Help One Child: At-Risk Youth Are The Heart of Our Ministry
Cristin Winn Reyes
Cancer InCytes Magazine
Volume 7, Issue 1, Summer 2020
June 7, 2020
Managing Editor: Barbara Recine, M.A.
Help One Child (HOC) is a non-profit, non-denominational, local outreach to families caring for at-risk children affected by foster care. The HOC mission is to recruit, train and support churches and individuals willing to provide a home or services to at-risk children. HOC’s wisdom and expertise assists families who have said “yes” to foster care or adoption when struggles arise with parenting children from hard places. The assistance includes prevention, education, support and connection through support groups, classes, respite opportunities, camp and clubs, and referrals. Direct programming for at-risk youth includes trauma informed childcare and volunteer training, Signs of Hope Camp, and Supper Club. Safe Families for Children (SFFC), provides a safety net to families in crisis, helping parents get back on their feet, preventing children from entering foster care. Keeping biological families intact is the goal; prevention is an HOC focus. HOC also partners with Global Orphan Project to bring CarePortal to the Bay Area. Help One Child creates a community of connection for families parenting at-risk youth.
It is fitting to focus on at-risk youth when approximately 1,500 youth are in out-of-home placements in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties alone. Approximately 50,000 children were placed in foster care in the state of California in 2017 (1). Recently, Christians around the world celebrated Christmas, retelling the Gospel narrative of Jesus’ birth. Jesus, the Son of God, was born a migrant, economically poor and without housing or even a bed. Jesus’ Holy Family fled violence, refugees unable to go home. Today, many children struggle due to fear of abuse or neglect, and some are unable to go home for safety reasons. Currently, there are more than 400,000 children in foster care in the US. In the Bay Area, Help One Child (HOC) works to prevent youth from entering the foster care system by accompanying biological families of origin to remain intact or reunify, when possible. HOC also serves foster, adoptive and kinship families who welcome new members through fostering or adopting. Joseph welcomed Jesus, God’s only son, as his own after Mary said “yes” to God’s call to be Jesus’ mother. So many foster and adoptive homes welcome children home with a “yes” out of love and generosity, but parenting children from hard places gets complicated and challenging. HOC’s expertise – developed over 27 years – and wisdom assists families who have said “yes” when struggles arise.
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A “hands-on” Christian ministry founded in 1993 by JoAnne and Mark Morris in Los Altos, California, HOC is a non-profit, non-denominational, and local outreach to families caring for children in or out of foster care, who are either victims of neglect or abuse or otherwise at-risk for entering the foster care system. Under Valerie Crane, the visionary Executive Director, a foster and adoptive parent, HOC ministry in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties is expanding to Alameda, Sonoma, and Contra Costa counties. The HOC mission is to recruit, train and support churches (partnering with 65 churches in 2019) and individuals willing to provide a home or services to at-risk children. They work with county resources and partner with churches and other organizations to provide prevention, education, support and connection through support groups, classes, respite opportunities, camp, clubs, and referrals. In the 2018-2019 fiscal year, 10,613 volunteer hours supported 938 adults and 3,908 children in foster, adoptive, and biological or kinship families.
Direct programming to support families of at-risk youth includes parent training with an attachment and trauma informed focus, family and parent community building seasonal events, and volunteer training in trauma-informed childcare. Childcare offered is trauma informed so that parents can attend HOC Parent trainings and experience respite for Parent’s Night Out events. HOC hosted 16+ parent trainings in 2019 for adoptive/foster/kingship families focusing on trauma-informed attachment parenting Trainings invite understanding of the unique struggles foster and adoptive families face and practical steps to support and help heal children impacted by trauma. Signs of Hope Camp is an overnight summer camp for foster, adoptive, kinship and youth at-risk of entering or re-entering the foster care system. Structured programs with a high ratio of counselors to campers include aquatics, ropes courses, nature walks, Bible studies, activities, etc. Lasting bonds, mentorships, self-esteem acknowledgments, growth and memories form. Supper Club provides a weekly volunteer-hosted family-style meal for foster youth in group homes.
CarePortal (www.careportal.org) is an online platform that brings the needs of hurting children and families in our community to the churches, organizations and individuals' attention. Nationwide, over 50,000 children have been impacted with assistance through over 2,000 churches (2). Partnering with Global Orphan Project to bring CarePortal to the Bay Area as the Regional Manager, HOC launched in Sonoma County in 2019, with Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties set to launch in late winter or early Spring 2020.
When successful, the goal of keeping biological families intact and healthy helps at-risk children avoid entering the foster care system altogether. Therefore, an HOC focus is supporting youth to avoid the need to enter foster care. Separation from a birth parent or primary caregiver creates trauma, even at birth. A bond is broken. Youth exiting the foster care system are 11 times more likely to be homeless, 10 times more likely to commit a crime, 7 times more likely to become drug-dependent, 5 times more likely to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), 4 times more likely to attempt suicide, and 3 times more likely to get pregnant by age 19 (3). In 2019, HOC was involved in community leadership development through a collaborative in San Jose to educate and develop 12 leaders for preventing children from entering foster care.
HOC is the Bay Area sponsor for Safe Families, which is all about prevention. Safe Families for Children (SFFC) is an unprecedented movement of compassion aimed at reducing child abuse and abandonment by coming alongside families in crisis (4). As the SF Peninsula sponsor, HOC recruits, screens and trains volunteers to serve as a safety net to families in crisis, helping parents and caregivers get back on their feet or care for children temporarily when a parent or caregiver needs help due to sudden surgery, childcare challenges to keep a job, homelessness, incarceration or drug rehabilitation. The goal is a short-term placement, respite for the family of origin, while the crisis is handled, preventing children from entering foster care.
HOC exists to provide practical help, partnering with churches and empowering the community to care for and respond generously to the needs of foster, adoptive and kinship families, but also other at-risk youth.
For more information, see www.helponechild.org
About The Author
Cristin Winn Reyes is a Private Contractor, Volunteer and Board Member of Help One Child. A foster and adoptive parent herself, she is also the San Mateo County Foster Parent Association President, and a Saint Columba Catholic Church Parish Council member with a Masters in Pastoral Ministries (Emphasis in adult catechesis/education, 2017) and a Bachelors in English with Minors in Religious Studies and French from Santa Clara University (1998). She is a certified spiritual director, completing the three-phased, two-year Spiritual Direction Institute at Mercy Center, Burlingame. With a combination of high school teacher, church and youth ministry, adult social services, and nonprofit work, she brings 30 years of ministry experience to the support of at-risk children.