Families Count is a resource that was born out of our desire to see the goal of foster care—healthy family reunification—occur, as a result of birth parents who have been strengthened and given the tools they need to be safe, stable parents. Outside of short-term interventions, there were few, or no, Christ-centered services that offer hope for lasting success to birth families. Therefore, we developed the Families Count program to meet that need by partnering with the local church to offer parenting classes and the option of being matched with a mentor. Parents who are at risk for having children removed from their care or who have already lost custody of their children and are working toward reunification are offered hope and practical resources.
Although the greatest impact of these classes are the stories of changed lives, the numbers tell an extended story—that Families Count is consistently growing and changing the lives of families.
In 2016, the number of Families Count classes, as well as graduates, in Alabama more than doubled—with 7 classes and 104 parents graduating. The five church partners in Alabama were first-hand witnesses to an 83% graduation rate. Families Count is relatively new in Kansas and Arkansas, with both states starting with one church partner and witnessing 40 and 14 graduates, respectively in 2016—a 70% graduation rate.
The way that these classes have come together and been organized has been nothing short of God’s hand in opening doors to give families hope. And, yet, somehow we still remain surprised at how He continually uses Families Count to impact the lives of families. Even judges and state workers have noticed the incredible changes that have occurred in the lives of families. Judge Alan Summers, District Judge for the Family Court of Jefferson County on the Tenth Judicial Circuit of Alabama, has “been consistently impressed with the quality of the [Families Count] program.” Although he cannot order parents to attend, he recommends Families Count to every family that comes into his courtroom because of what he has witnessed in his courtroom over the last two years: “For many of our families this program is the first time in their lives that they are able to witness healthy family interactions and I believe this is making an impact on the family for generations to come.”
A generational impact can switch tracks for a family in a profound way, but not an easy way. Traci Newell, Education Coordinator, reminds us: When we say “‘Christ is the solution and the hope for families’ it is not a pat answer that we spit out concerning Moms and Dads battling strongholds of addiction, poverty, abuse, and broken homes. His grace is the only answer that makes any sense to us, especially now. As we dive into life with parents who have exhausted all other means of ‘hope’ for themselves and their families . . . the only answer is a new heart that only God can create.”
Because of the partnership with the church, these Moms and Dads are finally receiving the holistic support they need, particularly the knowledge of grace and the hope that Christ gives. The impact never stops growing from the grace that God pours out. Churches are also being transformed. David McConnell, Pastor of Teaching and Administration at Agape Fellowship in Pinson, Alabama and a Families Count teacher, has noticed that Families Count force church leaders and members to come face-to-face with prejudices, lack of knowledge, and ministry gaps in the community, particularly to the families of children in care. He believes that “Families Count reminds the church of the commonality of brokenness that we all share, and lays out a specific plan to help these hurting families. And many in the churches, I believe, are being changed from skeptics to advocates in the process.”
Lifeline’s heart is to partner with the church to help them do the work God has designed and commanded the church to do. It is our goal to equip the church, and Families Count is one of those ways in which our partnership is incredibly visible. As a church staff member, McConnell understands the challenges churches faces and embraces the way that Families Count joins with the church on God’s mission:
“One of the great challenges that pastors face, especially in smaller churches with limited budgets, is knowing how to best engage their community with the gospel. Not only does Families Count provide a very specific path for outreach, but Lifeline is empowering these congregations with the tools that they need to see this work through. It is a good thing that many in this country still look to local church for answers to some of life’s greatest problems. And Lifeline is providing resources that the local church desperately needs, by equipping them with expertise they otherwise would not have. I have seen first hand the value of this partnership and it is one that many local churches are embracing.”
God’s work through Families Count continues to surprise us because we are humbled that He has used our offering in such incredible ways in the lives of families. Families matter to God, and they matter to us. Traci Newell’s prayer that is we “never stop marveling at the mighty hand of God” as He fights for families through the ministry of Families Count. If you would like to learn how you and your church can become involved in Families Count in a variety of ways, click here or call us at 205-967-0811.