<![CDATA[ECHO Family Care Partners]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/blogRSS for NodeSat, 15 Jun 2024 23:12:13 GMT<![CDATA[CarePortal: The Uber of Foster Care]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/careportal-the-uber-of-foster-care65d4cf9c804a8cdfc86a1bbdTue, 20 Feb 2024 16:19:28 GMTRandall Nichols

This article originally appeared here in the Wall Street Journal

Every year in the U.S., seven million children are referred to child protective services. On any given day close to 400,000 children are in the foster system. Roughly 80% of children in foster care have mental-health issues vs. 18% to 22% for other children. This is a problem worth solving.

The origin story: Healthcare executive Adrien Lewis and his wife began fostering children in 2011 and spent two years trying to get churches in the Kansas City area to recruit foster parents—no easy task. Then, “out of nowhere,” Mr. Lewis says, “I get a vision for CarePortal, to leverage technology to connect. In crisis, those touched by the child-welfare system could connect with churches and people who care in proximity that would want to help if they knew.

What would happen if you could expose people to the reality that a bed or crib or car seat, or paying a bill, things that were small, like 6-inch barriers, would actually make a difference to keep kids out of foster care and reunify biological families?” Heck of a vision.

So “with shoestring and duct tape, we pulled together different software platforms and kind of jimmied them together. A pilot of CarePortal hit the market in Austin, Texas, in late 2014. People went nuts over it. The very first request was for a family with a bedbug problem who was trying to adopt a cousin who had been in foster care. Supplies and volunteers solved their bedding problem.”

Here are some stats: 50% of children in the foster system are concentrated in 5% of counties in 31 states. That’s 160 counties and 96 markets. CarePortal is now in 64 markets and growing and says it has helped more than 250,000 children avoid foster care.

CarePortal CEO Joe Knittig told me that “Uber is to ride-sharing what CarePortal is to care sharing—community-based care sharing. Every day, we have 350 children that are actually being served by their neighbors through CarePortal.” The plan is to scale it to thousands.

Mr. Knittig goes on, “The No. 1 driver of children entering the foster system is not abuse, it’s poverty-related neglect.” I looked up the numbers. According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, in 2021 only 16% entered foster care because of physical or sexual abuse of the child. Sixty-three percent entered because of neglect.

Mr. Knittig explains, “CarePortal at its essence is a request-response loop.” On one side are social-service professionals, social workers and others who enter “real-time vetted needs of kids and families in crisis” into the CarePortal app. On the other side are local churches and community responders who see the need and jump into action. “Bedding is the No. 1 need entered into CarePortal. But there could be relational things like ‘I need a mentor.’ ”

It works pre-emptively too. Social workers are “literally entering: What are the things that are needed for me to not remove this child? And some of them are further upstream like: OK, I’m not ready to remove the child, but to strengthen this family so they don’t get to that point.”

“Social workers who are using it are some of the most unsung heroes in our country, but they’re usually underpaid, overworked. It is brutally difficult, traumatic work for them, and so their turnover rates are really high. They’re encountering these needs and don’t have access to community-based resources at scale.”

On the responding side, Mr. Knittig says, “we’re recruiting a broad coalition of the willing—local churches and other community leaders. They could be individuals or businesses. They could be other faith-based organizations—a synagogue. Anyone with a heart for the community and to serve. They’re our community responders.”

He showed me a screenshot from the app that showed items needed and the distance to various community responders, who, like Uber drivers, can click on items they can provide. The results might be a bed from one organization and mattress covers from another. Individuals then show up to help. “CarePortal creates and accelerates human connection. Different community responders are now meeting each other and serving these real-time needs. The point is, the car seat, the crib, the bill that needs to be paid, is a gateway to a relationship. It’s the relationship and the ongoing wraparound that is the magic.”

Does it work? “We did a study in a three-county area at the epicenter of the opioid epidemic in Florida. With CarePortal, there was a 60% reduction in the number of kids entering foster care and, during the time of the study, which before had rapid caseworker turnover, they had zero resignations during the time of the study.”

This amazed me: “Our organization stays anonymous to those kids. Really, it’s a big deal to us,” he says. “So there’s not one of those 250,000 kids or their parents who’s ever heard of us. They see their care coming from their moms, their dads, their grandparents, a local church, volunteers, a social worker, so it’s truly a bottom-up thing. We’re an underground connecting platform. And it’s important to us that these kids have local heroes. We’re building capacity for local churches in the lowest-income ZIP Codes to be the solutions for their own families.”

I ask about Mr. Knittig’s motivation. “So at the core of it, I started here because I was one of these kids and I have a unique perspective that these kids are not the objects of our pity. They are full of potential and need to be invested in by their neighbors. These are our future leaders.”

The platform’s founder, Mr. Lewis, hopes that long-term, versions of CarePortal can help “veterans and elderly and people with disabilities, or people who just got out of prison. Those that are isolated. The same technology can work for all of the most vulnerable.”

Half of the nonprofit’s funding comes from agencies paying platform fees and the rest from donors in the Stand Together network and others. States spend more than $30 billion every year on child-welfare agencies and programs. Hopefully, because of CarePortal, that spending goes down, but more important, because of technology that connects social workers with volunteers and community responders, children can avoid foster care and stay with their families.

<![CDATA[ECHO Honored with Prestigious Award]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/echo-honored-with-prestigious-award65ca3462cb5bcf36ec7c4623Mon, 12 Feb 2024 15:17:31 GMTRandall Nichols


ECHO Family Care Partners Receives Prestigious Hampton Unity Award


ECHO Family Care Partners proudly announces its recent acknowledgment with the Hampton Unity Award, recognizing the organization's steadfast commitment to serving vulnerable families in the Hampton community.

This recognition comes from the Hampton Citizens Unity Commission and acknowledges ECHO’s unwavering commitment to fostering diversity, equity, and unity within our community.

For years, ECHO has been a leading advocate for children and families, providing crucial support to those impacted by poverty, and extending compassionate care to children engaged with foster care. The Hampton Unity Award highlights the significant impact ECHO has made, fostering unity and positive change within the local community.

The collective efforts of the ECHO team have not only earned the organization this esteemed honor but have also positioned it as a beacon of hope and support for those in need. This award is a celebration of past achievements and an inspiration for the continued impact that ECHO Family Care Partners will make in the future.

ECHO Family Care Partners expresses sincere gratitude to the Hampton Unity Award committee and the community for this recognition. The organization remains dedicated to its mission of stabilizing families and eliminating the need for foster care throughout Coastal Virginia. 

About ECHO: By providing access to essential resources, relevant education, and meaningful connection, ECHO aims to stabilize families experiencing crisis and eliminate the need for foster care throughout Coastal Virginia. To learn more, visit wearetheecho.org.


For media inquiries, please contact:

Randall Nichols



<![CDATA[This Is the Movement]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/this-is-the-movement6564352ec76c6b6aa4c9e774Mon, 27 Nov 2023 05:00:00 GMTRandall Nichols

Movements. We all want to be part of one.

It’s not just an experience or cultural phenomenon.

This is something that shifts the culture.

Movements breaks abusive systems, empowers the oppressed, and elevates the marginalized.

Think: American Revolution, Women’s Suffrage, Civil Rights, etc.

But being part of a movement is scary. It requires risk from every participant.

This is precisely where Jesus wants us. We are not invited into comfort. We were never called to take up our hammock and follow Jesus to a killer nap spot. As nice as that sounds, that’s not the mission. If we think we’re following Jesus but none of our paths lead us to the Quartet of the Vulnerable (the widow, orphan, immigrant, and the poor) we’re not actually following Jesus, but rather a disordered and powerless demigod.

We wouldn’t be the first people to fall into this trap. The Prophets spent most of their time calling God’s people out of the enchanted trance that drew them toward disordered power systems and back toward God through the care of society’s most vulnerable.

And Jesus continues the call to us today, to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him to the margins.

To be part of a movement, and part of the team, you must walk out each step - from

  • Teachability: let go, lean in, and learn; to

  • Empathy: move close enough to care; to

  • Action: do something about it.

I’m gonna let you off the hook:

If you don’t care or aren’t curious about helping families overcome the fracturing impacts of poverty and social isolation, if you don’t want to eliminate the need for foster care in this community, if you don’t think every child deserves to believe they belong, you’re probably going to be frustrated being part of this team. You’re likely gonna be much more fulfilled advocating another cause.

But if you care, then come on! That’s what we’re fighting for!

But man, if you care deeply… let’s do this! Let’s see if we can’t work together to make things better!

Because a movement does not happen alone. A movement is born when the paths of those individuals who’ve repeatedly taken action merge to collectively push against the social current.

So if you’re still reading this, if you care deeply like we do, then consider this your invitation… your calling, even… JOIN THE TEAM - JOIN THIS MOVEMENT as we lean in and learn.

Come, let’s shift the culture.

Let’s get close to families affected by poverty and broken systems. Let’s bear the name of Christ faithfully. Let’s see families and children and communities stronger because of it.

Everybody has a role on the TEAM! This is the MOVEMENT!

Stay with us throughout the month of November for our TEAM series as we explore the values of Teachability, Empathy, Action, and Movements.

Giving Tuesday is on November 28, 2023. Add it to your calendar and make plans to give your most generous gift on this, our biggest Give Day of the year!

<![CDATA[Empathy Stirs Us to Action]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/empathy-leads-us-to-action6564a2287e8c1d8c1ee24941Mon, 20 Nov 2023 05:00:00 GMTRandall Nichols

When’s the last time you cared deeply about something?

What motivated that deep care?

Chances are, the thing you cared deeply about came from the awareness of an issue that affects someone you’re close to, maybe even yourself.

What was your response?

In most cases, where you felt empowered to do so, you did something about it. You shared the story. You gave a financial gift. You took food or visited someone.

Whatever it was, it was more than just a feeling. That feeling moved you to act on the behalf of the person in need.

That’s what empathy does. It moves us to act.

And it’s precisely why James exhorts us to put action to our faith (James 2).

For me, there are times when I fall into a numb sort of complacency. When I see the overwhelming suffering of the world and I just feel helpless to do anything beneficial. It’s in these seasons where often, the Holy Spirit through the mouthpiece of the people in my life, will point my attention to someone near me who I can help; a man on the corner asking for food, a child who needs a bed, a family who needs shelter.

Helping that one is the action I can take.

I can move in closer, I can listen, I can learn, I can give, I can serve, I can advocate. Because now, this person I helped is no longer a stranger, but a fellow human working out what it means to live in this world, just like me.

This person is now my brother, my friend, my family.

This person matters to me. Their need is my need. Their cause is my cause.

So I will take action on their behalf. And I will invite you to take action with me. And you’ll invite someone to take action with you. And our actions combined start a movement that changes society and restores what’s broken in the world.

Because a movement is just one action, faithfully executed, one person at a time.

Stay with us throughout the month of November for our TEAM series as we explore the values of Teachability, Empathy, Action, and Movements.

Giving Tuesday is on November 28, 2023. Add it to your calendar and make plans to give your most generous gift on this, our biggest Give Day of the year!

<![CDATA[Teachability Leads Us to Empathy]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/teachability-leads-us-to-empathy6554dafb4ad3b5b9e7624983Tue, 14 Nov 2023 14:55:00 GMTRandall Nichols

You know that feeling when someone sees you? Like really sees you?

It’s relieving isn’t it? It’s like a portal opens to a heavenly realm.

That’s empathy.

But if you’ve ever been on the outside, it may seem like years since you’ve been truly seen by another person. Because what’s the opposite of being seen?

Being invisible.

Invisibility is the symptom of being pushed into the margins and pushed beyond the social tapestry and pushed to the depths of isolation.

But remember the woman who touched the cuff of Jesus’ cloak (Luke 8)? Because of her condition, she’d not felt a human touch for 12 years. Her presence in that crowd was scandalous, even illegal. Her desperation for a human connection was deeper than even her desire for healing.

This woman had been alone for more than a decade. Pushed to the margins. Pushed beyond the social tapestry. Pushed to the depths of isolation.

After her touch, Jesus sought her. He SAW her. She was healed, reintegrated, and restored to the relationships she so desperately desired.

Empathy requires a response.

It doesn’t mean we have to have prior first-hand experience to show empathy. But we must be willing to see another person, to meet another person where there are, fully present with their pain, withholding shame and judgement, transcending the rules of social propriety, touching and being touched by a human in their suffering.

That’s empathy.

Because you can’t truly care about a person you’re not close to. In order to care, you’ve got to be close.

That’s empathy. And empathy requires a response

And the response to empathy is action.

Stay with us throughout the month of November for our TEAM series as we explore the values of Teachability, Empathy, Action, and Movements.

Giving Tuesday is on November 28, 2023. Add it to your calendar and make plans to give your most generous gift on this, our biggest Give Day of the year!

<![CDATA[We Must Remain Teachable, Curious, Humble]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/we-must-remain-teachable-curious-humble6554d6f8e5f23a8089c1c2e4Tue, 07 Nov 2023 14:43:00 GMTRandall Nichols

Don’t you just love a know-it-all?

Who comes to mind when you hear that? Please don’t tag them in this post. If you’re having trouble identifying a know-it-all in your life, I have bad news for you… it’s you!

But as annoying as a know-it-all may be, as off-putting and walled-off as they may be, a humble person who keeps his heart and mind open to the experiences and wisdom of others invites an opportunity for connection and relationship.

Over and over, the writer of Proverbs reminds us that humility precedes honor (Proverbs 15:33, 18:12, 29:23).

This is the posture of a person who remains as the prophet Jeremiah witnessed in chapter 18, “clay in the hands of the Potter.” This posture was found in many of the prophets of the Old Testament. It’s why so often their cry is “Why, oh Lord…” or “How long, oh Lord…”

And as we respond to the invitation of Christ, we’re invited to remain humble, teachable, curious.

Curiosity pulls us toward injustice, forcing us to lean in and listen. This curiosity keeps us humble and keeps us teachable.

See, those that were ready to condemn the woman found in adultery were rigid on the rules. They knew what the law was. They’d forgotten what the law was for. But not Jesus. Was he unrighteous by going against the law?

There’s a quote from Barbara Brown Taylor that bothers many people:

But it seems this is exactly how Jesus could remain righteous and reject the enforcement of God’s law over this situation. Because the law is for the flourishing of humanity. And it is the invitation, the calling, the drawing of Jesus through the Holy Spirit toward marginalized people - that as we approach people, we must remain teachable, curious, humble.

And this teachability, curiosity, humility is the only way toward empathy.

Stay with us throughout the month of November for our TEAM series as we explore the values of Teachability, Empathy, Action, and Movements.

Giving Tuesday is on November 28, 2023. Add it to your calendar and make plans to give your most generous gift on this, our biggest Give Day of the year!

<![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[Sentara Cares Grant to Help Children Heal]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/sentara-cares-grant-to-help-children-heal65a57799eaf913d20a6762f1Mon, 31 Jul 2023 18:32:00 GMTRandall Nichols

We are thrilled to share some exciting news with the ECHO Family Care Partners community!

Thanks to the generosity of the Sentara Cares Foundation, we have been selected as recipients of a grant to further our mission of supporting vulnerable families in Coastal Virginia.

This grant specifically focuses on enhancing trauma competency education for caregivers and other child-serving adults. At ECHO, we understand the profound impact of childhood trauma on young lives, and we are committed to equipping our community with the tools and knowledge to help children heal and thrive.

The support from Sentara Cares Foundation will enable us to expand our programs, providing comprehensive training and resources to caregivers. By fostering trauma competency, we aim to create a nurturing environment where children affected by trauma can find healing and resilience.

We want to express our deepest gratitude to the Sentara Cares Foundation for believing in our mission.

Together, we will continue to make a positive difference in the lives of those we serve, building a community where every child can grow, learn, and thrive despite the challenges they may face.

Stay tuned for updates on the impactful initiatives that this grant will make possible!

Visit our Trauma Competency Education Program page

Visit our Trauma Insight Page

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

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...

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.

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 Nichols

A 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 GMTRandall NicholsThis 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?

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<![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:

Or how about this one:

Ok, one more...

*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.

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