Jimmy played in the back seat, while his mom and dad overdosed in the front seat. Understandably scared as authorities took him into custody, Jimmy was lucky. He had a safe place to go on the worst day of his young life. A loving foster home took him in immediately.
Many kids, like Jimmy, aren’t as fortunate. An acute shortage in foster homes, exacerbated by a crushing number of new cases brought on, in part, by the national opioid crisis, means kids can now spend hours awaiting foster placement.
Where do they go?
Many end up staying in their caseworkers’ office cubicles. In these sterile environments, the kids wait to learn their fate on the worst day of their lives, often with only the dirty, ill-fitting clothes on their back.
Put yourself in the children’s shoes.
Complete strangers have removed you from the only home you know, as dysfunctional as it may be. They are determining where you will live for an unknown period. You’re scared. Angry. You have no voice or control, as caseworkers ask families to give you a home.
From these overheard conversations, you might wonder why no one wants you.
A Home for These Kids
Ronda Paulson, of Elizabethton, Tennessee, saw the plight of these kids and did something to help ease these traumatic transitions.
In 2017, she and her husband, Corey, started Isaiah 117 House, a nonprofit organization created to provide safe places where children can stay until caseworkers find appropriate foster placements, a stay limited to three days or 72 hours due to demand for the organization’s services.
At these homes, kids meet friendly volunteers who offer physical and emotional support. They see a home equipped with boys’ and girls’ bedrooms, fully stocked bathrooms, kitchens, and play areas—all provided by donations from individuals, churches, businesses, and other nonprofit organizations.
And when a home is found, they leave with backpacks, two-to-three brand-new outfits, underwear, socks, shoes, pajamas, pillows, blankets, toiletries, games, toys, and even a frozen meal prepared by a volunteer. Should their foster families need anything, including car seats or cribs, Isaiah 117 will supply those needs, too.
The organization’s mission is to “defend the cause of the fatherless” when they need love most.
What started as a dream with one home in Carter County, Tennessee, has since turned into 33 locations across seven states. And the number continues to grow. This year, the organization plans to open several new homes and expand into two more states. In addition, organizations in 41 states and four countries have also expressed interested in developing homes in their communities.
“God is truly changing the way foster care begins,” Ronda writes in the organization’s 2021 annual report. “The problem is big, but our God is bigger.”
Help Arrives in My Community
One of its newest locations opened recently in my community. Issues Ronda identified when she started the nonprofit also affect us. Currently, 200 children live in 68 foster homes, Susan Spalding, president of the Blount County (Tennessee) Foster Parent Association, told me. “At one point we had close to 100 foster homes.”
Where do these children go on removal day? Do they have a safe place to go on the worst day of their lives?
Like other communities, far too many go to office cubicles or are shuttled to a family for only a night. “It’s heartbreaking,” Susan says. “We do need Isaiah 117. However, we also need more foster families.”
No one can argue with Susan, including Cindy Chandler, the Isaiah 117 program coordinator in Blount County. The foster care system struggles under the weight of too many children and too few foster homes and caseworkers.
“We didn’t sign up to fix foster care,” Cindy says, as she gives me a tour of the home distinguished by its calming décor and red door. “We help on removal day and ease the trauma. The only thing we do is love on these kids and support the caseworkers…. It’s all about dignity. These kids didn’t ask for this.”
Could Your Community Benefit?
What’s happening in your community? Would it benefit from an Isaiah 117 Home? If so, contact the organization. Ronda and her team can provide resources to help communities create a safe place to go, even if it’s for only a few days.