After raising three children to adulthood, Angela* never expected to start over with more children. However, when her 8-month-old grandson, Jackson, needed her, she gladly stepped forward to take custody. Angela rushed to complete her foster parent certification to become a kinship care provider for him. Several years later, two more of Angela's grandchildren needed a safe home, and Angela, again, said yes. Today she still parents all three children, who are now 8, 6, and 6 years old. “I never imagined I’d be starting over with children,” Angela noted during this interview. “I thought I’d have them for a few months, and then they’d return to mom.”
Across the state of Colorado, many people like Angela are becoming kinship providers for children in foster care. In 2020 alone, 3,116 Colorado children and youth lived with a kinship family in Colorado. Kinship families are trusted, safe adults who a child or youth already knows. They can be biological family members, like an uncle or grandparent, or adults who are “like family,” such as a neighbor, friend’s parent, or coach. Kinship caregivers provide care and protection to children and youth who cannot remain safely in their homes due to issues including child abuse and neglect, substance abuse, incarceration, mental health, domestic violence, or even the death of a parent.
Describing the phone call asking her to take Jackson, Angela shared, “I didn’t realize what was going on. At first, Jackson was placed elsewhere, and I fought to get him with me.” Angela’s daughter and Jackson’s mother, Kate, was only 17 and living with her at the time. For Angela to have custody of Jackson, Kate had to move out. Angela felt like she was forced to choose her grandson over her daughter. “The whole thing was a very traumatic experience for all of us,” Angela shares. “It was a hard season. [Kate] had a child mindset, and we had no positive interactions. She thought I was trying to take Jackson away from her.”
After caring for Jackson for over five years, Angela is working toward reunifying him with Kate. Now, she and Kate have a great relationship and work to co-parent Jackson. Kate usually takes him several nights each week and is working toward parenting him full-time. “It’s been a long process,” Angela shares, “but now, for the last year, my daughter has been doing well and is stable.”
Angela’s other two grandchildren have been a different story. The state of Colorado terminated their parents’ rights, and after the appeal process, Angela will become their adoptive mom.
Angela quickly learned that she needed support and resources to parent her grandchildren. She plugged into a Project 1.27 Kinship Support Group and recently went through the ECHOFlex family training program. “I met others who are struggling like me, and we learn from each other,” Angela said. She has also made connections for the kids, including a male role model who provides childcare during the support group. Angela works hard to find activities to help them grow as a family and to have fun together.
Angela described her journey; "It’s been hard, and it’s not pretty, but they’re my grandkids, and I love them.”
*Names have been changed to protect privacy
Foster Adoption-Friendly Churches not only provide a safe environment for children from hard places, but support families caring for these children. It’s difficult for kinship and foster families to locate respite resources to care for the children in their absence placed in their homes, whether for a few hours or overnight. The State of Colorado has created a ‘substitute care’ category that will allow families to seek substitute or alternative caregivers of their choosing.
Consider becoming a respite resource for kinship and foster families who could use a break or some time away to take care of family or personal needs. Create an opportunity for foster parents within your church to enjoy a date night, movie or individual time with their biological children. Recruit a group of substitute/ or alternative caregivers to provide care for children in foster care. Group members can wrap around several foster families, providing the families with opportunities for time away to rejuvenate, spend time with God, or an evening of fun knowing the children are well cared for.
Children in foster care come from a place of trauma and benefit from caregivers that are trauma-informed. Project 1.27 is happy to support you in developing substitute caregivers, and provide trauma-informed training for your youth ministry leaders, as well as those in small groups and others who are interested in supporting foster families within your church.
Adopted over five years ago, eleven-year-old Josiah O’Keefe is not camera shy. “When I grow up, I want to be a professional soccer player or act on Broadway,” he said while sitting down for this interview. Josiah has acted in several plays at his school, dressing up as Elvis and singing “All Shook Up” for the talent show at the end of 5th grade.
Josiah joined the O’Keefe family just past his 6th birthday. Lori O’Keefe, his adoptive mom, recalls the first days with Josiah home. “We were both super nervous. He was nervous, I was nervous, and it was just recognizing that.” Lori’s husband, David, was at work when Josiah was brought to their home by his caseworker. “We played games in the basement with the other kids, trying to make him feel comfortable,” Lori remembers. Then she took him upstairs to bathe him and put him to bed, and Josiah, miraculously, slept through the night.
The O’Keefe family felt called to foster care in 2015, attending a Project 1.27 info meeting in December, then completing the rest of their training throughout 2016. David and Lori chose Project 1.27 because they wanted a Biblical Worldview and a Christian perspective. “We felt like some of the things we were concerned about regarding foster care would be better approached through a Christian organization.”
After they were certified, they received several phone calls for placements. Lori remembers one boy they had considered, “We had to say no because we knew we weren’t the right family for him, but it was so hard.” Several years later, when the family was at the courthouse for Josiah’s adoption, they discovered the same little boy was being adopted that same day by another family. “To me,” Lori recalls, “that was confirmation it’s not about us and what’s best for our family; it’s about what’s best for these kids, and you’re not it for every kid.”
In the early days with Josiah, many catch-ups were needed. The O’Keefe’s worked hard to meet his medical and dental needs and help him in school. They signed Josiah up for soccer, which he loves and still plays today, and taught him how to swim and ride a bike. Josiah remembers learning to ride his bike at the park with his family. “I was doing good, so I started cheering on the bike," he said. The premature celebration caused Josiah to hit a curb and fall into the grass, "We were all laughing so hard!"
David and Lori have three biological children who had challenges accepting Josiah into their family. Lori admits, “It was a good stretching for everyone. A good opportunity to do something outside of themselves.” Josiah says he loves to listen to music with his two older sisters and play sports with his older brother.
Reflecting on their life with Josiah, Lori stated, “He is thriving. He is very joyful and inclusive and loved by everyone.” Lori calls him the “Mayor” of his small private school. “Everyone knows him, from kindergarten to seniors and all the staff, and he knows almost everyone by name.”
When asked what advice David has for families interested in fostering, he said, “If God is prompting you in any way, go ahead and take the first step. Don’t overthink it too much.” Lori adds, “Just take it one thing at a time. Trust that God has a plan for your family, and he will see you through it and walk with you along the way.”
Getting a home-cooked, kid-friendly meal on the table is challenging for kinship, foster and adoptive families who are juggling multiple medical appointments, parent visits, and schoolwork while working hard to develop trust and connection with children who have experienced significant trauma. Providing freezer meals that can be heated quickly at the end of a busy day can provide more time for connection and less stress on the entire family.
"Thank you so much for sharing these amazing meals with us! They were all so tasty and it was a welcome treat to skip the cooking several nights in a row! We currently have a sibling group of four and a grandson we are raising. We had enough food for all!"
What does it mean to become a Dinner Church? Some churches provide a monthly or quarterly opportunity to drive thru the church parking lot and pick up three freezer meals. Other churches keep a freezer with meals for families to pick up during designated hours. Some churches drop off meals to families within a specific geographic area. Would your church like to be known as a Dinner Church to kinship, foster and adoptive families in your community?
1) Organize a church ministry team. One or two people can manage Dinner Church. Be sure to get approval from your church for this event, including things like kitchen use (if needed), announcements and sign-ups, calendar dates and volunteer requirements.
2) Create a sign-up system. Many churches can use their church data management system or try a free web program like https://www.signupgenius.com/. You will need a way for both volunteers and families to sign up. The number of volunteers recruited to cook will determine how many families can be served at one Dinner Church so get volunteer sign-ups before family sign-ups. If needed, limit the number of families that can register. Some things to include in your sign-up system:
3) Build a connection with kinship, foster and adoptive families in your community. Project 1.27, your local Department of Human Services or Child Placing Agencies can help get the word out and determine how many meals might be needed.
4) Organize recipes. Select recipes that are kid-friendly, freezer-friendly, simple and economical to make. Look for recipes that serve 6-8 people. (For families with more than six people, provide double meals.) With volume cooking, simple and economical are essential. If possible, select some vegetarian recipes, gluten/dairy free to accommodate dietary restrictions. Tested and kid-approved recipes are included at the end of this resource.
5) Engage volunteers to cook and distribute freezer meals. Some church volunteers use the church kitchen to make multiple meals and place them in the church freezer for future use. Either ask volunteers to bring ingredients or purchase ingredients before cooking day. Other churches ask volunteers to cook, label and freeze multiple meals from the same recipe at home and bring the fully frozen meals, in an ice chest, on distribution day. Provide this type of information in the volunteer announcement, along with distribution day, time and a link to sign up at least three weeks before Dinner Church Distribution.
6) Invite families to participate. Invite through your church announcement system or ask Project 1.27, your local Department of Human Services, or child-placing agencies to send the information to families. Often Dinner Church spots will fill up within hours of the announcement, so be sure and set a cut-off that matches the number of meals available. In the announcement, include distribution day, time and place.
7) Distribute meals!
Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help. When you’re fostering, sometimes you’re too busy, too overwhelmed, and too tired to itemize the ways you could use help, let alone ASK for help. But rest assured, help is wanted!
As a support person to a family that’s fostering, you can help without being asked. You may know exactly what your family could use help with, if so, by all means, do that! If you’re not so sure or could use some direction, here’s a list of a few things that almost every foster family needs help with:
1) Offer to pick up laundry and bring it back folded and ready to put away. (You can drop it off at a local laundry mat for a reasonable fee or take it home and use your own washer/dryer for a weekend project).
2) Pay and schedule house cleaning services for your foster family.
3) Make or order dinner to be delivered. Make sure to include paper plates so after dinner cleanup is a nonissue.
4) Prepare or purchase frozen meals that can be kept on hand for busy days (like when a new placement gets dropped off).
5) Purchase meal and grocery gift cards and send them in the mail with an encouraging note.
6) Purchase gas gift cards or offer to drop kids off at visits to give your foster family a little break.
7) Pray for your foster family.
Lord, we/I pray in the name of your son Jesus, asking for blessings and favor over the (foster family’s last name) family. We/I ask for your presence to be known to each family member, from the parents to the children in the home now, the children that will come later, and for the biological families that some of these children will return to. Remind each one of how beloved they are. Remind each one of your goodness, your grace, your faithfulness, and your love. Help us/me to discern the ways you call to help and support this family and give us/me the power of your Holy Spirit to respond and act in obedience to your call. Thank you for using us/me in your design to care for children in foster care, by caring for the families that take them into their hearts and homes. We/I pray for more families willing to sign up as foster parents, and for more families willing to support the families signing up.
In Jesus’s name, we/I pray, Amen.
“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NIV
As we celebrate fathers this June, we wanted to share this sweet story about newly adoptive grandpa.
Ryken was placed with his grandpa as a kinship placement, who was excited to give his grandson a permanent home. At three years old, Ryken is a very busy and active child, and his grandpa wanted to provide him with a fun space of his own.
Ticket to Dream awarded Project 1.27 the funds to do a total room makeover for Ryken. Since Ryken and his grandpa love Marvel superheroes, Spiderman was the chosen theme. However, trying to provide a calming area with superhero energy proved to be challenging.
Through the Ticket to Dream grant and with the help of volunteers, Neisha and Lisa, as well as Ryken's caseworker, Terri Jasper, Project 1.27 was able to repaint the room, purchase a bed, sheets, a comforter, storage, a monitor, darkening blinds and curtains, a calming beanbag area, and sensory seeking and calming activities.
The grandfather was so thankful for the room makeover. He choked up as he talked to the caseworker, saying, “This room had a lot of bad history but now it is brand new and the best-looking room in the house.” Ryken was thrilled when he saw his new room, exclaiming, “What?!?! This is my room?!?!”
The makeover was a pleasant surprise and a blessing to this family as they just finalized Ryken’s adoption on June 10th, giving them a fresh start in their new life.
May is not only the last month of the school year, but it’s also Mental Health Awareness Month. Coincidence? I think not! The last month of school is perfect for a mental health check-in. Perhaps you feel weak and need one final push to get to summer, or maybe you’re struggling with the thought of tackling summer. Either way, you are not alone. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul recounts a continuous, personal struggle with a specific weakness. He pleaded with God to take it away, but instead, God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The apostle says that he chooses to delight in his weakness for Christ’s sake. Some days what God calls us to do feels like a hardship that we wish God would take away.
Survival care is different from person to person. Survival care is ANYTHING that gives us the energy and the emotional capacity to be regulated and available when our child needs us to bear their pain and face it with them. Survival care prevents us from developing secondary trauma of our own and protects our mental health. Survival care gives us a moment to breathe. To protect our mental health, sometimes we need to stop right where we are and push past self-care to survival care.
10 Survival Care Ideas
1. Put everyone to bed a little bit earlier or let a child sleep on the floor by your bed because it is the only way you can get some rest.
2. Slowly wash your face with a soft, plush towel while taking some deep breaths
3. Stand outside your front door alone for 10 seconds (or slowly take out the trash!)
4. Say ‘yes’ if it makes life easier. Pick your battles.
5. Say “no” to some good things because you need some alone time.
6. Take the day off from packing lunches or the night off from making dinner and take full advantage of convenience foods and ready meals.
7. Drink your favorite soft drink from a coffee mug, so no one asks for a sip.
8. Shower slowly: it is ok to take your time.
9. Let the kids watch a movie because it gives everyone a break.
10.Buy some overpriced coffee or sweet treat from your favorite place “just because!”
(adapted from Beaconhouse.org.uk)
This May, Project 1.27 was thrilled to host 3 different Hope for the Journey Conference options, serving 57 attendees, including foster, adoptive, and kinship families, as well as church ministry leaders and those who work with vulnerable children. The May Topgolf fundraiser event made it possible to offer the conference, covering the majority of the conference expenses. One attendee noted, “Now that I’ve seen what this conference is all about, I have a lot of people I want to invite next time! It’s so valuable!”
The Metro location of the conference was held at Fellowship Denver Church where participants trained in TBRI (Trust-Based Relational Intervention) principles, connected over lunch, and even participated in breakout sessions with local experts, including Cheryl Mock, Megan Magel, and Sadie Dodson. The church ministry leaders benefitted from their own breakout session, featuring Mark Gomez and Emily Stam, where they were able to talk specifically about the church's role in providing a safe, loving environment for kids with a trauma background.
Because of the heavy content, the Project 1.27 staff wanted to make sure there were plenty of opportunities for fun, as well. Attendees had the chance to win prizes, including Visa gift cards, restaurant gift cards, admission to fun Denver events for children, and even a weekend getaway to Great Wolf Lodge. Participants also received goodies each day of the conference, including sensory kits, tumblers, snacks, and lunch. On Saturday, attendees were treated to chair massages by Serenity Massage during their lunch break.
In NoCo, Liz Brodzinski, Project 1.27’s NoCo Relationships and Support Manager, hosted 22 attendees. Guests, along with exhibitors and volunteers, joined at round tables in the "Living Room" at Timberline Windsor. There were sticky notes, spiky rings, playdough, mints, and Double Bubble on every table. Three exhibitors came to host tables; Finally Home, Colorado Kids Belong & Raise the Future. They brought helpful resources and several of them were TBRI Practitioners. A Resource Library was available with books for parents, Empowered to Connect DVDs from previous years, brand new picture books for kids, and a plethora of items from our local Foster Closet. Shopping bags were donated from Nightlight Christian Adoptions and people enjoyed gathering resources. The tables in the great hall were covered with snacks, treats, fresh coffee, and water. Each day, for two hours, a massage therapist was available for ten-minute massages. Lunches were spent enjoying the connection with other families and taking some time for a walk in the sunshine.
The Western Slope offered 5 afternoons across the month of May for attendees to watch the TBRI training videos and come together for a time of discussion and connection, led by Lisa McGinnett, the Project 1.27 Western Slope Director. Lisa shared, “We are 3 weeks into the 5-week event and we have had the best time! From my perspective, this small group has been an encouragement to me as a current foster parent. Even though I am facilitating the group, I am finding refreshment and camaraderie with these ladies.”
On the final day of the conference, the Metro attendees were treated to a cheer tunnel, complete with noisemakers, maracas, and lots of cheering, to congratulate them on completing the TBRI training.
One Western Slope attendee shared, "Although I attended the virtual H4J last year, this is always a good reminder. I think people should go through this EVERY year as a refresher course.”
May is National Foster Care Awareness Month, highlighting the importance of foster care and acknowledging foster parents. Fostering children from hard places can be a challenge, and foster parents need their support team as they navigate the rough waters of caring for these children. This month is also a great time to check in on your support team responsibilities. If your foster family received a child or sibling group today, would you know the next steps in supporting them?
Based on the needs of the newly forming family, your team should decide who will be fulfilling which tasks in the first days of your family receiving a new placement. Praying for a smooth transition for both the children and parents should be a priority for everyone, but who will chair the meal team (http://www.mealtrain.com)? Who will help with finding a bed or safety gate? Who is on call to run errands that first week after the kiddos arrive so the new family can focus on getting settled? Who will investigate community resources depending on the age of the children? Who will serve as the point person for the team?
Is Your Team Prepared?
Use this checklist to access the health of your support team. Where needed, apply suggested remedies to keep your team- and family- healthy and strong!
1. A team member has checked in this month to determine how family members are doing.
Rx: Make sure a team member calls or stops by within the next 24 hours.
2. All support team members are updated with the family and respond to needs.
Rx: Send a team update and ask team members to share how they’re involved.
3. The communication system is working, and the support team is “in the loop.”
Rx: Improve communication with a private Facebook page, text, or phone tree. Hold a team meeting to reconnect and reorganize.
4. The team is anticipating upcoming family needs.
Rx: Brainstorm what the family might be experiencing in the coming months and how the team can prepare to help. Is the child heading into adolescence? Is school starting soon? Are there any changes like a child moving to live with a relative or adoption finalization on the horizon?
5. Respite and childcare are being provided, so parents have time to refresh and regroup.
Rx: Organize weekly breaks for parents. Organize consistent respite care for a struggling child.
6. New team members are being added to help with unmet needs.
Rx: Explore with family who else could be a part of the team.
7. Team members know how to pray and pray regularly for the family.
Rx: Designate a prayer leader to gather prayer requests from family members and communicate to team members.
8. Support team members feel neither consistently overwhelmed nor underutilized.
Rx: Shift responsibilities or add new team members as needed.
In 2014, as Heather and Matt Williamson were finalizing preparations to serve as foster parents, they set aside a little bedroom in their house and prayed, “If this is right for us, let us know.” The next day, they received a call from a friend whose grandsons were going into foster care. The Williamsons welcomed the two young brothers into their home. The boys had experienced significant trauma and the couple worked hard for the next four months to help the boys heal and grow. When a relative stepped forward to care for the siblings, it left a big hole in Heather and Matt’s hearts, but they realized they had been available to stand in the gap for the children.
While the couple was fostering, Heather became very sick. After the boys went to live with relatives, she visited Mayo Clinic and was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, type 3. This changed the trajectory of Heather’s life as she couldn’t further her education to become a professor of psychology and temporarily had to walk with a cane. This also meant that having children posed a 50/50 chance of having a child born with EDS. Fighting discouragement, Heather launched a new business, The Dainty Blossom Company, an award-winning home and body product business.
Heather was seeking her new path forward when, while cleaning a closet, a photo of the little brothers she had fostered fell from a shelf. After the picture literally hit Heather in the face, the Williamsons decided to get certified as foster parents again, with the intention of serving a legally free child through adoption. In 2018, the couple first learned about a little boy named Jace when Matt’s sister, a Grand Junction police officer, had to remove him from his home. Heather prayed that they would be able to care for Jace. Jace first went to another foster home, but when an adoptive family was needed, the Williamsons were approached as potential parents and adopted Jace in 2020. Heather describes Jace as sweet, artistic, caring and kind. Since his adoption, Jace, now seven, has really blossomed.
Jax* joined the family just two months after Jace’s adoption. He had moved from five foster homes in the past year because of behaviors that stemmed from neglect. Jax, four, screamed a lot and greatly struggled with verbal, social, and emotional skills. Heather felt her psychology background could help Jax heal and grow. Jax’s behaviors, at times, were a lot to handle and Heather sometimes questioned if she was the right person for Jax. Heather recognized this feeling as a need for time for her own self-care. Meanwhile, with the help of a steady routine, positive affirmations, and realistic expectations, Jax began to make significant progress. He has now graduated from speech and play therapy, and is doing exceptionally well in kindergarten. The Williamson’s are hoping to adopt Jax soon. The Williamsons, now a family of four, have fun together four-wheeling, fishing, foraging, kayaking, hiking and working in their huge garden.
Heather and Matt aren’t sure what’s ahead in terms of fostering, but they want to stay involved in serving vulnerable children. Heather is a board member for CASA Mesa County and serves on the fundraising committee. The couple recently drove from Grand Junction to Denver to give testimony for recently passed HB22-1113, a bill that provides for a timelier path to permanency for children in foster care. Heather shares about her testimony, “Kids are missing out on valuable learning and growth time while they wait. When a child doesn’t have permanency, he must constantly deal with the worry of being moved again. I wanted to advocate so that kids don’t lose any more time than necessary.”
Heather plans to continue advocating for kids, encouraging others to become a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), foster or adoptive parent. She also enjoys supporting other foster parents who are struggling with kids that have difficult trauma-related behaviors.
When asked what advice she has for other people considering foster care, Heather responded, “Do it! Go to an Info Meeting. There’s never a perfect time. Foster care, like anything else truly good in life, requires a leap of faith. I really stress the faith part. The more we looked for what God wanted us to do, the further we went into foster care. Post a question on Facebook, ‘Looking for people involved in foster care’ and you will find your community.”
*Name changed to protect confidentiality.