Not long after Andrew and Lindsay Hanks had their second child, Lindsay brought up the idea of becoming foster parents.
‘He did laugh,’ Lindsay said. ‘He definitely was not there. But Andrew did say he’d be open to it down the road if God led us in that direction.’
Just a few months later, the Hanks’ pastor included in his message one Sunday a plea for families to foster and adopt.
“It felt like we were the only people in the room,” Andrew said. He told Lindsay he was ready.
The Hanks received plenty of cautionary words from friends and family, telling them they should wait until their two young boys were older before entertaining the idea of becoming foster parents. Nevertheless, the couple moved forward with certification and opened their home to children in need. They imagined they would fall in love with a foster child and proceed to adoption.
“In our first placement I met the child’s bio mom and heard her story; how hard she was working to improve,” Lindsay said. “I realized then that it wasn’t my job to take her kids from her [through adoption]. It was my job to bring her kids back to her once she was healthy and stable. Our mindset shifted from the foster-to-adopt track to saying if adoption ever happens, OK; but if not, we’re OK, too, because that’s not our focus.”
The Hanks have had five placements in their home, located outside Tyler, Texas. As they serve as foster parents through MCH Family Outreach, their desire is also to introduce and make foster care accessible and understandable for other families.
“Some people have thought about it but have never had a conversation with a family involved in foster care to understand what it takes and what it’s all about,” Andrew said. “We’ve had plenty of opportunities for those interactions.”
Lindsay said anyone with an open and willing heart can be a foster parent.
“In our progression, we’ve seen how it becomes not about us, but the children and their needs,” she said. “Selfishness gets stripped away. Anything worth doing takes sacrifice.”
Because of their commitment to children and healthy family reunification, the Hanks were recently honored as Foster Parents of the Year for Region 4.
“A big reason Lindsay and Andrew received this honor is because of the way they advocate for foster care and family reunification,” said Amy Bobbitt, foster care developer for MCH Family Outreach in Tyler. “We need more foster homes; families like the Hanks who are willing to foster and maybe not adopt, so more children can be cared for.”
MCH Family Outreach Foster Care Program
MCH Family Outreach offers foster care and foster-to-adopt services in four locations in Texas. While under the same ministry umbrella, the needs and challenges of each location are unique.
Foster care enables families to open their hearts and homes to children who cannot live with their parents due to a variety of circumstances. Foster families make a positive, lifelong impact on children as they help them grow physically, spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. Foster care provides a temporary living arrangement – typically ranging from 6 to 18 months – until the parents are able to resume parenting. Children in care range from birth through 17 years of age.
Alanna Brennan, director of Family Outreach in Abilene, said the region has transitioned from CPS to community-based care, which has changed the processes for foster care placement and case management.
Brennan said the Abilene staff also looks for opportunities to serve foster families and biological families through other MCH programs.
“We find that there are some gaps in services for biological parents who are working towards reunification,” Brennan described, adding that MCH works to fill the need through Caregiver Empowerment Groups, case management and other programs. “We recently celebrated the reunification of a child in our foster care program with their biological mother. The mother subsequently enrolled in our Family Solutions program for continued support.”
“We encourage our current foster families to bring interested families to our MCH family events,” Brennan said. “We host a ‘Coffee and Talk’ meeting twice a year at a local church that has a foster care ministry. It’s a casual discussion about fostering and the process to become licensed with MCH.”
The office also hosts other opportunities for foster families to build relationships and support systems, such as Caregiver Empowerment groups, sharing babysitting and respite needs, paperwork submission competitions, and a monthly foster parent newsletter.
The MCH Family Outreach office in Dallas finds community collaborations are the best ways to raise awareness and recruit families to serve as foster parents.
“There are numerous agencies for prospective foster families to choose from,” said Elizabeth Moore, director of MCH Family Outreach in Dallas. “We participate in joint information meetings with the North Texas Collaboration – a group of child-placing agencies. In these meetings we discuss the many facets of foster care and recruitment and how to reach more families.” The MCH team also works closely with Tapestry, a foster care/adoption organization that focuses on training and recruiting prospective and licensed families.
A pressing need in the Dallas area is for more families willing to foster sibling groups and children older than age 9, Moore added. Additionally, there is a need for foster families for bilingual or Spanish-speaking children.
Foster care is challenging in a large metropolitan area like Houston, said Nicole Washington, director of MCH Family Outreach in Houston, but MCH is equipped to stand out from the crowd.
“There are many foster care agencies in the area,” Washington explained. “We want to be known for offering high quality, nurturing services that set us apart. Foster care through MCH Family Outreach in Houston is unique because we serve foster families, foster children and their families of origin in specialized ways through our trauma-informed programs.”
The COVID-19 pandemic affected foster care across the United States and left many agencies working to rebuild their census of families available to foster. Washington said an ongoing focus of Family Outreach in Houston is to recruit more foster families.
“Right now we get a lot of requests to place teens, so we are looking for families open to fostering older children,” she said. “The best way we have found to recruit more families is by word of mouth – our current foster parents and staff are committed to nurturing relationships in the community and sharing about the privilege of helping support or directly serve as foster parents.
“We know there is a high need for safe and nurturing foster homes and we are committed to recruiting, walking alongside families offering support and training to help meet this need,” she added.
Kristy George, director of Family Outreach in Tyler, said East Texas is not immune to the foster care crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to an over-burdened foster care system and not enough foster homes.
“There is a need for more foster homes in the Tyler area, especially homes willing to take older children,” she said. In addition, George said it can be challenging to find therapists and medical providers for initial checkups.
“Right here in East Texas, children are spending the night with CPS workers in residential settings, hotels and churches because there are not enough foster families,” George said. “I encourage anyone who has ever thought of being a foster family to reach out and see if they would be a good fit with MCH, because we are in desperate need for more homes.”
In Tyler, MCH is part of a foster care collective – a group of like-minded organizations that collaborate to advocate for foster care and serve families.
“We have a great support system for foster parents,” she said. “We partner with the collective to hold informal meetings several times a year, and they help get the word out about foster care and the need for others to become involved. Sometimes it is hard to get people to understand what foster care really is and that it is not a scary thing as it is sometimes portrayed.”