Eight years ago, Kathy Dishongh and her husband Tim were desperate to bring 13-month-old Savannah into their home. But as many adoptive families know, the process can be grueling. So she decided to join in the struggle to do something to change the outcomes and experiences for hopeful parents and the children they love.
This year, Dishongh joined the staff of 1HOPE for Kids — a foster care and adoption agency that provides training, licensing, and support to families in the South Texas region. Now, she serves as Director of Partner Engagement for 1HOPE; fitting, since hers was one of the first families licensed through the organization. She is equipped with first-hand knowledge of how the holistic model of care 1HOPE offers can make all the difference.
How was 1HOPE for Kids founded?
In 2014, a group of families, pastors, social workers, and people who were frustrated with the current foster system. They united, brainstormed, prayed, and decided to launch 1HOPE. We didn’t want to just be a bandaid to children who came into our care but to find families who would either be interested in adopting or who would want to partner with us and help with reunification. Our mission is to extend grace to everyone involved, whether that is biological families, extended families, attorneys, volunteers, or other care providers. Today, we have 21 employees and many more community partners. Since 2015, 1HOPE has opened 353 homes, placed 930 children, and facilitated 310 adoptions and 450 reunifications.
What is the “wraparound” model of care?
We have churches and other organizations that build a wraparound care mentality and provide services within local churches. Families then have both church communities and 1HOPE to walk alongside them through the process that includes legalities, technicalities, licensing the home, checkups, visits, and court dates. This may include written notes of encouragement, volunteers delivering care packages, meals, and diapers, training and licensing babysitters and respite care providers, hosting events like parent’s night out, providing transportation, counseling, and training. In addition, 1HOPE absorbs the costs of licensing a home, training, home studies, and any community work. 1HOPE does not want finances to be a stumbling block for anyone who wishes to be a foster parent. Once you are part of the 1HOPE family, you are part of the 1HOPE family forever.
In what ways does 1HOPE operate differently?
Foster care is hard. It’s really messy and often, what is good for the child is not good for the budget. If a child stays in foster care and goes from home to home, which is the norm, then there is more money rotating. Our goal is the opposite, to have a child moved zero-to-one times. When kids move around constantly, they do not have a sense of normalcy, a place they belong, something that is dependable and stable. The primary thing that we do differently is provide stability by preventing kids from moving. That makes it harder on our budget but we don’t care because that is what is best for children. We keep our case manager ratios low so they can know the families and their needs, know the children, and be available. 1HOPE’s goal is to address the fostering crisis through a multi-faceted approach and keep children with one foster family throughout the duration of their time in foster care.
What is involved in the education and training process?
Trauma-informed care is the center of all classes that we offer. This, along with behavior management and mental health crisis training are the core of every class we teach. Even if we are teaching CPR, we consider the different ways a child who has experienced trauma would respond.
We offer Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) workshops several times a year. We provide free childcare, and it is sweet because the kids get to play together, kids who relate to each other. The training provides a much deeper understanding of what trauma is, what can trigger it, and when it can surface. It’s a lot of hands-on activity geared towards gaining an understanding of why building trust is so important with your child. This keeps our parents active longer. We have a lot of parents who foster over and over again because they feel successful. They’re making a difference because they are well-equipped to do so.
What is something about foster care and adoption that you wish more people understood?
People don’t realize that the crisis lives right here in our backyard. In Texas, there are nearly 28,000 children currently in foster care, with 4,800 in Bexar and surrounding counties. When we don’t have enough homes, we have to send them to different counties, often splitting up siblings. These are children who have lost everything, so any sense of familiarity would be beneficial such as friends, school, or teachers they know.
Also, that is that there is never a convenient or right time to foster or adopt. We often talk to people who are considering it but are waiting for a convenient time to be ready to start the process. There is no ideal time because there is no ideal time for kids to be taken from their homes, and it is an urgent need. They need love right now. These are kids who are neglected, abused, abandoned, and who are desperate. It is heartbreaking when we get a call from the state and we have to say, “We have no room.”
How can people help?
When kids need things like helmets, the state does not cover them. We have monthly donors called “Defenders,” community partners, and businesses that sponsor events or other funding that is needed. Contributions may go toward summer camp scholarships, special events, the yearly Christmas party for the kids, or a foster moms’ retreat. Volunteers deliver diapers, tutor, teach soccer camps, babysit, give haircuts, and make birthday cakes. When people think, “I’m not ready to be a foster parent,” we get it. There are many other ways to contribute! Community partners and church partners allow the model of wraparound care to grow.