For months, 18 month old baby Naomi has been left everywhere mom and dad have gone to party.
One evening when her desperate mother, who had been beaten by her partner, called the police at her home, Naomi was found dressed in clothes soaked in beer and urine. She was then placed in foster care for three years and eventually adopted.
Today, at age 9, her life has changed dramatically.
“It was his story that broke my heart,” said Aaron Scofield, Kalispell-based state director of a new faith-based nonprofit foster care organization called Montana Initiative of Promise 686.
Naomi’s story also inspired Scofield, and for the past five years he has served vulnerable children in Northwestern Montana, first for Child Bridge and now with Promise State Chapter 686, a national faith-based organization that supports foster families.
Across the country, 400,000 children depend on foster families each year. In Montana, 3,000 children are at risk and need foster care. Scofield said the number of children in foster care could vary by 100 depending on the day.
“When I started my foster care work at Child Bridge, I found families to take care of the Naomi,” said Scofield.
In 2015, Scofield became the Kalispell Regional Director of Child Bridge, another faith-based nonprofit that finds and supports foster and adoptive families for Montana children in need. At Child Bridge, Scofield equipped families with trauma training, participated in adoption hearings, and oversaw the reunion of children with their birth parents in a safe environment.
“At the end of the day, that’s what every child wants, to be with their mom and dad,” Scofield said. “So having foster families willing to be an adoptive aunt and uncle and interact with the biological family… that’s a wonderful sight to see.”
If foster families are not backed up by strong support, vulnerable children may face an unstable future: the national average of families leaving foster care in their first year is around 50%.
Seventy percent of victims of human trafficking in the United States have spent time with foster families, 65% of inmates over the age of 50, and many of the 2 million people aged 18 to 24-year-old currently homeless in the United States spent time with foster families, promises 686 Additionally, the nonprofit says 71% of young women become pregnant within a year of discharge host family.
Seeing the need to better support foster families, Scofield launched the Montana Promise 686 Initiative in January.
As director of the organization, Scofield mobilizes local faith communities to support foster families by implementing a step-by-step model called Family Advocacy Ministries (FAM). FAMs provide churches with training and tools to serve the host and adoptive community, as well as biological families in crisis.
Within FAMs, a connecting platform, CarePortal, notifies local churches of requests submitted on behalf of partner agencies, such as Montana Child and Family Services, schools, state organizations and tribal. These requests are relayed through the online system to hundreds of volunteers in the church community.
Since launching CarePortal in the state in 2017, Scofield estimates that it has helped nearly 1,000 children in Montana.
Grants from the Gianforte Foundation, Angel Armies Foundation, and other Montana donors only fund the Montana initiative of Promise 686.
“Helping Montana’s most vulnerable families and children is a community need, and churches are key players in meeting the needs of their community,” said Catherine Koenen, executive director of the Gianforte Family Foundation.
The Montana Initiative of Promise 686 is currently in partnership with 40 churches across the state, with intense activity in the Northwest, but Scofield’s goal is to raise awareness across the state.
“Tackling the child welfare crisis is the church’s biggest calling from a biblical perspective,” said Scofield. “When a church commits to the 686 promise and becomes part of the FAM, it helps slow the child welfare crisis in Montana by being ready to love, serve, and show the love of Christ.”
For more information visit www.promise686.org/montana/ or contact Aaron Scofield at email@example.com.