<![CDATA[ECHO Family Care Partners]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/blogRSS for NodeMon, 02 Oct 2023 21:05:13 GMT<![CDATA[The Power of Kinship Placements: Strengthening Foster Care for Children, Families, and Communities]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/the-power-of-kinship-placements-strengthening-foster-care-for-children-families-and-communities6504ec805a0b1fe2c4edfeedFri, 15 Sep 2023 23:53:18 GMTRandall Nichols

Foster care is a crucial system that provides temporary homes for children who cannot live with their biological families. Traditionally, foster care has relied on placing children with unrelated families, but in recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the benefits of kinship placements. Kinship placements refer to the practice of placing children in the care of relatives or close family friends. In this blog post, we will explore why kinship placements work and why they are a good thing for foster care, children, families, and the community.

1. Stability and Continuity

One of the primary reasons why kinship placements work is the stability and continuity they offer to children. Placing a child with a relative or someone they already know and trust provides a sense of familiarity and reduces the trauma associated with separation from their biological family. Kinship placements ensure that children can maintain important connections with their extended family, cultural heritage, and community, which are crucial for their overall well-being.

2. Preservation of Family Bonds

Kinship placements prioritize preserving family bonds, which is essential for a child's emotional and psychological development. By placing a child with relatives, the foster care system acknowledges the importance of maintaining existing relationships and provides an opportunity for children to grow up surrounded by their own family. This not only helps children feel loved and supported but also promotes a sense of identity and belonging.

3. Enhanced Support System

Kinship placements offer an enhanced support system for both the child and the caregiver. Relatives who take on the responsibility of caring for a child in foster care often have pre-existing relationships and knowledge about the child's background, needs, and preferences. This familiarity enables caregivers to provide tailored support and meet the unique needs of the child more effectively. Additionally, kinship placements often involve extended family members who can provide emotional, financial, and practical assistance, creating a stronger support network for the caregiver.

4. Increased Placement Stability

Research has shown that kinship placements tend to have higher placement stability compared to traditional foster care placements. When children are placed with relatives, they are more likely to experience fewer disruptions and moves between foster homes. This stability is crucial for the child's overall well-being and helps to minimize the negative impact of multiple placement changes, such as disrupted education, loss of friendships, and emotional distress.

5. Community Benefits

Kinship placements have broader benefits for the community as a whole. By keeping children within their extended family network, kinship placements reduce the strain on the foster care system and alleviate the need for unrelated foster families. This, in turn, allows the system to focus its resources on other children who do not have kinship options. Furthermore, kinship placements help to maintain family and community connections, which can contribute to the child's successful transition to adulthood and reduce the likelihood of future involvement in the child welfare system.

Kinship placements are a powerful tool in the foster care system. They offer stability, preserve family bonds, enhance support systems, increase placement stability, and benefit the community as a whole. By recognizing the value of kinship placements and prioritizing them, we can create a foster care system that truly prioritizes the well-being and long-term success of the children it serves.

<![CDATA[The Importance of Family Reunification]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/the-importance-of-family-reunification648cc4d2b6c979ca08055ef8Fri, 16 Jun 2023 20:45:07 GMTJohnston Moore,The complete article can be found here.

What is Family Reunification?

If you’re even somewhat familiar with the foster care system, it’s quite likely you’ve heard the term “family reunification” several times. You may have experience with, and/or opinions on, reunification, or maybe you wonder what it means.

Some people and agencies have a narrow view of reunification, saying it refers to when a child in foster care is returned to the parents/caretakers from whom they were removed (for simplicity’s sake, we will use the term “parents” instead of “parent,” though many children are indeed removed from single-parent homes). Some include those cases in which the child is returned to any members of their family of origin. Reunification is the most common case plan goal at the outset of individual child welfare cases. When a child enters foster care, their parents are (with some exceptions) given a case plan outlining certain conditions they must meet to have their child returned to them.

The Purpose of the Case Plan in Family Reunification

The purpose of the case plan is to help the parents address the issues that led to their child’s removal. The successful completion of the case plan indicates to the judge that the parents can and will provide a safe, stable home environment for the child upon their return. While parents work their case plans, children typically remain in foster homes but are often placed with relatives once their homes are approved.

If the parent(s) are able to successfully work their case plan, their child is most often returned to them after a future court date. If the parents do not successfully work their case plan in a timely manner, their parental rights are often terminated and another safe, permanent option is sought for the child. That may mean adoption (sometimes by the current foster parents) or permanent placement with members of the child’s extended biological family, or some other arrangement.

How Foster Parents Support the Case Plan

As foster parents, there is an expectation to support the case plan. Though we may fall in love with a child and find ourselves wanting to give them a loving, permanent home, we mustn’t let our own wishes get in the way.

In supporting the case plan of reunification, however, we need to recognize that it is not our job to reunify the child. The parents must show the judge that they can provide their children with a safe, permanent home. Once the child is returned, the parents will need to parent their children well, hopefully with a strong support system (as we ALL need) in place. They have the opportunity during the reunification process to gain the tools necessary to do so.

A Call to Love Others

As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors. Our neighbors include not only the children God places in our home but their biological parents and extended family as well. When parents love their children and make efforts to reunify, we can and should encourage them and pray for them. As Christians, we also need to remember that we serve a God who wants to reconcile people to Himself and restore people to right-relationship with Him and others. As His children, we can encourage and pray for the restoration of families if it is in the child’s best interests.

Remembering these simple, biblical truths can hopefully help us seek the good of both the child and their biological family, and enable us to look at family reunification, when done safely and in the child’s best interests, as something that heaven, and we, can rejoice over.

Family Reunification and Grief

It can be very painful for a foster family when a child reunifies. Many people say we need to guard our hearts with children placed in our homes, but I disagree. Children need to be loved, whether they are in our home for a night or a lifetime. When I see foster parents crying over a reunified child, I tell them that it means they loved the child well.

Continued Relationships are Possible

When a child reunifies, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to say goodbye for good, though. If you’ve developed a strong relationship with the child’s biological family, and they believe it is in the child’s best interests, you may remain a part of their lives and support them as the child grows up.

<![CDATA[When Mother’s Day is Complicated]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/when-mother-s-day-is-complicated645f974494a5b28b758faed5Sat, 13 May 2023 14:04:59 GMTSarah Anderson

Mother’s Day is over 100 years old. Although Anna Jarvis created the holiday in 1908, it wasn’t an official holiday until six years later when Woodrow Wilson signed it into law. It was a day created out of a prayer Anna overheard from her mom, that there be a Memorial Day for mothers to commemorate all they do. And so, two years after her mother’s death, Anna went to work to realize her mom’s hope.

It didn’t take long for a simple day with simple intentions to become much more complicated. Just a few years after it had been signed into law, when she saw the commercialization of the day, Anna herself worked to try to have the day abandoned all together. But that’s just the start of it.

Mother’s Day has become complicated for just about everyone involved—commercialization aside.

It’s a challenge for…

those who long to be moms, this day heightening the ache inside of them. those who’ve lost their moms, this day accentuating the silence the void their mother left. those who’ve birthed children gone too soon, this day highlighting a hole their heart shouldn’t have. those everywhere in between. Who have no stories of loss or pain but who feel this day should somehow be different.

Their kids should be perfect. The relationship with their mother not so strained. The brunch should be peaceful. The realities of life put on hold for just this 24 hours.

Mother’s Day highlights the gap that exists between what we wish were true and what isn’t. It’s a day where we are confronted with our highest hopes and our current disappointments.

Any other day we are okay with children who sometimes make us want to pull our hair out; we have learned to manage the hand life dealt us, so different from the one where we imagined we were mothers, or where our mothers were different from what they are; we might be able to get through without stopping up short, confronted afresh with emotions the loss of our mom or our babies have invited into our lives.

But not this day. This day it’s hard to escape what any other day we might adequately push through or cover over. And that makes it hard.

But I am starting to think our attempt to run from the insufficiencies this day brings to the surface is going about it wrong. In fact, I think these are the kinds of days God can do His best work in.

Because the contrast between our expectation and our reality can crush us, depress us, and make cynics out of us. Or it can drive us towards the One who put the desire for rightness in us, and walks through the reality of life’s wrongness with us.

Mother’s Day is a reminder of our humanity—and the humanity of those around us. Of how we all get it wrong—how life often gets it wrong. But it’s also a day where we can take stock of the dreams we harbor and realize they are the breadcrumbs pointing us to the God who is ultimately able to bring all things to right, one day. But it’s more than that too.

In Genesis 1:2, the author begins the creation story describing the Sprit of God hovering over the waters—the word hovering, used later in Deuteronomy to describe what a mother bird does when she flutters over her nest, protecting and covering her young. I love that, as often as we read about God as a loving Father, the first descriptor we read of God in Scripture uses words that depict the qualities of a Mother.

And on Mother’s Day, this complicated and loaded day, this day where we attempt to manage the seemingly contradictory idea of what we have and what we want—on all ends of the spectrum—I like to think of God nurturing us through the chaos, like a mother would. Of God being tender towards us as we juggle our humanity and our dreams for a world—our world—made right. Who covers us, and calms us, and manages with us the paradoxes of the day, of our relationships, and ultimately our lives.

This year, let’s not run away from the contradictions this day evokes. Let’s embrace them, but in the presence of a God capable of handling them and cultivating us through them in the process. Let’s celebrate Mother’s Day for all it offers, for all it lacks, and for the God who fills in the gaps.

This article originally appeared on ,ParentCue.org

<![CDATA[How We Can Prevent Child Abuse]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/how-to-prevent-child-abuse644882606d4ca1d2b543893fThu, 27 Apr 2023 23:11:18 GMTRandall Nichols

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. There's a solution if we're willing to do what it takes.

When I was younger, and even as an emerging adult, I think I believed there were a bunch of evil people walking around with the sole desire to harm children. The movies taught me that, I guess. It's easier for my mind to personify a boogie man than to imagine him shapeless and shadowy.

And while I know there are gruesome cases of child maltreatment and death, for nearly all cases of child maltreatment, the cause can't be pinned on one person, but rather on a whole society, which is troublesome.

Because it makes me, it makes you, it makes us...


I think we, as a society, look too quickly for behavior change without trying to solve the underlying problems that led us here.

We see something we don't like and say, "Stop," but never ourselves stop to understand, "Why?" We think we know. Those people are just ________. Whatever fits the narrative we need to square that part of the world away in our mind.

But the reality of it is not so neat.

Social issues never are. If they were we'd have probably solved them by now.

And this compartmentalization becomes the basis of the politicization of what it means to care for our most vulnerable.

But as followers of Jesus who walk in His way, there's another option. For that, we look to Deuteronomy 15.

“4 However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,”

Has the land the Lord has given us richly blessed us? It's hard to look at our financial position among the nations of the world and say it hasn't.

So why does poverty exist? Was God wrong? Keep reading...

“5 if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.”

There it is. If only...

Seems like God knew the people of Israel wouldn't fully obey. That they'd seek what was good in their own eyes at the expense of pursuing what God says is good. And because of the elevated view God holds of the marginalized, He gave instructions to keep poverty a vocabulary word rather than a lived experience.

“7-8, 10-11 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”

Here's the thing about poverty. It's shapeless and shadowy. It's a boogie man that feels impossible to catch. But God gave us a way if we're willing to follow Him faithfully and obey Him fully.

We can eliminate the impact of poverty, which includes preventing child abuse, neglect, and maltreatment.

Child abuse and poverty are undeniably correlated. Check out what some of the leading child advocates have discovered.

American Bar Association

A parent's inability to provide basic necessities for their children, such as food, clothing, and housing, is seen by many as child maltreatment and can lead to government intervention and child removal. But often this is due to poverty, which is regularly mistaken for neglect. This confusion contributes to high rates of child neglect or maltreatment cases for low-income families. To prevent child maltreatment, unnecessary child removals, and protect parental rights, addressing poverty through acknowledgment, increased parental involvement, and financial support is crucial. (1)

US Department of Health and Human Services

Children from low socioeconomic status families are at a higher risk of experiencing harm standard maltreatment, abuse, and neglect compared to those from families that are not low SES. The incidence rate of harm standard maltreatment is over five times higher, abuse is over three times higher, and neglect is over seven times higher for children from low SES families. (2)

US Department of Justice

Because of unjust wage gaps and the cultural gender biases on mothers compared to fathers, children in homes led by single mothers tend to experience a higher rate of abuse attributed to the poverty that characterizes mother-only families. Said another way, the associated stress of poverty places children at greater risk of abuse. (3)

National Coalition of Child Protective Reform

While at least 1 in 7 children experiences child abuse or neglect, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Richard Wexler said those cases can go unnoticed due to the overwhelming number of false reports.

“The horror stories are needles in a haystack, but our response to the horror stories is constantly to make the haystack bigger, which only makes it harder to find those needles,” Wexler said. “So those very few cases of children in real, grave danger are more likely to be overlooked. And that's why the system makes all children less safe.”

According to a 2021 report from the Children's Defense Fund, children are removed from their homes every two minutes, and those removed are the most vulnerable children in America.

And do you know who stands in the best position to change this?

Not government. Not politics. Not Capitalism or any other -ism. No system can end poverty.

If we believe God and take Him at His word, then the solution is found among the People of God who choose to follow Him faithfully and obey Him fully.

Is this you?

(1) ,https://www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/committees/childrens-rights/articles/2014/addressing-underlying-issue-poverty-child-neglect-cases/

(2) U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., Admin. for Children & Families, The National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-4) (2004–2009).

(3) ,https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/child-abuse-and-violence-single-parent-families-parent-absence-and

<![CDATA[Think of Us raised $47.5M to Change Child Welfare]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/think-of-us-raised-47-5m-to-change-child-welfare643ec58d7e95dd45d4ab53caTue, 18 Apr 2023 16:40:32 GMTThink of UsThis article originally appeared on Think of Us.

WASHINGTON, DC —Think of Us, a nonprofit research and design lab for the social sector, has received a five-year $47.5 million commitment through The Audacious Project to accelerate the transformation of the child welfare system by leveraging data and technology and centering the lived experience of those impacted by the system. Over the next five years, Think of Us will work with the child welfare field to build a system that invests in child and family well-being.

Think of Us was founded in 2015 by Sixto Cancel, whose own experience in foster care sparked his commitment to the work. He has worked with the White House, Congress, and federal leaders from the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations and has earned recognition throughout child welfare and beyond, including being named a Forbes Top 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneur and a White House Champion of Change. Funding provided through The Audacious Project represents one of the largest investments given to a systems change organization led by a leader of color with lived experience.

"This funding is a huge win for everyone who has advocated for using lived experience to create better social systems," said Sixto Cancel, CEO of Think of Us. "There is a growing consensus that we need to keep families together whenever possible, but we haven’t found a path to get there yet. This is where Think of Us comes in: We are building on the work of the organizations who have come before us to center lived experience and bring unique data and tech capabilities to the field.”

Currently, the US spends $33 billion a year on the child welfare system. Despite this investment, after leaving foster care youth are substantially more likely to experience negative outcomes including to homelessness, incarceration, unemployment, and being sexually trafficked. Additionally, only 35% of youth placed into foster care are placed with a family member or trusted adult they already know, despite strong evidence that living with someone familiar versus a stranger dramatically improves youth outcomes.

While 1 in 17 children enter foster care, only 16% of these youth are suspected as victims of abuse; the majority enter the system due to circumstances intrinsically tied to poverty. Nearly 85% of families investigated by Child Protective Services earn below 200% of the federal poverty line. The system also disproportionately impacts communities of color: one in nine Black children and one in seven American Indian or Alaska Native children will spend time in foster care.

The Audacious Project is a collaborative funding initiative housed within TED that aims to catalyze social impact on a grand scale. Each year, they partner with some of the biggest names in philanthropy to nurture solutions to the world’s most urgent challenges. The Audacious Project selects grantees who have innovative and original visions with a proven concept and clear outcomes.

On April 19th, Sixto Cancel will give a TED Talk in Vancouver, Canada, that discusses how the child welfare field can create immediate and significant impact in childrens’ lives by keeping them connected to their families whenever possible.

“We are thrilled to support Think of Us’ visionary goal to accelerate transformation of the child welfare system,” said Anna Verghese, Executive Director of The Audacious Project. “Think of Us has worked with states and counties across the country to prove that their unique approach combining technology and lived experience to create systems change works. We’re so excited to see the impact they'll be able to create as they scale this work up with the support of the Audacious community.”

In the coming months, Think of Us will meet with and source input from lived experts (e.g., youth in the foster care system, birth parents, etc.), state agency directors, advocates, policymakers, and others to co-create a plan to incorporate lived experience into every level of the child welfare system.

“As a collaborator and advocate in the field of child welfare transformation, Think of Us is unique in the way it designs solutions with the power of technology and the expertise of young people who have experienced foster care,” said Sandra Gasca-Gonzalez, vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Center for Systems Innovation. “This is a tremendous opportunity for Sixto and Think of Us to scale innovations that improve outcomes for young people, and as a longtime partner, we could not be more excited about its potential.”

Ultimately, Think of Us aims to raise a total of $100 million in funds to support this historic transformation of the child welfare system. The investment from the Audacious funders, and child welfare funders such as The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Doris Duke Foundation and Aviv Foundation brings Think of Us’ 2023 fundraising total to $47.5 million.

Think of Us is a research and design lab for the social sector. Led and guided by people who have been directly impacted by the child welfare system, we are a trusted partner across the field nationally. We publish groundbreaking research, work with cities, states, and tribes to co-design and implement solutions to long-standing challenges, and advise federal and state policymakers on effective, bipartisan solutions.

<![CDATA[Social Worker: First Responders to the Human Condition]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/first-responders-to-the-human-condition6418561d227df1085d2432c3Tue, 14 Mar 2023 04:00:00 GMTRandall NicholsA young boy meets with a social worker

At ECHO, we seek to honor the work of social workers, especially those in child-serving and family-serving roles who advocate selflessly to preserve and heal families, and rally support for them to help boost job satisfaction, push back against the impacts of secondary trauma and compassion fatigue, and reduce the burden of case-overload, and help us all remember why we do this work... the child and their family.

The success of a child's placement is heavily dependent on the consistency of the caseworker. A 2005 study from the University of Houston found that for children in foster care who have only one caseworker have a 74.5% chance of achieving permanency within one year. But with the turnover of just one worker in the child's case, the chance of permanency is reduced to 17%. And by the time the child has five caseworkers, the likelihood of finding stability in a family is only 0.3%.

Chart showing caseworker retention related to success of a child's foster placement

A number of factors contribute to the turnover rate of child welfare workers; non-competitive wages, caseloads at more than twice the federal guidance, adverse personal and professional experiences, difficulties finding resources, and more.

Caseworkers often feel villainized and isolated and many find themselves working under the stigma of a predecessor's or another agency's indiscretions. Public perception of a child-serving caseworker can be less than benevolent. And while we do not know every child-serving caseworker in America or even in our own communities, the ones we know personally and work with regularly are diligently and selflessly serving children and their families with their whole hearts.

As you read this right now, a caseworker somewhere in your town is in court with a child and helping the family navigate the legal system. One's in the hospital assessing traumatic situations. Another is visiting a family in a home owned by a negligent landlord and helping them figure out the next steps to protect their family. Their work is never once for a single moment easy.

So when we individually and as a society imagine the child-serving caseworker, I invite us to elevate our view and pray for their emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being and find ways to encourage and lift some of the burdens they carry and never speak of.

Caseworker... we're cheering for you!

<![CDATA[Racial Discrimination in Child Welfare Is a Human Rights Violation]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/racial-discrimination-in-child-welfare-is-a-human-rights-violation63f69ef19e97c8a8489317b7Thu, 23 Feb 2023 00:48:00 GMTShereen WhiteThis article originally appeared on the ,American Bar Association's website.

By ,Shereen A. White and ,Stephanie Persson

Young African American girls riding in a car

Every day in the United States, Black children are investigated by the child welfare system and forcibly separated from their parents, at rates far greater than their white peers. Decades of data, research, and lived experiences reveal the deep disparities and discrimination within this system.

Over 50 percent of Black children in the U.S. will experience a child welfare investigation before their eighteenth birthday (nearly double the rate of white children). Nearly 10 percent of Black children will be removed from their parents and placed into foster care (double the rate of white children). One in 41 Black children will have their relationship with their birth parent or parents legally terminated (more than double the rate of the general population). Let those numbers sink in for a moment.

Each of these numbers represents a child and a family for whom contact with the child welfare system has caused harm—from intrusion and disruption to shattered lives. These horrifying statistics don’t even account for the additional trauma Black children often face within the child welfare system (a point we will return to). Involvement with this system, which authorizes the surveillance, regulation, control, and separation of families, causes immeasurable harm to Black children, families, and communities.

That the state can intrude into the private lives of families and separate children from their mothers and fathers hits at some of the most fundamental aspects of our humanity. It touches on the right to family integrity and on a child’s right to his or her identity, and, when compounded by the racial discrimination our child welfare system is structured to impose, it becomes a question of basic equality and human dignity.

Racial discrimination in U.S. child welfare is, in other words, a human rights issue. And a key body of the United Nations (UN) agrees. On August 30, 2022, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), a group of international experts charged with monitoring state compliance with human rights obligations on racial discrimination, expressed concern at the “disproportionate number of children of racial and ethnic minorities removed from their families and placed in foster care” in the U.S. The UN committee called on the Biden administration to “take all appropriate measures to eliminate racial discrimination in the child welfare system, including by amending or repealing laws, policies and practices that have a disparate impact on families of racial and ethnic minorities.”

We could not agree more.

What Does Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Child Welfare System Look Like?

The data are clear and glaring—Black families face discrimination and unequal outcomes at every stage of the child welfare system. And once placed into foster care, Black children are moved more often, receive fewer appropriate services, and then are four times less likely to be reunified with their families than white children.

Black youth also experience worse outcomes once they leave foster care—for example, 23 percent of Black youth who age out of foster care experience homelessness and 29 percent experience incarceration, far higher rates than for non-Black youth.

The U.S. Administration for Children and Families, the federal agency responsible for overseeing national child welfare policy, has acknowledged that racial discrimination exists in our child welfare system. In 2021, the agency publicly agreed that Black children and other racial minorities are disproportionally represented in the child welfare system. The cause, it found, was bad policies and “structural racism.”

What Role Does the Federal Government Play?

Federal laws are, unfortunately, a key component in why Black children face discrimination and unequal outcomes in the U.S. child welfare system.

For example, under current federal law, the majority of children in the U.S. aren’t separated from their parents because of abuse; they are separated for neglect—a code word that typically represents conditions of poverty, resulting in disproportionate separation and harm to Black families, which is especially shameful when you consider the cause. These conditions include inadequate food, housing, or clothing. In 2020 over 70 percent of all children, and 63 percent of Black children, removed into the U.S. foster system were taken from their families for reasons related to “neglect.” Due to historic injustices, Black children are significantly more likely to grow up in homes experiencing poverty.

President Biden himself acknowledged, in April 2021, that “too many children are removed from loving homes because poverty is often conflated with neglect” and that “the enduring effects of systemic racism and economic barriers mean that families of color are disproportionately affected.”

The federal law responsible for this policy, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), conditions federal funding on individual states’ inclusion of the vague and harmful category of “neglect” in their state laws and policies. Repealing this requirement, which punishes poverty, and instead expanding access to the resources and community supports that families need is a key step toward keeping families together.

CAPTA also requires states to adopt a system called “mandated reporting.” Mandated reporting requires that teachers, doctors, and other service providers must report families suspected of child maltreatment to a hotline, which then initiates an intrusive investigation. The result of this federal requirement has been the surveillance and policing of Black families, biased reporting, professionals forced to report instead of support families, and a tremendous increase in children entering the system. Since CAPTA was enacted, the number of suspected child welfare cases reported annually skyrocketed from 60,000 reports in 1974 to two million by 1990.

Mandated reporting is also biased. Research has shown that reporters are far more likely to screen and report Black families than white families. For example, pregnant Black women are four times more likely to be screened for drug use than white women, even without any prior report of substance abuse. Similarly, a Black mother’s refusal of medical care is twice as likely to be reported to child welfare services as abuse.

Federal law has also played a role in the disparate termination of Black parents’ legal rights. For example, the Adoption and Safe Families Act created statutory timelines for how long a child can be in the foster care system before the child’s birth parents’ legal rights can be terminated. These timelines are both arbitrary and often impossible for parents to meet.

Since the law came into effect, the number of children who experience a termination of parental rights has increased dramatically. Today, a shocking 1 out of every 41 Black children in the U.S. will have their legal relationship with their parent or parents terminated (compared with 1 out of every 100 children in the U.S.). Disturbingly, every year more children have their parental legal rights terminated than are adopted out of the child welfare system—creating a new category of children termed “legal orphans.” Here again, the majority of legal orphans are Black.

The Trauma of Removal and Child Welfare Involvement

The disproportionate investigation and removal of Black children cause tremendous trauma and harm to both children and parents. For most children, entry into the child welfare system is unexpected, shocking, and traumatic. Children are taken from their homes by strangers to a new and unfamiliar place, often a group home or sometimes even an office. In the process, they may be separated from their siblings and their belongings, and they may even be strip-searched. Separating children from their families breaks a critical source of attachment. The American Academy of Pediatrics has found that family separation “can cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child’s brain architecture and affecting his or her short- and long-term health.” Parents too experience harm and trauma from such separation.

Many children also experience harm within the child welfare system. There is substantial evidence that children are actually more likely to be abused while in foster care than in the general population. Children in foster care are also at increased risk for mental health disorders, are more likely to be overprescribed psychotropic medication, and are at increased risk for exposure to trafficking. The long-term outcome for children aging out of foster care is similarly poor. Children who have been in foster care are at increased risk for criminal justice involvement, less educational achievement, higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, and higher risk of future homelessness.

Despite these severe and well-documented harms, the U.S. child welfare system and legal system rarely consider the harm of removal. Only a handful of jurisdictions in the U.S. even require courts and judges to incorporate this inquiry into their decisions on removal into state custody.

What Is the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination?

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is a body of independent human rights experts responsible for monitoring and ensuring the implementation of a human rights treaty—the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The United States signed ICERD in 1966 and the Senate ratified the treaty in 1994. By signing and ratifying ICERD, state parties agree to pursue “eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms.” The treaty requires that a participating government must not practice racial discrimination in public institutions, and must review existing policies and “amend, rescind or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination.”

It is important to note that, under ICERD, the standard for measuring racial discrimination is “disparate impact.” In other words, it does not matter whether the intention of a particular law, policy, or practice is racial animus. If a racial or ethnic minority is disproportionately affected, the state party must take steps to review and address the harm.

Under the agreed-upon terms of the treaty, each participating state comes up for review every four years. The U.S. came up for review in 2022. As part of that review process, the U.S. State Department submits a detailed report describing what steps it is taking to combat racial discrimination in a variety of forms and how it believes the U.S. is complying with its obligations under the convention. This starts an interactive review process, which includes an oral hearing before the CERD’s members and culminates in a written set of recommendations provided to the U.S. government.

The review process is also an opportunity for nonprofits and other civil society advocates to provide additional information to the UN committee, bolstering or countering information provided by the state.

The committee had previously addressed concerns regarding the removal of Indigenous children into the child welfare system and had also expressed concern about the separation of migrant children from their parents at the southern border. These concerns are serious and ongoing, but the committee had unfortunately never reviewed or addressed the reality that similar separations and harm are also faced by Black families forced into the child welfare system.

We felt that it was important that the committee understand the deep racial discrimination that has permeated the child welfare system, both historically and into the present. In May 2022, Children’s Rights, in partnership with the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School, wrote a letter asking the committee to add racial discrimination against Black children in child welfare to the topics it would review—which it did. In July, we together drafted a report, endorsed by over 30 advocates and civil rights organizations, detailing the history of discrimination in child welfare and asking the UN committee to hold the U.S. accountable for its failure to adequately address or remedy these harms. We were honored to join our fellow advocates on that powerful report.

We felt that acknowledgment of this issue was so important that we took our cause to the committee itself—traveling to the review session held at the Palace of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Together with fellow advocates, attorney Angela Burton, Joyce McMillan from JMacforFamilies, and Hina Naveed from Human Rights Watch, we walked below the famous row of flags representing all 193 UN member states, and testified to the CERD about the discrimination and harms experienced by Black children and families in the U.S. child welfare system.

What Did the United Nations Committee Have to Say?

Speaking to U.S. officials gathered in the UN building, the committee for the first time addressed racism against Black children and families as part of its review of the United States’ treaty obligations under ICERD.

At a public hearing, Biden administration officials were asked to explain what steps they are taking to combat discrimination in child welfare and were asked to address specific laws, including CAPTA, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, and the Adoption and Safe Families Act, which perpetuate harm against Black families. While the U.S. representative, speaking on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services, acknowledged ongoing racism in child welfare, she did not address specific racist laws and policies, nor answer what the U.S. government is doing to course-correct.

Following the review session, the CERD released a detailed set of findings and recommendations—setting out areas of concern it believes violate the human rights obligations set forth in the ICERD treaty. The committee specifically expressed its concern “at the disproportionate number of children of racial and ethnic minorities removed from their families and placed in foster care” and noted that “families of racial and ethnic minorities are subjected to disproportionately high levels of surveillance and investigation and are less likely to be reunified with their children.”

To address these violations, the committee recommended that the government take all appropriate measures to eliminate racial discrimination in the child welfare system, including by amending or repealing laws, policies and practices that have a disparate impact on families of racial and ethnic minorities, such as the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, the Adoption and Safe Families Act and the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act. The committee encouraged the administration to “hold hearings, including Congressional hearings, to hear from families who are affected by the child welfare system.”

What Comes Next?

Public acknowledgment of the discriminatory harms perpetrated by the child welfare system is long overdue. Twenty years after the publication of Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare, in which legal scholar Dorothy Roberts detailed and exposed this issue, awareness of racial discrimination in child welfare is finally gaining increased momentum. For example, both the American Bar Association and the New York State Bar Association have recently released reports acknowledging systemic racism in child welfare and calling for change.

However, it is significant that a United Nations human rights body, one charged with reviewing and addressing racial discrimination, has chosen to weigh in on this issue. It allows us to call this problem what it is—a human rights violation.

The weight of that term is appropriate here. The language of human rights speaks to the “inherent dignity, and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.” In the current U.S. child welfare system, government power is wielded disproportionately and discriminatorily against Black and minority families, intrudes into the private lives of families, penalizes poverty, and causes irreparable trauma and harm to children, families, and communities. Such a system violates these basic human rights.

The language of human rights also allows us to discuss child welfare discrimination using standards and vocabulary more directly able to address these concerns. For example, the disparate impact standard and the right to family integrity are concepts more fully fleshed out under international standards but still struggling to find their footing in domestic jurisprudence.

The CERD review process is meant to be a dialogue and a temperature check. How is the United States doing on key issues of racial discrimination and where does it need to do better? The committee’s answer as to discrimination in child welfare is now clear—the U.S. needs to do a whole lot better.

An immediate first step is for the current administration to listen to the committee’s concerns and deliver a concrete plan to hear public testimony from families and others directly impacted and to aggressively restructure and repeal harmful laws and policies. If the administration really wants to commit to fighting for racial justice, as it claims, that must include dismantling the racist structures that underlie the current child welfare system.

The CERD review process happens on a four-year cycle, so in four years the U.S. government will again have to report to the UN committee on its progress and what steps it has taken to address racial discrimination in child welfare.

Advocates must seize this opportunity to hold our government accountable.

For families in the system, four years is far too long.

For the U.S., the clock is ticking.

<![CDATA[An Unholy Alliance: Trafficking and Foster Care]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/an-unholy-alliance-trafficking-and-foster-care63c9a13580730ea2b8cf1c2cFri, 20 Jan 2023 15:23:42 GMTHuman Trafficking Search

This article was originally published on ,Human Trafficking Search

The child welfare system is an important and necessary institution that protects children whose parents are unable to care for them. The overwhelming majority of children and youth in foster care placements and group homes are healthy and safe. However, it is undeniable that most children and youth who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation have been involved with the foster care system at one point in their lives.

Minimally half of the commercially sexually exploited children (CESC) on the streets today were at one time living in foster care or a group home run by the state. While most of reports place this number above 50 percent, the statistics widely vary. At the high end, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, the Honorable Joette Katz, stated in her testimony to the state that in Connecticut, 98 percent of children who are identified as survivors of sex trafficking had previous involvement with child welfare services, and many were legally in the care and custody of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families while they were being prostituted by traffickers. Another study found that at least 85 percent of all CSEC in New York State had a child welfare background. On the statistical low end is the state of California that reported 50 percent of children sold in California are foster care children. While the statistics may vary by report, state and city, the overwhelming evidence suggests that the foster care system is a breeding ground for CSEC.

Common Connections

There are three childhood experiences that victims of CSE commonly share: prior sexual abuse by a family member or family friend; parental neglect or abandonment; or time spent as runaways or throwaways. Sexual abuse in particular is cited as a leading cause for entry into CSE, an estimated 65-95 percent of sex trafficking victims were sexually assaulted as children and 75 percent of all sex trafficking victims were at one point homeless.

Children and youth are put in foster care placements or group homes when their parents are absent or can no longer adequately take care of them, leaving them prone to feelings of abandonment. There are a variety of reasons why the child welfare system takes children into custody, but the most common are parental substance abuse, alcohol abuse, domestic violence or neglect. A childhood of abuse and neglect greatly increases the chances for children to be lured into commercial sexual exploitation. It is also what runaway, throwaway and foster care children have in common. When asked, “What is the typical victim [of CSE] you come across?” FBI Agent and leader of the Tampa Area Crimes Against Children task force Gregory Christopher said, “A lot of these kids are foster kids, runaway kids… I’d say about 70 percent or so are foster kids. We work closely with DCF (Department of Children and Families).” Children and youth in the foster care system and those that run away from child protective services are more likely to become victims of CSE. The themes of childhood trauma, abandonment, and disruption are central to the stories of adolescents trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation. Without families to work on their behalf, it’s much more difficult to rescue foster youths from sex trafficking and keep them out of the cycle.

System Failure after Failure

Half of all human trafficking victims are minors, and slaverynomore.org states that 70 percent of these minors are children in the foster care system. Foster Focus Magazine, an online publication devoted to the US foster care system, places that number even higher at 80 percent. In a report by the state government of Connecticut, as much as 86 percent of victims rescued from domestic minor sex trafficking in 2011 may have been victimized while in foster care or residential placement.

These statistics are especially disturbing since there are an estimated 300,000 children involved in underage domestic sex trafficking in the United States which means 210,000 to 258,000 children have been failed by the very system that was created to protect and provide for them. Children in the foster care system are especially vulnerable since many have experienced trauma such as physical violence, substance abuse and parental incarceration. Children with no family and no support system are easy prey for pimps who initially shower the (mostly) girls with gifts and attention. Many pimps pose as boyfriends or protectors to gain trust of the young girls. Shockingly, it is often fellow housemates working for the pimps who recruit other members of the foster home or shelter into prostitution.

Will You Join Us?

This has to end! And we are not willing to let another generation of children be lost to this evil.

Be part of the movement to stabilize families and eliminate the need for foster care, closing the pipeline for predators and giving every child the chance to know the stability of a lasting, loving family.

Donate Now

<![CDATA[AmazonSmile Shuts Down. What Now?]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/amazonsmile-shuts-down-what-now63c99b520a69462d88bcde97Thu, 19 Jan 2023 19:49:28 GMTRandall Nichols

The News

Over the last few years, many of you have chosen to promote ECHO's work through participation in the AmazonSmile program which contributed 0.5% of your eligible purchases to us as your selected charity. It was announced on January 18, 2023 that Amazon will be shutting down the AmazonSmile program effective February 20, 2023.

Some of you have reached out to us to understand the impact this may have on our organization so we thought we'd share the cumulative data related to our participation with AmazonSmile and then offer our suggested next step for anyone who wants to make sure their purchases, whether on Amazon or elsewhere, are having an impact for good in the community around you.

The Impact

Since we first began participating in AmazonSmile in November of 2019, 42 Amazon customers have selected ECHO as their charity of choice. Since that time, your eligible purchases have generated a total of $798.23. That's an average of $19 per customer over the last 3+ years donated by Amazon toward our work of eliminating the need for foster care.

While this is not a large number in terms of typical charitable contributions by large corporations, this nearly $800 gift from your purchases has helped us provide diapers, cribs, beds, clothing and so much more, bringing stability to families in crisis right here where you live!

So What Now?

We know many of you still want to make sure your purchases can have a meaningful impact. We're excited to share with you another platform we've been using since we started this work. In fact, it's something our family uses personally to extend our own financial contributions to the mission. It's a platform called RoundUp App and with it you can round up your purchases to the nearest dollar, the spare change going to your selected charitable organization(s). To contrast, in the same time period as our AmazonSmile participation, RoundUps have generated $4,067.52.

That's 5x the impact!

There are two main benefits to you. One, all purchases are eligible, not just purchases made on Amazon. And two, you can select as many charities as you wish to benefit from your generosity, not just one. RoundUp App is free to use and you can easily set your desired minimum and maximum contribution.

Setup RoundUp App today and use your spare change to accelerate change for children and families right here where you live!

<![CDATA[The Intersection of Foster Care and Everything]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/the-intersection-of-foster-care-and-everything63a53f6191a673ff366258caFri, 23 Dec 2022 06:09:32 GMTRandall Nichols

We’re on a mission to eliminate the need for foster care.

That’s it. It really is that simple.

It will not be easy and there’s now way we can do it alone. But we’re convinced it is absolutely possible to achieve this in our day.

We’re inviting you to join us in a radical departure from the norm. It’s an invitation to leave empty pursuits in the past and risk it all in pursuit of Jesus as He leads us into the margins of society.

Foster care in America is upstream of every social challenge in our nation; crime, incarceration, gang activity, homelessness, trafficking, drug abuse… but if you join us in ending the need for foster care, you’re joining us in bringing significant change to all these other social issues, too.

Imagine a nation with 40% fewer incarcerated people, 70% less trafficking, 50% less homelessness, markedly lower crime rates, drug abuse, early pregnancy, and higher graduation and secondary education rates, weaving more skilled labor and generational stability into the fabric of our neighborhoods and our nation.

If you care about any of these issues, you care about foster care.

Eliminating the need for foster care strengthens communities, boosts the economy, and improves our overall well-being. But beyond any of these social benefits, ending the need for foster care strengthens and empowers families.

This is possible. Together.

Will you join us?

There are 4 ways you can this Giving Season and throughout the year:

  1. Setup a recurring gift
  2. Give your best one-time gift
  3. Donate stocks
  4. Create a peer-to-peer fundraiser

You can also give to specific programs or projects. View these on our website.

And don’t forget to see if your employer matches donations. Many do, making it an easy way to instantly double your gift.

<![CDATA[One Step Closer Devotional (Week 3)]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/one-step-closer-devotional-week-3637d0b7bc961c71dbc43484dTue, 22 Nov 2022 06:00:00 GMTKelley Nichols

When I read this verse, I think of Moses and Aaron. Remember Moses on the mountain, having to hold his arms up to God to protect his people as they waged war against their oppressors? Aaron couldn’t do the job for him, so he stood by Moses’ side and held his arms up. He bore the weight of his arms and the heaviness of the task.

And in this way, he fulfilled the law of Christ. Loving God and his neighbor.

So how do we carry the burdens of vulnerable families impacted by foster care?

It could look like donating diapers every month for a child. Or getting your church involved with resourcing needs and community care. Or leaning into relationships with vulnerable families.

What keeps us from taking one step closer? From following Jesus into the margins and caring for vulnerable people? I think it’s the fear of not enough. We hold onto our resources—our time, our money, our talents—because we’re afraid.

My friend reminded me of Ruth and, love story aside, the message is that there is provision in the margins. Farmers were instructed not to harvest everything, but to leave the gleanings around the edges of the fields for the poor and the immigrant.

To be this kind of open society make us uncomfortable, doesn't it? It requires something of the landowner, right? It requires him not to claim everything that belongs to him by rights. It requires welcoming strangers inside the boundaries of his property. It requires the risk of personal exposure.

This kind of self-sacrifice is the only way for followers of the Way. Matthew 25

A local church took in a pregnant mother and her three children who literally came home from work one day this summer to find that there was no longer a home to go to.

Immediately homeless with nowhere to go and no means to pick up the pieces.

This church’s pastor said, “We’ll do it. We’ll care for her. We can’t afford it, but we’ll do it. We’ll go broke to make sure she’s got what she needs.”

And you know what? They didn’t go broke. And this mother and her kids are in a home of their own and have found a community who cares for her and her little ones like no one ever has.

So what's keeping you from moving closer?

Watch Video

<![CDATA[Entrusted Conference Recap]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/entrusted-conference-recap63718a076e864323ab931102Sun, 20 Nov 2022 03:39:30 GMTRandall Nichols

It's so hard to put into words the experience we shared together at this year's (SOLD OUT!!!) Entrusted Conference, but let's try.

First some stats:

  • Attendees travelled from 6 states (Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Ohio)
  • Together, we consumed 9 gallons of coffee and 3 gallons of coffee creamer
  • 36% of attendees made use of our new conference app platform
  • Over $5000 worth of gifts were given away to attendees, made possible by our generous sponsors
  • More than 40 different churches were represented
  • Nearly 50% of attendees have already secured their spot at next year's ALL NEW Entrusted Conference

Now, beyond the stats, the beauty of the weekend really lies in the vulnerability we were invited into. Tori Hope Petersen and Susan Wanderer both brought us to tears, and our worship leaders, breakout facilitators, panelists, and peers helped hold us together.

Here are a few quotes from attendees:

I always wonder if I should go the next year, and when I do, I get so much out of it, personally and as a parent/spouse, and I remember why I come! To be honest, I am an adoptive mom and feel out of place in the foster care world, but this event is so inclusive and I love being around like-minded people.

Or how about this one:

It was an eye opening experience where we really did feel seen and feel like we have to tools to help our kids feel seen as well.

Ok, one more...

I like the real life aproach of the speakers and break outs. I LOVE everyone’s humor. I laughed so much!

*More pictures and videos will be coming soon!

Oh, and we already know where we'll be and when next year! Make sure you get your tickets when Early Bird goes on sale after the new year.

Visit Entrusted Conference Online

We can't wait to be back together again next Summer!!!

<![CDATA[One Step Closer Devotional (Week 2)]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/one-step-closer-devotional-week-2637d0a7de39229b5807fb506Tue, 15 Nov 2022 06:00:00 GMTKelley Nichols

I can navigate the sometimes treacherous path to the bathroom in complete darkness, dodging renovation tools, legos, and craft supplies littering the stairs. I don't need light because it's a well-traveled familiar path.

And I think much of our lives are like this. We confidently walk familiar paths without needing a light.

But following Jesus is an invitation to walk into unfamiliar places. The darkest corners where marginalized, vulnerable people live. It's scary and disorienting and I think we avoid it because we want a bright light to shine into every nook, exposing every potential obstacle.

Years ago, we took our first giant leap of faith into a life of ministry. And then into foster care and adoption. And then lept out of full-time ministry and into running a nonprofit with a million steps of faith along the way. And what we imagined is we'd take this one giant leap of faith in the darkness, and then our path would be clear and well-lit.

Except it's not. It's one leap of faith in the darkness, followed by another dark step. So we keep our eyes on Jesus.

We follow Him and enter the unfamiliar darkness without fear because the light of the world shines here.

Maybe you're questioning how? How do we take this first step into the darkness? And that's what we'll talk about next week.

Watch Video

<![CDATA[Countdown to Giving Tuesday]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/countdown-to-giving-tuesday636b13a05cfa22b505735250Wed, 09 Nov 2022 03:29:19 GMTRandall Nichols

We launched ECHO in the final months of 2019 and with that we also participated in our very first Giving Tuesday. That inaugural event propelled us into 2020, giving us much needed financial (and moral) support for the curveball that was thrown at all of us in March of that year.

And while 2020 was like nothing any of us ever want to experience again, it taught us something: that our community is resilient and we have tremendous capacity when it comes to caring for one another. In the midst of a pandemic, you all gave and kept giving throughout that year and into 2021. And because of that, we had more opportunities to serve more families.

Because of your giving in 2021, we were able to launch new a new program and expand an existing one to see an economic impact of over $500,000 by the end of last year.

Momentum and Challenges

This generated great momentum going into this year, but we had no idea the pressure this hard-hit economy would place on the families we serve, indicated by the uptick in requests for diaper assistance. From April through September of this year, we saw an average monthly increase of almost 40% month over month. And last month we distributed nearly 20,000 diapers to roughly 200 kiddos.

As we look toward 2023 and do our best to anticipate the needs of families in our community, we do so with faith in our team of supporters who make it possible to keep serving the most vulnerable amount us.

Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday is Tuesday, November 29 and we'll have stories to share and fun things to giveaway throughout the day on our Facebook page, so make sure you follow us and keep the notifications turned on for that day!

And as the day approaches, consider what you can do to help fuel the mission of ECHO* to preserve families, prevent fracture, and protect futures because every child deserves to know the stability of a lasting, loving family.

*In addition to traditional giving methods, we now are able to help you explore tax-advantaged gifts like stock, crypto, and planned giving. You might also consider fundraising among your co-workers, friends, or small group, as well as donating gifts in-kind.

We are a crowdfunded nonprofit. We work to stabilize families in crisis, bringing echoes of heaven to earth. All of this is possible because of supporters like you. So, thank you!

<![CDATA[One Step Closer Devotional (Week 1)]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/one-step-closer-devotional-week-1637d04e6d6b2cd4edf9434edTue, 08 Nov 2022 06:00:00 GMTKelley Nichols

As image bearers, we are meant to reflect His light. But when our hope is in anything or anyone other than Him, and when we’re distracted or too busy,

When our family was young, we struggled. Discontent. Dissatisfaction. The house was always messy. Work needed us and our young children needed us more. We were planting a church and there was always something that needed to be done. We were always running in different directions.

We were missing something. And society told us it was a bigger home, a newer car, and a nice vacation. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with these things. But God wants more and he wants us to want more.

Followers of Jesus, follow Jesus.

I think we dim our light (or the reflection of Jesus’ light in our lives) so we don’t have to see the needs. Because when we follow Jesus—the light of the world—he’s going to go into the margins. The dark corners with broken, hurting people. He brings light to them.

And if we follow him there we will see the needs.

Watch more

<![CDATA[One Step Closer - A Movement]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/one-step-closer-a-movement634a068265dc60550802b7eeSat, 15 Oct 2022 19:05:25 GMTRandall Nichols

300 children.

That's how many children within 20 miles of your front door will fall asleep tonight separated from their parents.

Each of them helpless to their situation. Each processing the trauma of their separation in different ways. Many not knowing where their siblings are. All of them waiting for this to all be over.

The process of either returning home or finding a stable home can take years, often because there aren't enough homes able to care for the needs of a child who's experiencing so much turmoil.

We aim to reverse this. To find more homes, to equip more families, to move more children out of care each year than enter.

With each year, each service provided, each family served, and each partner engaged, we move closer and closer to this goal.

It's the reason we're launching the One Step Closer Movement. It's a fun run, sort of. But it's so much more than that. At its core it's an invitation to you and your circle to close the gap for these children; to move them one step closer to family with each step you take.

Here's how you get involved:

  1. Register yourself or your group on our website
  2. Invite friends to join your team
  3. Set a fundraising goal and recruit sponsors
  4. Get moving!

Will you join us? Will you join the movement that's reversing the impact of foster care in your community? Will you help bring them one step closer to family?

<![CDATA[10 Great Ideas for Your Church on Stand Sunday]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/10-great-ideas-for-your-church-on-stand-sunday6349ef7dbe005e5cfee6762bSat, 15 Oct 2022 00:29:45 GMTRandall Nichols

If you've never participated in Stand Sunday before, you may not be familiar with this annual Church initiative. Every year on the second Sunday in November (which is also National Adoption Month in the US), churches all across the country shine a light on the more than 400,000 invisible children impacted by the US foster care system.

This is an opportunity to give your people actionable ideas to help them stand with the precious children and vulnerable families experiencing foster care right now, 300 of whom are within 20 miles of your church.

Want to know more about Stand Sunday? Click below to watch this short explainer:


You can also find more on the official Stand Sunday website, facilitated by the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO).

<![CDATA[An Idea for Your Church and Families in the Community]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/an-idea-for-your-church-and-families-in-the-community626d6fd6bae3cf6c2e04959dSat, 30 Apr 2022 17:24:57 GMTRandall Nichols

Hey Church Leader!

Have you ever visited a zoo? Do you remember your first time? How old were you? Did you go with family? A church group? Friends?

Last year ECHO hosted its first-ever family fun day at the Virginia Zoological Park in Norfolk. Here are some of the comments we heard:

"I've never been to the zoo before. Do the animals just roam around?" - Evan, 6 years old
"This is the first time I've seen my brother since we were separated." - Foster youth, 9 years old
"I didn't know coming to the zoo could feel like a family reunion." - Angie, foster parent

From our event last year, we were introduced to nearly 500 children and families and we've had the honor of serving them throughout the year.

On May 14th, we're hosting our 2nd Annual ECHO at the Zoo and already we have nearly 400 ticket requests from kinship, foster, and adoptive families.

We believe the local church is the world's greatest hope dealer. And for these families, you're the lifeline many of them have been praying for. How amazing would it be for your church to have an introduction to these families?

So I had an idea. Here's where you can make a tremendous impact. Three ideas...

  1. Would your church be willing to purchase a block of tickets for these families to make it possible for them to attend together? You can click this link to make it happen.
  2. Are there kinship (grandparents, aunts, uncles caring for a relative's child), foster, or adoptive families in your congregation who could use a fun, free day out to reconnect with each other? Would you buy tickets for your family and theirs and invite them to come with you? Can you imagine the gift this could be to them? Click here to buy your tickets.
  3. Does the church have a van or bus and a driver who'd be willing to help families lacking transportation take advantage of a day out? Connect with us here through this form (look for the Shuttle Team section).

We're so tremendously grateful for you, Church Leader, for your church, and for the work of the Gospel in which we're honored to share.

<![CDATA[Windows into the Invasion of Ukraine and Specifics on How to Pray]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/windows-into-the-invasion-of-ukraine621b00da8ef61d4ef99f8b5aSun, 27 Feb 2022 05:02:14 GMTRandall Nichols

Article orifinally appeared on https://cafo.org/ on February 25, 2022 by Jedd Medefind

The world watches tragedy unfold in Ukraine. The war will damage everything it touches, from local electric grids to the global economy. Whatever else will occur, we can know this: As in any crisis, vulnerable children will be among the most impacted. The updates below provide glimpses of the current wave of the Russian invasion, shared real-time by CAFO member organizations that have long served children in Ukraine.

As you read, please do not only gaze on trouble from far off. Join with our dear brothers and sisters in Ukraine by praying for each situation and person involved:

Ambassador for Father’s House

Events have escalated quickly in Ukraine. Roman, the staff and kids are all safe! …The streets are full as people evacuate the city. A military base near Fathers House has been attacked. We have started the evacuation and the children are on their way to safety. Right now they are securing all the necessary supplies and documents to transport the children and adults who will be caring for them. They have secured housing for 120-150 people along with transportation for them. As things escalate, they are heading somewhere they will be safe throughout this time. The place they are going has agreed to allow the kids entry with or without travel forms. Kids and staff will be placed in a donor’s hotel, churches and families in a safe environment. We ask for your continued prayer and support in this fluid and uncertain time. At this time we are praying for safe travels and security during this trip across the country. We will continue to share updates via Facebook (@ambassadorsoffh) and social media as we can.

Lifeline Children’s Services

We have our FSPs in Ukraine as well as our partner Heritage Ukraine in Odessa. So far, all are safe, but the situation is grave. Heritage ministers to families with kids with special needs to help them be able to stay home & not be institutionalized. The Perekotys (our other partner) are in the US now. Yuriy’s parents however are in Ternopi. The family is currently safe but cannot leave where they are because gas stations are completely out of gas. Also, our partner Regen Foundation in Romania is prepared to receive Ukrainian refugees. We all have too many friends to count who are in harms way. I think we are all numb.

Lifesong for Orphans

All of the children and families we serve, as well as our staff and their families, are safe at this time. Our team prepared for this invasion by gathering food, water, fuel, and supplies, and they continue gathering supplies today.

We are enacting contingency plans and moving our staff, families, and youth to the safest locations we can, wherever possible.

Our hearts are heavy with what is happening. Would you join us in prayer? Please pray for:

  • Wisdom and discernment for government officials and decision-makers.
  • The children and families Lifesong serves to experience God’s unconditional love and peace.
  • The continued safety and protection of vulnerable children, staff, volunteers, and families.
  • Peace in and surrounding Ukraine.
  • God’s glory through the heavy challenges.

We find encouragement in the words and mindset of Denis Poshelok, Director of Lifesong Ukraine. He recently wrote, “God is in control. In times like this, people are more open to the Gospel and are searching for answers that only He has. It’s an ideal time to serve people and point them to Christ.

Our fight is a spiritual one, and we trust God will lead us through all this, as He always does.”

Nightlight Christian Adoptions

Our FT staff member in our Indiana office is a sweet, young Ukrainian citizen named Vika. She spent the whole time in tears…hasn’t been able to speak all day. Here are the prayer requests we came up with:

  • For the safety of our friends and family in harm’s way
  • For keen awareness of God’s presence in dark times
  • For God to be victorious over His enemies
  • For the protection and safety of those fighting for their freedom
  • For those fleeing the country, we pray for safe and successful passage
  • For all adoptions in process to find a quick and successful completion
  • Knowing that the “consent of the governed” is a God-given right, for the people of Ukraine to have the same
  • Knowing that all people were created with the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we pray the people of Ukraine would have these rights

A Family for Every Orphan

We have been in touch with several of our partners in Ukraine and they echo what is heard in the news. Some are in the east along the border where shelling is heavy and Russian tanks are crossing over into their regions, others are more central and continue to hear sounds of missiles and see smoke in the distance as key military and infrastructure is targeted. One has evacuated his family from the east, while choosing to stay behind to continue to minister to the many children and families he serves. Another is watching the news and traffic carefully to determine when and if evacuation is wise. And another is hunkered down with many children they minister to in a nearby bomb shelter until it is safe to return.

Our partners and the vulnerable children and families they serve are in immediate need of: Gas / transportation; Food and water; Medicine and supplies; Shelter as it will take days for many to travel west.

One pastor and ministry friend said: “… God is giving us peace to stay. So, we have chosen to stay here to serve the people of our church, to serve the kids of the ministry we have, and to serve people of this nation in any way that we can. We have become a place of refuge already, people know that we are a safe place to come to, and either get food or blankets or a place. And we are going to do just that. So, do pray with us and for us. We are believing that God will glorify his name through our nation. And We pray for Russia as well, for peace all over the world.”

Please also be praying specifically for…

  • Slava – our partner in Kharkiv that is one of the main areas attacked the hardest, evacuated his family and stayed behind to care for the children and families he is helping. Please pray for his protection and strength.
  • Jane and Barbara – Who run a family-style orphanage in the kyiv area are bunkered in a bomb shelter. Please pray for their discernment on when to return and for food supplies for the children.
  • Andriy – Who is helping families in the Chernobyl region that has been hit heavily as well. He has a wife and two young children behind at home.
  • Bogdan – Who has been helping aged out teens in the east relocate to safer shelters and is now stuff in the chaos of traffic and gas shortages to get back to where he needs to be.
  • And for the Ukrainian Military – Without other nations stepping in, with God’s help, they are their only hope and are apparently doing really well despite being significantly outnumbered.

Serving Orphans Worldwide

We have been in contact with all of our partner homes in Ukraine, and all of the children and staff are currently safe.

However, please continue your prayers and support.

Pilgrim (Mariupol) and Sails of Hope (Slavyansk) are in particularly vulnerable areas of Eastern Ukraine. Our contacts have confirmed shelling and attacks all over the nation close to all 5 of our partner homes located near Kyiv, Alexandria, and even Lviv which is near the Polish border to the west.

Two of the homes have made an attempt to evacuate, but ultimately were forced to turn around and shelter in place due to Russian military strikes.

Hands of Hope

Jed in Ukraine has requested prayer for protection, discernment, wisdom, and peace. There was bombing about 20 miles away at a tank factory which shook their windows but so far that’s as close as it’s come. They have 2 generators, supplies, food, and medicine for a few months. They are all hunkered down together. I know many have dear friends there as well. Praying fervently for all of Ukraine! We know God is faithful and eventually there will be victory over all the brokenness of the world. But hard, hard things.

Orphan’s Promise

We’ve been in constant communication with our people in Ukraine all day. Our staff there could see and hear the explosions from their houses... Everyone’s waiting. There’s really nowhere to go any more. The people are scared but they are determined to fight. Many volunteers are signing up to go to battle. They bombed the whole country and are trying to advance from three sides (from Crimea in the south, along Russian borders in the East and from Belorussia in the North…. we’ve sent supplies in earlier this month in anticipation of the attacks but nobody expected the whole country to be affected. All of our kids/projects have been safe for now, just praying and waiting.

Everyone has been affected in the whole country because of the Airstrikes yesterday. They continue today. Several staff from our office are gathering at her house as it’s seen as a safer place than in the city of Kyiv with multilevel buildings. And they all are praying together that nothing hits their house…

Orphan Outreach

The young adults who are in our Aging Out Program are safe and are doing as well as can be expected. They are praying together as the Russian attack commences, and our Orphan Outreach team is praying alongside them as they and all of Ukraine face an uncertain future. Our Ukraine team currently has provisions to provide for their care—including food and shelter. Of course, this situation can change at any moment.

<![CDATA[When's the Best Time to Reclaim Your Legacy?]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/reclaim-your-legacy605cd72019708a0015df742aThu, 25 Mar 2021 18:40:45 GMTRandall Nichols"Some of you will reclaim the ancient ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes." Isaiah 58:12 NLT

Some time ago we sat at the kitchen table feeling this frustration with life. We had one little guy and another one on the way and I remember you saying, “There’s got to be more than this.” It was this discontent with normal life, knowing we were created for more. Maybe you’ve said it or thought it or felt it... this discontent with the normal American pursuit (job advancement, bigger house, nicer car, family vacations, etc.). I think we just feel stuck in it and we look around and we feel normal so we just resign to live in it...until the nagging feeling catches back up to us and we feel frustrated all over again. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a good job, a nice house or car, or exploring the big beautiful world God has made. The problem is when those become our pursuit. They become our why. But pursuing these things we know almost always leads to ruin. Right? Marriages are ruined. Families are ruined. Careers are ruined. Finances are ruined. Reputations are ruined. Sometimes nature and cultures have even been ruined. Those “things” we want to acquire or see or do, they can all be roadside stops along the way but when they become our aim, people (and often the people we care about most) become victims along the wayside of our sideways pursuit.

That’s kinda what happened to the people of Israel. In the Book of Isaiah, we see the prophet spending a lot of effort trying to help Israel see how they’d abused themselves and the cost that was being imposed because of it. Isaiah’s helping them remember. Helping them aspire. Helping them identify. Helping them hook back in to that tether that anchors them to God and the purpose He has for them as individuals, as a community, as a nation, and ultimately as a people belonging to God. Israel had just been given a chance to start over but they were finding themselves doing the same old things with the same old results that weakened them as a society and left them exposed and vulnerable and ultimately led to their capture and the city's destruction.

Their legacy has been left in ruins.

What about you?

What about me?

What in your life, in my life, is in ruins because of self-preservation rather than seeking the welfare of others? I think you've probably seen it too often recently...

Marriages are crumbling. Business have closed. Influencial men have ruined their reputations. Church leaders have lost influence. Your daughter won't return your phone calls. Your brother has stopped responding to your attempts to connect. Your childhood friendship is on the rocks because of an unfiltered comment on Facebook. Maybe you feel like your life or parts of your life are in ruins.

Israel was there. Our society is there. And the ones who pay the highest cost are the poor, the overlooked, the invisible, the silenced, the marginalized...

But this chapter in Isaiah tells us, if we are willing to listen, some of us will have the luxury of a life that lives on after we've returned to the dust. If we will listen, if we will move toward the margins of society, if we will elevate the downcast, we will actually be able to reclaim for our own lives a legacy that can outlast us.

Reclaiming the ruins isn't easy. And it isn't instant. It's an investment but it's one that has the potential to pay dividends for generations to come.

When we observe the population we serve in foster care and adoption, especially the children, and maybe even more especially the teenagers, all of them come into a new family feeling a constant and often subconscious sense of the brain making all these "Am I Safe" evaluations. The walls have been broken down for them over and over and over again. And the more experiences of trauma a child has had, the more challenges a foster or adoptive parent will need to overcome. As a human, that child is instinctively wired to survive. But as a child, they're not emotionally equipped to build those walls in healthy ways. Only a regulated, stable adult can do that. And, as you can imagine, rebuilding walls is not an overnight or single-response solution. There's work to be done. Slow, intentional, self-sacrificing work to be done to rebuild security FOR a child and let their brains do the work of healthy development rather than constantly fighting for survival.

And adults... we are the only ones who can do this for a child... for the children in our cities who desperately need someone to say, "I see you. I've got you. You're safe here."

Is this your legacy? What would it take for you to take the next step? There are a few things you can do right now. One, you can pray. Let God stir your heart. Two, obey. Whatever you feel He might be asking of you, be courageous and follow Jesus in obedience. Three, connect with us. Maybe what He's asking of you is to welcome children into your home and begin the process of rebuilding walls for them. Maybe he's asking you to help these families with the process of rebuilding. Maybe he's asking you to fund the work. There's something for everyone. There's a way every single one of you can reclaim your legacy and be known as a rebuilder of walls.

And while it's fine to dream about your own 2.5 kids and your boat and your house, remember Isaiah was wanting Israel to keep the marginalized in mind in all this dreaming. And this is Jesus' dream for you as well. There are thousands of kids in our country who've forgotten how to dream because for them, the basics have been so elusive that dreaming of a family, of a place that feels safe, of the arms of a mother, of the security of a future, of the laughter around the dinner table, of warm snuggles under blankets, and football in the yard - these dreams aren't even possible for many kids. In fact, where we live there are a few hundred who simply don't have the capacity to dream right now because they're fighting for survival. They need someone who can curate a dream for them. You can bring the dream to them. You can restore home for a child today. You can restore dreams for a child today. This is your legacy. And God is inviting you to step into it. Will you take his offer?

Are you wrestling with the idea of opening your home to a child? Is there a family in your circle who needs your support? Do you have the capacity for financial generosity toward vulnerable people?

Here's what we know... we all want our lives to mean something. When we're dead and gone, we want to be remembered for something.

If we look again at Israel and the audience Isaiah was orginially writing to, in many ways this call to reclaim, rebuild, and restore was a very literal aspiration. Hammer and nails, timber and thatch, front doors and sidewalks and neighbors and all that. But you and I both know that a physical house is not at the core of our aspirations. Certainly we want a safe, pleasing, and functional structure. But home is more than walls and a roof. Home is what happens between the people who live inside it. And if I put myself in the shoes of Isaiah's audience and I hear him ask me to dream about being known as a restorer of homes, I'm remembering the dinners around the table as a kid where I'd watch my father pray, where I'd hear my brother and sister laughing, or my mom trying to stay civilized when someone produced an unexpected sound from the southside, if you know what I mean. I'm recalling building something with my dad or playing ball in the front yard. I'm dreaming about what it'll be like to teach my son to drive and how to ask a girl on a date. Being a restorer of homes is really very little about the structure of a house and so much about the opportunity to strengthen the human connection within the most sacred structure God has ever formed, the family.

It’s taking one step in the direction of God’s people. It’s seeing the messy, broken ruins of someone’s life and moving towards them, when everything in you wants to turn and go the other way.

We could ignore them. We do it every day. Sometimes, it's just easier. But what if instead, we choose to see the needs? To look into the eyes of the person in need? What if we believed God coud actually use us to meet the needs? What would it look like to move just one step in His direction?

We all want our lives to mean something. This is your legacy. And God is inviting you to step into it. Will you take his offer?

Will you move just one step in His direction?