November is Adoption Awareness Month, and local groups like Mid-South Alliance and Agape Child & Family Services are working to provide safe and loving homes for more than 1,100 children in foster care in Shelby County.
Mid-South Alliance volunteers giving out Christmas tubs to foster children last year. The group is working to put together similar tubs for more than 300 children this Christmas.
(Mark Ottinger of Mid-South Alliance and Fellowship Memphis Church)
“Nearly 50 times in scripture, it says we are to defend the fatherless, seek justice for the fatherless and for the orphan, and so I really feel like the faith community needs to step into this area,” said Mark Ottinger, who has four adopted children and is a campus pastor at Fellowship Memphis Church.
Nationally there are more than 400,000 children in the foster care system, and an estimated 100,000 of them cannot return to their birth families because of past abuse or neglect. Ottinger wants to find ways to help children coming from rough situations.
“We want to find out how we can get them into a home to experience healing because many of them have been through abuse and trauma,” he said.
Ottinger and some friends formed Mid-South Alliance, a group that has grown to 25 people representing 20 local churches that meets monthly. The group wants to provide opportunities for people to get involved, even if they might not currently want to adopt or provide foster care.
“It’s estimated that 40 percent of people at some point in their life will say they want to adopt, but less than 2 percent actually do. So I just want to give people opportunities to jump in,” said Ottinger, who cited other ways to be involved like mentoring or serving food at parties for foster kids, or arranging Christmas presents and holiday activities.
Mid-South Alliance is currently working on putting together Christmas tubs for more than 300 foster children in Shelby County.
“That’s every child that is in a Department of Children Services Shelby County home, and we will also have a Christmas party for them in December at White Station Church of Christ,” Ottinger said.
For the past two years, Mid-South Alliance has had a program in place to help foster children going off to college.
“Less than 3 percent of foster children graduate from college. This past year we had 24 foster children that graduated high school and got into college, and we worked with 10 to 12 local churches to help furnish their dorm rooms and give them everything they would need for a first year of college,” he said. “We also matched those kids up with mentors.”
He stresses that Mid-South Alliance works on the preventative side to try to keep families together before children are removed from their home or given up for adoption.
“The ultimate goal with foster care is always reunification of the child with their birth families,” he said.
Mid-South Alliance works with the University of Memphis and Agape and to provide wraparound services, including counseling and therapy, for children possibly coming from difficult circumstances and for families after they have fostered or adopted.
“We want to work with the children and the families so they will be successful,” said Ottinger, who completed his first adoption 13 years ago. “We do a nine-week class two to three times per year.”
Other local groups working with adoption include Life Choices, Bethany Christian Services, Youth Villages and Agape Child & Family Services.
Agape is a Christian-based, nonprofit organization that has provided local adoption and foster care services since 1970 and serves Memphis through community restoration, homeless services, mentoring, adoption, foster care, maternity services and counseling.
Alisha Worthey, Agape adoption support therapist, works with the Mid-South Alliance on the Adoption Support Center initiative to help pre-adopting and post-adopting families who are struggling with adjustment issues such as attachment, bonding, troubles at school or behavioral problems.
“Children coming from adoption or foster care are usually coming from a hard place. They either did receive the care and nurturing that they should’ve gotten, or they could’ve been pulled from a home where there were drugs or domestic abuse,” said Worthey, who has worked at Agape for nearly six years. “Many times these children have problems attaching, trusting adults, and dealing with the trauma they have experienced. We can provide in-home counseling services.”
Worthey sees substance abuse, violence and neglect as major problems in the Mid-South affecting children and their families.
“We counsel the children to help them understand that the difficulties and changes in their lives are not their fault, with the hope of making their transition much easier,” Worthey said.