Elizabeth Aldrich received a late-evening call from a Department of Children’s Services case worker. DCS needed to place a seventeen-year-old girl in a safe haven that night. Aldrich, a case manager for Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes, thought of a family that had been certified for foster care placement, but wasn’t sure they’d be available on such short notice. Something told her to try anyway, and sure enough the family immediately responded. Elizabeth set out for their home in nearby Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
An hour later, Aldrich was finishing up the paperwork with DCS and the new foster family.
“Did I see someone out in your car?” Aldrich asked the DCS case worker. Discovering that the occupant was another case worker Aldrich knew, she went out to say hello. When she reached the car, she saw that her friend was not alone—she had a baby in the car with her.
“Where are you taking this chubby little cutie?” Aldrich asked.
“We don’t know,” the case worker replied. “We’ve been looking to place him with a family all day and no one has responded.”
Baby Max (not his real name) was a four-month-old boy. Neither of Max’s parents was able to care for him. He had been living with a family member who had gotten into trouble, and now he had nowhere else to go.
“Give me five minutes,” Aldrich said. She had a family in mind who had expressed interest for over a year in fostering a baby. Though it was past nine in the evening, once again Aldrich took a chance and made the call. Once again, the family expressed their immediate willingness to take in the child.
Aldrich made the hour-plus drive from Murfreesboro to Clarksville, Tennessee, that night, and Max had a comfortable night’s sleep in the safe environs of a loving home for maybe the first time in his short life.
Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes (TBCH), one of twenty-one children’s and family ministries associated with nineteen Baptist state conventions, believes every child should experience the stable, nurturing love of a family. These vital ministries believe the most crucial thing they can share with a child is the love and hope found through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Holding this conviction, they provide Christ-centered homes for children who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in difficult situations—children whose families have come to a place where they are unable to provide the day-to-day care their children need.
TBCH has been caring for children since 1891. Following several years of dormancy in its foster care ministry, TBCH relaunched its foster care program at the end of 2013. The relaunched foster care ministry is called “The George Shinn Foster Care Program,” named after the man whose donation provided significant funding to bring the ministry to sustainability.
George Shinn, the former owner of the Charlotte Hornets basketball team, recently moved to middle Tennessee and began looking for a way to give back to the community. He learned of TBCH through his pastor at West Franklin Baptist Church (now a campus of Brentwood Baptist Church). After visiting one of the TBCH campuses, he said he decided to make a “business decision and a heart decision” to help the TBCH ministry. In January of 2015, the George Shinn Foundation made a commitment of one million dollars (one hundred thousand dollars annually for ten years) toward the ministry’s foster care program.
TBCH recruits, trains, and certifies foster care families to meet the needs of Tennessee’s at-risk children. Once a new foster family is certified, TBCH provides ongoing support, checking on the family on a bimonthly basis. Foster families live in their own homes. The parents are trained and vetted to state and TBCH standards to assure that children placed in their care will receive the best possible care in a Christ-centered environment.
In 2017, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam recognized TBCH for the services it provides the state through the state’s TN Fosters program. TN Fosters is a collaboration that seeks to unite state government, faith groups, nonprofit organizations, and businesses in recruiting foster parents and supporting foster families.
Haslam’s office produced a video for TBCH in which he voiced gratitude that “Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes has taken the initiative to bring community churches together to meet the increasing need for high-quality homes to serve children in Tennessee foster care.” The video and quote have been used by TBCH at an event, online, and in its quarterly magazine.
So far in the current year, TBCH has served fifty-one children statewide in foster care. The ministry served a total of seventy-three foster children in 2017 and completed twenty-three adoptions during the same year.
TBCH is engaged in two different sides of ministry—residential care on three different campuses and foster care. But it has only one mission: to follow Christ’s command to care for the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40). Each person in the organization, from foster care case managers to houseparents to the accounting staff, works toward that same goal.
While TBCH accepts children referred from the state, it receives no state funding. Its goal is to assist the Department of Children’s Services by helping select and certify safe, Christ-centered homes for Tennessee’s neglected and endangered children. To that end, TBCH foster care case managers strive to develop friendly working relationships with the state’s DCS case workers.
One of those relationships paid off in the lives of two children in crisis last year, when Aldrich received the referral for a seventeen-year-old girl who needed a foster family.
“What a remarkable set of circumstances that God orchestrated,” Greg McCoy, TBCH president, said. “If Elizabeth hadn’t taken a chance on a family to place a teenager; if she hadn’t struck up a friendship with a couple of DCS case workers; if she hadn’t decided to go out to that car to say hello, then Max and this precious teen girl might still be in need of homes.
“This is a great example of not just the surprising ways in which God works, but also of the church and state working together for the benefit of our children in crisis,” he said.
21 The number of Baptist Children’s and Family Care ministries that relate directly to nineteen state Baptist conventions.
248 The number of service sites where children and family services are offered by the twenty-one child care ministries.
1,174 The number of professions of faith recorded in 2017 through Baptist child and family care ministries affiliated with BCCF.
7,866 The number of children served through residential care ministry by members of BCCF in 2017.
654,964 The total number of people served in 2017 through professional counseling services, foster care, adoption assistance, residential care homes, physical and sexual abuse prevention training, pregnancy care, single mother and children shelter and training, senior care, emergency shelters, and other services provided through the twenty-one Baptist Children’s and Family Care organizations that are part of the Baptist Coalition for Children and Families.
Countless The number of volunteers and volunteer hours individuals from Southern Baptist churches provided in 2017 to serve the needs of children and families ministered to by members of BCCF.
Priceless The value of each child and family member saved and served through the ministries of the twenty-one childcare organizations funded, assisted, and otherwise supported by Southern Baptists across the United States.
Charlie Wetherington is communications specialist with the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes in Brentwood, Tennessee, and is a member of Village Church in Nashville, Tennessee.