by Kaye Hult

“The goal of the Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) is reunification,” she said. 
“While placing a child in foster care may be appropriate, the hope is that the children can go back to their families as soon as possible.”

Along with recruiting individuals and families in 37 faith communities to be licensed foster parents and/or adoptive parents, she offers families training in communication and resources.  Social workers make referrals. 

Jennifer asks congregations to recruit foster families and help them meet needs of foster children and their birth families. That support helps increase positive outcomes for these children, she said.

One goal is to have a 10 percent increase in the number of foster parents by 2014.  The program is close to that goal now, she said. 

A second goal is to have better outcomes for the children aging out of foster care at age 18.

For her orientation in May 2012, Jennifer took a Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education (PRIDE) course, developed by the Child Welfare League of America. 

The course strengthens the quality of family foster care and adoption services by developing resources for foster and adoptive families as partners in child protection.

During the course, she met Heidi and Randy, parents of a blended family with six children.  They felt called by God to be foster parents.  They had thought about being foster parents, but thought it would be after their six children were grown.

Two years ago, after an evangelist held a revival at their church, New Life Community Church in Rathdrum, the couple decided to “put our feet to what was happening in our hearts.”

Because their finances made them ineligible to adopt, they looked at foster care.  They talked with each other and their children, and they prayed.

“Through the Holy Spirit’s leading, it became clear that foster care was our calling,” said Heidi, who delivered their application to DHW on Valentine’s Day 2012.

The DHW sent them to the five-week PRIDE course.  They learned about the types of interactions they might have with a child’s biological parents, and about effects of abuse and drug abuse on foster children.  They expected a six-week wait, but had a call the next day.

“That shows how much need there is for foster parents,” Heidi said. “The need is great in Kootenai County, and even greater in the more rural Shoshone County.”

In less than a year, she and Randy have had five placements, all from families with drug issues.

The current child, “Nathaniel” is medically fragile, requiring round-the-clock care.   His mother is in jail.  As positive people who believe in the Holy Spirit’s healing power, they do not let Nathaniel’s illness define him.

“We’re committed to him for as long as he is in our home,” Heidi said.  “We love him as we love all the children placed here, even those placed with us just a few days or weeks. One child spent the time in a neo-natal intensive care unit, and I visited there every day.

“Fostering is hard, not romantic.  We couldn’t have done it without our church,” she affirmed.

When they met at the PRIDE class, Jennifer told Heidi about One Church, One Child, and they opted to involve their church.

New Life’s support exemplifies how churches can help a foster family.  One member, Una Hamilton, runs the church’s clothing closet, open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesdays.  The church’s We’ve Got Stuff ministry provides necessities for families transitioning from homelessness into apartments—beds, dressers, silverware, plates and utensils.

The church’s associate pastor, David Warnick, is glad that Heidi and others in the congregation “have chosen to reach out through the mission of foster care.”  He teaches that everyone has their oikos or personal sphere of influence, where they are called to do ministry.

When Jennifer learned Heidi and Randy did not have a camera to take photos of Nathaniel, she connected them with an organization that would provide one, so his birth mother and biological family can keep connected to him. 

Last year, when New Life Community Church held Orphan Sunday, Jennifer provided a “Heart Gallery,” a display of professional photographs of youth who are free to be adopted. 

The adoption rate for those youth is 87 percent, she said—higher than normal.  When children leave the Heart Gallery, they receive their portraits. 

Soon, she will circulate the gallery at the women’s Bible study, and then through Region I Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints churches. 

One Church, One Child in Idaho is part of the national One Church, One Child, founded in 1980 by Fr. George Clements in Chicago.   There, the program primarily served African-American families.  Idaho’s program includes older youth, sibling groups and children with special needs.

Jennifer’s position came about through a grant from the Corporation for National Community Service.  The three-year grant can be extended, but she will soon leave, and another person will take her place for the second year.

As a girl, she said, she was “shy but observant, aware of injustice and wanting to help right it.  I used to befriend the unfriended,” she said.

“Growing up Southern Baptist, I would preach to everyone about how they needed to live.  Then I went to a liberal arts college and moved away from  that,” she said.

After college, she worked in the nonprofit sector, and for a while coordinated “Wednesday’s Child” on KXLY Radio with Robin Nance, who interviewed children available to be adopted.

Jennifer, who attends Lake City Community Church with her children, took seven years off to take care of her own children, and then worked in mental health programs before coming to DHW’s One Church One Child.

She believes people should treat each other fairly, as they want to be treated, without being judgmental.

Her year has helped her realize “there’s something bigger than me.  I know God loves me and that matters.

“If we feel how much God loves us, we can pass it on to others,” she said.

Jennifer values the OCOC program’s helping people connect the dots and create supportive partnerships.

For information, call 208-665-8843 or visit the OCOC website

Copyright © April 2013 - The Fig Tree