In October of 1996, the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) met with the First Baptist Community Development Corporation (FBCDC) to discuss the boarder baby crisis in New Jersey and in particular, the problem in Essex County. Within the locale, an overwhelming number of infants who were medically cleared for discharge had been left boarding in hospitals. As a result, the Harvest of Hope Program was created to assist in dealing with this epidemic. Our approach was to identify and train foster parents recruited through a network of churches throughout the State of New Jersey. Foster-parent recruits, who successfully completed the program that led to DYFS-approved homes for child placement were subsequently provided with pre- and post-placement support with a major emphasis on the retention of nurturing and stable homes.
Since the beginning of Harvest of Hope, 285 recruited families have become approved foster homes. Likewise, 490 children have been placed in temporary foster care, 134 families have adopted 194 children and approximately 60 children have been reunited with their biological parents or other family members. We have achieved an 85% retention rate of foster parents participating in the Harvest of Hope Network. Our statewide network of churches from which foster parents are recruited is extensive and growing. In addition to the initial focus on placement of “boarder babies,” the Harvest of Hope program has expanded its services to include the placement of children, teens and sibling groups. Harvest of Hope also manages a separate family reunification component and provides assistance to DYFS in facilitating the placement of children into appropriate homes and in-service training for existing foster families. Marketing and promotional programs on radio, cable TV and the print media together with our demonstrated success in recruiting and retaining foster parents has generated enormous interest in and support of the program.
Given the continuing crisis in foster care and recent findings of studies as to the role that early and continuous nurture plays in the long-term development of infants and young children, the urgency around the placement of these infants and children in caring and nurturing home situations is magnified. To this end, the Harvest of Hope Family Services Network, Inc. was established as a stand alone, self, supporting enterprise, affiliated with First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens, with expanded focus and capability to address a larger customer population. The success with the current fostering initiative uniquely positions the Harvest of Hope Family Services Network, Inc. to expand its support to our most vulnerable population, children whose parents and/or biological family members can’t or won’t provide caring and safe homes for them.