In October of 1996, the administrators of New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (NJ DCP&P) met with the leadership of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens (FBCLG) in Somerset, New Jersey to seek assistance with a crisis that existed in the state’s foster care delivery system. This meeting resulted from a conversation between then New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman and Dr. DeForest B. Soaries, Jr., Senior Pastor of FBCLG.
State officials articulated great challenges with the epidemic of boarder babies, (infants medically cleared for discharge but left boarding in hospitals), who tended to be disproportionally black and brown, and primarily located in densely populated underserved urban areas. That awareness created a commitment by the First Baptist Community Development Corporation (FBCDC) to assist the state’s efforts to address the problem. This sparked the creation of the Harvest of Hope Program.
The Harvest of Hope Program created a systematic approach designed to identify, recruit and train potential foster parents. Initial recruitment efforts focused exclusively on First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens. Within a matter of weeks, 85 families were recruited and licensed as loving foster family homes in the State of New Jersey. More importantly, all 57 boarder babies were placed in Harvest of Hope recruited and trained foster family homes. The success of this initial intervention gave rise to the creation of Harvest of Hope Family Services Network, Inc. (HOH), a new, First Baptist affiliated not-for-profit entity that developed and trained a network of churches throughout New Jersey to do what was done at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens: recruit families to become loving foster family homes for youth in foster care.
Harvest of Hope Family Services Network, Inc., expanded their services to include extensive pre and post placement support for foster-parent recruits who successfully completed the program to become DCP&P approved homes for child placement. This support included a major emphasis on retention activities, life skills and behavioral health training, in addition to liaison and advocacy assistance – all designed to provide ongoing care, nurture and stable homes to children in need. In addition, the Harvest of Hope program grew to include the placement of children, teens and sibling groups. For many years, Harvest of Hope managed a family reunification component that provided assistance to the New Jersey State DCP&P in the facilitation of the placement of children into appropriate homes as well as in-service training for existing foster families.
After 19 years of developing effective strategies and successful engagement within the foster care community, the Harvest of Hope founder and board of directors decided to transition from being a local direct service provider into a national organization that functions as a resource to government and community organizations that provide services to youth in foster care. Harvest of Hope now offers training, guidance, research, support and technical assistance to public and private entities that are involved or have an interest in foster care.
Harvest of Hope has restructured governance and operations to better accomplish its mission, meet the needs of its stakeholders, take advantage of future opportunities and maximize its impact. The restructure consisted of an expansion of its board of directors, a redesign of its New Jersey operation and the establishment of initiatives in multiple geographic areas. Harvest of Hope is now managed by a national corporate office and operations center, and the New Jersey office has become a Foster Care Resource Center for New Jersey foster parents starting with the Harvest of Hope network of more than 400 families. Expansion efforts include foster care initiatives across the country designed to be consistent in strategy and principles to the New Jersey experience, but unique to needs in each respective location.
Geographical Initiatives are being created as a result of invitations from leaders in numerous locations for Harvest of Hope Family Services to provide consulting, support, and services to foster care related organizations. These initiatives will be established in geographical areas that have sought assistance. Harvest of Hope will then draft a strategic and tactical plan for addressing that area’s specific needs and identify partners that will assist with establishing a HOH initiative to implement those strategies.
As of January 2017, Geographic Initiatives are operating in New Jersey, Arizona and Kentucky.