Interview with Steve Poissant by Amy Tartick
Editor’s Note: This is the full version of the interview that appeared in On Mission Review in October 2021.
Every child needs a family, especially in our broken world. Although most children live and grow up within the comfort and love of their birth family, others are not so blessed. For them, it can seem like everything radically changes in just a moment as they are plunged into the foster care system.
Nine years ago, Steve Poissant and his wife, Laura, who were heavily involved in the foster care community, learned their lead pastor was committing their church to do something to help these children and their families. After Steve’s first meeting with the church leadership team, he offered his services. It was clear to him the Church in our region was ready to do something and the foundation of the Every Child ministry was soon established.
Today, Every Child serves as a foster care and adoption ministry made up of multiple churches throughout Western New York. Their mission is to clear the way for the full expression of the gospel in WNY to care for children in need, both locally and globally. They have worked diligently to establish strong ties within local social services departments as well as the foster/adoption agencies in our region. Some of the offerings Every Child brings to the table are trainings, support programs, and recruitment of new foster/adoptive families.
We invite you to join us at the table as Steve talks with us about what it means to be in foster care and how Every Child is helping children and families in crisis.
On Mission: Before we jump into talking about Every Child, help us understand an orphaned child and a foster child. Typically, a child was deemed an orphan when he/she has lost both parents to death. Today we hear more about the break-up of the family with one or both parents abandoning or losing their children by the courts because of child neglect. How has this shaped what these terms mean in today’s world?
Steve Poissant: By definition to say a child is an “orphan” would indeed indicate both parents were deceased and the child has no biological relative to care for them. However, the definition of foster care refers to a period of time in which a child lives with and is cared for by people who are not the child’s biological parents, usually as a result of circumstances that prevent the child from being safe in their own home. The word orphan tends to evoke more of a sympathetic response towards the child and is widely used on a global scale whereas the term foster care seems to generate more fear and concern about the child simply because of the implied circumstances that may have brought the child into care. Both situations require the world to take a posture of caring and compassion towards the child and the family in crisis regardless of the circumstances that led them to the need for someone to care for them.
OM: What is it like for a child to enter the foster care system in NYS, and what are the most common reasons a child enters the system?
SP: At the core, it can be very scary. Imagine waking up tomorrow morning to someone knocking on your front door, and when you open it, they introduce themselves as the person who is going to take you to your new family. Your new family has been waiting a very long time for you to arrive and their excitement shows when you get there. You aren’t given any time to pack your belongings, no goodbyes, and you don’t know when you are going to see your own family again. Of the over 400,000 children in the foster care system in the United States this could have easily been their reality. Despite the fact that many of them are victims of neglect and abuse they still have very strong attachments to their family and places of origin.
OM: In light of what you just shared, what does Every Child primarily do to help these precious children?
SP: Our number one goal when helping a child or family in need is to make sure they have the ability to feel lovable, capable, worthwhile, and responsible. This of course can take time as children and families in crisis do not process what is happening around them, so we begin by meeting some immediate needs they may have while sharing a quick introduction to the Bible. By helping them to see how God loved us first and that our actions are driven by this belief, they can begin to see by accepting Christ into their lives they can experience the same thing. I have seen it time and time again that through our words and acts of kindness we help families to see what it means to be a believer and how our acceptance of Christ into our lives changed us forever. This same principle is used when we work with the parents and volunteers as well.
OM: In James 1:27 and Exodus 22:22 (and other passages), the Bible is intentionally specific about caring for “widows and orphans.” How do you see Every Child applying these Scriptures in practical ways?
SP: It goes without saying that often sadness and heartache are the two most common feelings of children coming into care. In contrast, they are also the two feelings that keep most people from signing up to do anything about it. James 1:27 reads, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” These words clearly call each of us to step into the messiness of foster care and adoption, but it doesn’t state that we have to bring children into our home. No, it simply calls us to care for the orphans, and Every Child has implemented many practical ways for us to answer that call. Sometimes it’s a simple phone call or text to a new family to let them know we are praying for them, or maybe helping a new church establish a foster/adoption care culture in their congregation to raise awareness. Everyone can do something.
OM: Training must be a crucial component in becoming a foster or adoptive parent along with providing respite care for a foster family. Are there other ways the average person, family, or even a Community group could help?
SP: Our ministry has always been focused on finding ways that allow everyone to do something. Individuals, families, or even community groups can sign up to attend any of our trainings. For those that want to be connected to a specific foster/adoptive family and help provide them support, we offer the Wrap-Around Volunteer training program. This training is a great way for an individual or group of people to basically “adopt” an existing foster/adoptive family in need of some help. Help comes in many different forms, but some of the most common requests are for meals, the occasional babysitting, or even just a simple check in to pray with a family. The full certification to become a new foster/adoptive family can only happen through an agency or county. However, Every Child will help families make an informed decision about taking that first step towards certification through our Foster/Adoptive Parent Readiness training class. Think of it as a “What to Expect” training/prep course for foster care and adoption but taught with biblical principles in mind. Deciding to foster/adopt a child is a major decision and commitment. We want to help prepare families for the journey as it is a marathon not a sprint to become certified. Our newest volunteer opportunity is through CarePortal. This program helps connect people who have a need to someone who has something to give.
OM: Could you tell us a little more about Wrap-Around Volunteer Supports, and how impactful have they been to the foster families you serve?
SP: The Wrap-Around Volunteer Support program is meant to give people the chance to help care for vulnerable children and the families that have welcomed them into their homes. Families that foster and adopt children are taking on a whole bunch of “stuff” that many people will never see or understand which can feel very isolating and overwhelming at times. The volunteer support program is designed to help these families feel the love of Christ through the presence of believers in their homes and the acts of service they provide. Service acts could be making an occasional meal, visiting to help fold laundry, playing with the children for a couple hours so the adults can have a much-needed date night, or even a simple text or phone call to say you are praying for them. Currently, we have 34 families on our list that are either receiving support or still waiting to be matched with a support person or group. This is one area that we are always looking for new volunteers to participate.
OM: You also mentioned CarePortal – what is it exactly, when did it launch/start locally, and how does it work?
SP: We first learned about CarePortal during a global conference some of our leadership team was attending about two years ago. As our ministry grew and the requests for both material and relational support also grew we needed to find a way to engage more churches quicker. Our research led us to our newest endeavor, the implementation of a technology called CarePortal. Every Child has been selected as the sole implementing partner for eight counties across NY. CarePortal gives workers an opportunity to enter family needs into the portal through their smartphone or laptop as they are uncovered in the field. Once entered, the need is then sent out to each participating church within our network of churches, all in real time. Volunteers or responders, as they are referred to in CarePortal, see the needs and can respond by clicking a button that says “yes I can help.” Responders have three options: they can acquire the item/s needed and deliver them to the family, they can click “I will pray for this need” button, or they can donate money to a connecting church to purchase the items and have them delivered to the family. All this is done with the church remaining as the point of contact between the worker and the family.
OM: So, an email goes out with current needs. If a person responds to a request for something like crib sheets and pajamas, how does the person get the items to the child/family in need?
SP: Truth be told, this is my favorite part of CarePortal. Items are delivered by the response team directly to the family in need. In order to maintain the dignity of the family in need, no personal information is shared until a response person/team indicates they can help. Once the responder has been verified through their church they are contacted by the worker who submitted the need for the family and are then given all necessary information to arrange delivery date/time. Of course, we take all safety measures into account when making deliveries and provide the necessary training to anyone interested in helping out. By having the worker connect with the volunteer we are establishing a three-way connection between the worker, responder, and family.
OM: CarePortal seems like a great way to help with tangible needs for children and families. How do you sign up and does it cost anything? Could one person sign up and act as a liaison for their Community group to be kept up to date on current needs?
SP: There is no cost for anyone to sign up to be a responder and in fact we have many churches within the network currently looking for people to join their response teams. As the program expands into new counties we will be looking to add more churches to our network which of course will require more individuals to sign up. CarePortal is designed to accommodate individual registrations as well as Community Groups. If a Community Group registers then it is encouraged to have one person act as the responder for everyone within the group. As always, we are just a phone call or email away from assistance should anyone need help signing up. The best way to sign up to become a responder is by visiting careportal.org/get-involved.
OM: What kind or type of needs have been met through the WNY CarePortal so far?
SP: Locally we have met all kinds of needs ranging from beds, to linens, tables and chairs, and even a stove and window air conditioner unit. Although these are some big ticket items the biggest need that has been met through all of this is the need for connection. Each of those families found the courage to ask for help and not only received the material items they requested, but also a new connection to a believer in their neighborhood. To feel connected to positive role models in their own communities is a need many of the families didn’t even know they had until they were connected to a responder.
OM: What do you hope to see happen in the next six months overall for Every Child, especially with the Wrap Around Family Ministry and CarePortal?
SP: In the few short years we have been operating, we have helped support over 40 families through our wrap around volunteer program. In less than two months, CarePortal has been able to meet the needs of 23 children in Niagara County which translates to an economic cost savings over $10,000. Numbers are great but what really matters is our ability to say that we are impacting lives by bringing the gospel to the people we serve and asking them to give their lives over to Christ. Arguably, the population that our ministry tends to work with can be among some of the most disconnected individuals in our communities. Each day we come into contact with people who have lost hope, people who don’t believe a God could exist at all because in their words, “If He was real then this wouldn’t be happening to them.” It is our prayer volunteers continue to take that step of faith and come to a training class to learn how they can help support those that are still searching for hope. We pray our efforts around CarePortal in Niagara County continue to demonstrate how the Church needs to be a part of the solution to the problems facing so many families, and that those efforts will inspire other counties to implement the technology as well. Foster care and adoption is hard work, but ask anyone involved in it and they will tell you it has been worth every tear, heartache, smile, and laughter they have put in to it. Our hope is one day, we are going to have families waiting for children, not children waiting for families.
Every Child provides many opportunities so that everyone can do something to help a child in crisis. To learn more, please visit every-child.com.