Children’s homes across the nation adapt as pandemic deepens staffing concerns.
By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle
MOUNT DORA, Fla. — In their 29 years of marriage, Troy and Rebecca Allen have devoted themselves to caring for children.
Through birth, adoption and foster care, they’ve raised — or helped raise — more than 40 boys and girls.
They’ve spent the past six years as houseparents at Mount Dora Children’s Home, founded in 1945 in this picturesque town of 14,000 about 35 miles northwest of Orlando.
“It’s what God put on our hearts,” Troy Allen said during the recent 68th annual conference of Network 1:27, formerly known as the Christian Child and Family Services Association.
Related: Why children’s homes matter to this editor
Network 1:27 — which comprises 47 member agencies, all associated with Churches of Christ — takes its name from verses in Genesis, 1 Samuel and James.
James 1:27, the most famous of those Scriptures, says, “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.”
Across the nation, children’s homes emerged as a core ministry of mainstream Churches of Christ in the mid-1900s. Congregations that opposed church-supported children’s homes became known as non-institutional Churches of Christ.
At the start, group homes — like the one where the Allens serve — became the norm.
But for many faith-based agencies, the past few decades have brought changes in approach and philosophy, according to leaders who attended Network 1:27’s four-day conference at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando.
The changes reflect, in part, the difficulty of finding Christian couples willing to serve as houseparents — a typically underpaid, overworked role requiring a 24/7 commitment.
Other factors include a national push to keep biological families together, unless absolutely necessary to remove a child, and the federal Family First legislation of 2018, which limits group-care placements to the most difficult situations.
For agencies still operating group homes, the COVID-19 pandemic has made recruiting houseparents — always a major challenge — even more difficult, directors said.
This story appears in the June edition of The Christian Chronicle.