Jamie Walley talks with potential foster parents at an orientation on how to become a licensed resource home for children who can't live with their biological relatives. Walley recruits foster families by going through churches for nonprofit adoption agency 200 Million Flowers, which works with the state foster system to recruit and train foster parents. Photo by: Isabelle Altman/Dispatch Staff
February 14, 2017 10:13:32 AM
There are more than 5,500 children in foster care in the state of Mississippi -- and about another 1,500 families needed to care for them.
This according to Jamie Walley, Brandon-based Baptist preacher and director of church relations and training for Christian-based adoption agency 200 Million Flowers. Walley's job is to recruit potential foster families through Mississippi churches and start the parents on the process of becoming licensed.
"If one family -- just one family -- from every church in the state of Mississippi would get licensed to be a resources family, there'd be a waiting list of families and not kids," Walley said at an orientation meeting for would-be foster parents in the region Monday night at Lowndes County Courthouse. "And that's what I'm trying to get the churches to hear."
Prospective foster parents filled the courtroom benches to hear more about what it's like to temporarily raise someone else's child -- children who often have emotional problems, medical issues and difficulty trusting adults due to constantly being moved from home to home.
"They really need people who are patient with them and understand that sometimes they have behavior issues, but those behavior issues are out of trauma," said Starkville resident Krystal Tyler, a social worker and former Department of Human Services employee who attended the orientation.
Krystal and her husband Andrew hope to become foster parents, themselves, and eventually adopt a child, using 200 Million Flowers' expedited training processes.
That's one of the benefits of becoming licensed through the nonprofit, said board member Scott Ferguson. 200 Million Flowers representatives work in conjunction with the state foster system to get families licensed by recruiting families for training. They take what could be months of training and condense it into one weekend, cutting the year-long process of becoming a licensed resource home into only three or four months.
The next weekend training session is in Oxford from Feb. 24-26 at the University of Mississippi law school. There, trainers will walk potential foster parents through everything from how to set up the house so kids can live there to Child Protective Services policies and what to expect when a social worker is visiting a foster home. The training will also address the difficulties families face when they take in a troubled child.
To attend the nonprofit's training, parents must have attended an orientation meeting, the last of which will be held in Tupelo at the Lee County Justice Center at 6 p.m. Tuesday -- though parents can attend training sessions in later months in other parts of the state, Walley said.
Walley is uniquely qualified to recruit foster families through these orientations because he and his wife are foster a 2-year-old boy with severe medical issues and are hoping to adopt him.
"Being a foster parent, being a resources parent, is the hardest thing I've ever done," Walley told the crowd in the courtroom.
"But it's the most rewarding ministry I've ever been a part of," he added. "Hands down."
Helping a bad situation
The Mississippi foster system doesn't have a good reputation. In 2004, the state's Division and Family Services was sued for allegedly failing to adequately protect children in the state's care, after several children were found to have been placed in homes where they suffered severe abuse. The lawsuit sought court-ordered change in policies.
Walley said 200 Million Flowers is helping mitigate the issue by finding new families to take in children. Since he recruits heavily from churches, he added, he also tries to get churches involved in being a support group for the child.
"Where the state kind of got in trouble is that they got behind on licensing their expedited families -- relatives who are getting children in their home," he said. "Our part of the solution is new resource families."
Becoming a foster family requires more than training -- parents have to pass criminal background checks and must be present for home studies by social workers who spend months in-and-out of resource homes, Walley said. Support groups -- such as the churches and church families Walley hopes to get more involved -- will be part of that as well. And the more good support a child has, the better off he or she is, he said.
To learn more about 200 Million Flowers or becoming a licensed resource home, go to 200millionflowers.org.
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