For months, 18-month-old baby Naomi was left wherever when mom and dad went to party.
One evening when her desperate mother, who had been beaten by her partner, called the police to her home, Naomi was found in clothes soaked in beer and urine. She was then placed in foster care for three years and eventually adopted.
Now, at 9 years old, her life is radically changed.
“It was her story that broke my heart,” said Aaron Scofield, the Kalispell-based state director of a new faith-based foster care nonprofit called the Montana Initiative of Promise 686.
Naomi’s story inspired Scofield, too, and for the last five years he has served vulnerable children in Northwest Montana, first for Child Bridge and now with the state chapter of Promise 686, a national faith-based organization that supports foster families.
Across the country, 400,000 children rely on foster care each year. In Montana, 3,000 children are at risk and in need of foster care. Scofield said the number of children in foster care could vary by 100 depending on the day.
“When I began my work in foster care at Child Bridge, I found families to care for the Naomis,” said Scofield.
In 2015, Scofield became the Kalispell regional director of Child Bridge, another faith-based nonprofit that finds and supports foster and adoptive families for Montana children in need. At Child Bridge, Scofield equipped families with trauma training, participated in adoption hearings and oversaw children reuniting with their biological parents in a safe environment.
“Ultimately that’s what every kid wants, to be with their mom and dad,” Scofield said. “So to have foster families willing to be an adoptive aunt and uncle and interact with the biological family… it’s a wonderful sight to see.”
If foster families are not backed by strong support, vulnerable children may face an unstable future: The national average of families who quit fostering within their first year is about 50%.
Seventy percent of human trafficking victims in the U.S. spent time in foster care, 65% of inmates aged out of foster care and many of the 2 million people ages 18-24 currently homeless in the U.S. spent time in foster care, according to Promise 686 Additionally, the nonprofit says 71% of young women become pregnant within one year of aging out of foster care.
Seeing a need to better support foster families, Scofield launched the Montana Initiative of Promise 686 in January.
As the organization’s director, Scofield mobilizes local church communities to support foster families by implementing a step-by-step model called Family Advocacy Ministries (FAMs). FAMs give churches training and tools to serve the foster and adoptive community, as well as biological families in crisis.
Within FAMs, a connecting platform, CarePortal, notifies local churches of requests submitted on behalf of partner agencies, such as Montana’s Child and Family Services, schools, state and tribal organizations. Those requests are relayed through the online system to hundreds of volunteers in the church community.
Since CarePortal was launched in the state in 2017, Scofield estimates it has helped nearly 1,000 Montana children.
Grants from the Gianforte Foundation, the Angel Armies Foundation and other Montana donors solely fund Promise 686’s Montana initiative.
“Help for Montana’s most vulnerable families and children is a community need, and churches are key players in meeting the needs of their community,” says Catherine Koenen, executive director for the Gianforte Family Foundation.
The Montana Initiative of Promise 686 is currently partnered with 40 churches across the state, with heavy activity in the northwest, but Scofield’s goal is to spread awareness across the state.
“Addressing the child welfare crisis is the greater call of the church from a biblical standpoint,” Scofield said. “When a church engages with Promise 686 and incorporates FAM, they’re helping to slow the child welfare crisis in Montana by being ready to love, serve and show the love of Christ.”
For more information, visit www.promise686.org/montana/ or contact Aaron Scofield at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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