An innovative combination of tech savvy and old-fashioned neighborliness is allowing the Kansas faith community to help the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) meet the immediate needs of children in foster care.
When children come into foster care, they often bring little with them, and foster parents may have a short amount of time to quickly gather resources needed to care for the children placed with them, such as clothes, shoes, etc. Now a partnering organization is stepping up to fill that need, by instantly responding with necessary items so children can feel at home. The CarePortal, launched in March 2015 by a group called the Global Orphan Project (GO Project) in Kansas City. It connects local churches to families in the foster care system. It allows providers to post needs and quickly disseminates those needs to participating churches in the area whose members can assist. The CarePortal seeks to address the comprehensive needs of the foster care system, including prevention, foster care, adoption and transition.
If, for instance, a foster care-licensed family is called upon to care for a baby but hasn’t yet purchased items a baby may need, they can seek non-perishable items such as car seats and cribs, as well as perishable items like food and diapers. Members of the participating churches are alerted of the needs via the portal. Though they never are told the name of the family to whom they are donating or the family’s location, they can volunteer to provide items via the portal connection.
“We were thrilled to partner with the GO Project to help start this innovative alliance of churches and our agency,” said DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore. “It showed right away the potential to really impact child welfare and to connect caring people to make a difference.”
The CarePortal recently marked its first year in existence, growing from a long-term partnership between a few Kansas City churches that took an interest in engaging the child welfare system.
And now, the CarePortal is expanding rapidly. CarePortal staff are reaching out to communities across Kansas to encourage churches to join the movement.
“Since this has worked so well in so many areas already, we know that it can have an incredible impact in every area across Kansas,” Tate Williams, CarePortal Director for Kansas, said. “Rural or urban, there are needs, and there are good, caring people willing to meet the need. CarePortal brings the two together.”
In just over one year, the CarePortal was developed, launched and expanded beyond Kansas City. CarePortal networks have now been established in numerous Kansas communities as well as in seven other states. Since its launch, the CarePortal has impacted more than 3,700 children nationwide. Now it’s just a matter of replicating the established networks in more communities.
This summer, CarePortal staff have arranged low-pressure, informal “meet and greet” appointments in Manhattan, Lenexa and Hutchinson, and are looking to schedule more.
“We usually have a point person within a community who is familiar with the foster care system and understands the need,” Williams said. “That person typically can connect us to a small group of churches within their community. We then have an informal meeting with a few interested people and begin the conversation of how the CarePortal can facilitate their efforts to serve their neighbors.”
To date, the CarePortal is meeting the needs of children throughout Kansas City and Johnson and Wyandotte counties, plus Topeka, Crawford and Cherokee counties, Sedgwick County, and several rural counties in the Wichita/Hutchinson area. The program’s website states that more than 800 Kansas children have already had their experience with the foster care system impacted by CarePortal.
“Because of CarePortal’s efficient use of technology, it’s a program that can be easily replicated with no real cost,” said Secretary Gilmore. “We are proud that something we helped launch in Kansas is now making a difference in several states.”
You won’t find any warehouses full of donated items or requests for a mass quantity of items. There is no overhead. CarePortal is focused, streamlined, and efficient. It targets the network of CarePortal-enrolled churches within a very small radius of the need in order to connect the need and the resources.
Williams pointed out that CarePortal allows local churches to meet a wide variety of needs beyond food and clothing. In one example, a teen who was having trouble finding positive social influences expressed a desire to attend a church-sponsored camp. When his foster mother couldn’t afford the whole payment, she was able to find a donor via the CarePortal network to provide the rest of the funds needed for the teen to attend camp.
To contact the CarePortal for more information or to schedule a “meet and greet” in your community, please contact Tate Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.