Foster Care Awareness Month: Heritage Builders

Foster Care encompasses serving children and families in a variety of ways. Heritage Builders is a Lifeline ministry that works through local churches to serve youth who are nearing the point of aging out of foster care. We asked Aren Williams to share more about Heritage Builders and the need for ministry to this vulnerable age group.

Why did Heritage Builders come to exist?

Reaching teens in foster care with the love of Christ and supporting them in tangible ways as they transition to independence have been prayers of Lifeline for nearly eight years. Heritage Builders launched a pilot program in the spring of 2021 to begin testing and shaping what an effective, sustainable ministry for this population could be, and God has clearly and graciously directed that ministry over the last two years. These hands-on, consistent interactions and relationships have provided Lifeline with the valuable understanding to best develop tools and training for churches to start, implement, and maintain this important ministry within their communities.

What ages do Heritage Builders serve?

Heritage Builders is specifically designed to serve youth who are part of the Child Protective Services’ independent living or transitional living programs. The age ranges vary from state to state, but typically they encompass youth who are 14-21 years old.

What makes that age population in foster care so vulnerable?

This particular group of teens is especially vulnerable for a few reasons. First, some form of trauma brought them into the foster care system, and trauma’s impact has both short-term and long-term effects. Secondly, because they are languishing in child welfare, there is another layer of everyday trauma they endure because of the system’s unpredictable and unstable nature. Lastly, with the time drawing near for them to exit the system and face the daunting task of preparing to become an adult, there is a sense of urgency to minister to these teens. For example, research shows that without healthy relationships with caring adults, basic knowledge of life skills, and connections to resources—aging-out youth become the prime targets of human traffickers and are highly susceptible to homelessness, incarcerations, and unplanned pregnancies.  

What does Heritage Builders do for this population of young people in foster care?

Heritage Builders’ model is comprised of three specific steps church members can take to immediately work with young people in foster care. The point of entry is usually the education component, which is when church partners work in collaboration with their county CPS offices to provide excellent life skills curriculum for the youth. Additionally, there is the opportunity to become an advocate (much like a mentor) to a teen in foster care. And the third action step is to connect the identified needs of youth to available resources within the church, the community, and beyond. 

How can Heritage Builders change the trajectory of lives of youth in foster care?

Most importantly, the messages of Christ’s love for each of these teens and their worth because they are created in God’s image are pervasive in the lessons, trainings, and other tools. Through excellent life skills information and opportunities to practice the learned skills, the power of knowing how to transition well to independence cultivates increased capability and confidence. Through ongoing and caring relationships, what was damaged in harmful relationships can start to heal. Through helping meet concrete needs as they arise, youth’s everyday struggles to survive are addressed, lending more energy and focus to planning and pursuing future goals.  

How have you seen Heritage Builders change lives in your work with it?

The Lord has gone before this ministry and prepared the ground, so that churches, CPS offices, and group homes are eager to learn more about ways to better support teens as they look to live on their own. We have witnessed both at the county and state child welfare levels an openness to the Church’s involvement. Heritage Builders has been prayerfully considered and carefully structured so that it provides a detailed framework for church members to immediately engage, youth to effectively grow in their life skills knowledge, and CPS workers to be supported as they strive to fulfill the requirements for their independent living programs.   

Why does Heritage Builders serve through the local church?

First, the power of Christ’s love is the one transformational certainty we can count on to do a mighty and long-term work in the youth’s lives, so the local church must be involved to share the Good News! And, the only force large enough to tackle the broken system of foster care and truly care for children from hard places is the Church. God’s one plan is the Church. We can testify to how He brings forth just the right people and assembles them into a multi-skilled, strong team to leverage each of the three action steps and holistically support these special young adults, who are brimming with potential.

How can a church get involved with Heritage Builders?

The first step for a church to take, if interested in Heritage Builders, is to participate in one of our interest meetings (Zoom call) that typically lasts 30-45 minutes. We will cover a basic introduction to Heritage Builders and upcoming church training dates. You can find more specifics about the next Interest Meeting on our website. Or, I (Aren Williams), would love to speak with you about the privilege of working with Heritage Builders. You may email me here.