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Editor’s note: This is the first in a weekly series about foster care and The CALL in Union County. The series will run through Dec. 24 as part of our Community Christmas Card campaign, where we ask readers to help a local nonprofit through donations collected by the News-Times. Everyone who donates at least $2 through Dec. 21 will have their name listed in the Community Christmas Card that runs in our Christmas Eve edition.

In Union County, there were more than 100 children in foster care by the end of June.

In order to help ensure those children have loving, supportive homes to go to, The CALL in Union County works with local church congregations to educate, equip and encourage them to serve foster children locally.

“We really serve as a bridge organization where we mobilize the church to work with the state in foster care,” said Karen Langston, coordinator for the CALL in Union County. “It’s really unprecedented … we don’t see a lot of times where the state and the government really leans as heavily on religious organizations as what we’re seeing here. And that’s powerful.”

In Arkansas, there were 5,113 children in foster care at the end of the 2017 state fiscal year, according to the Annual Report Card for the Arkansas Department of Human Services Division of Children and Family Services. The state fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.

According to the report, more children entered foster care in Arkansas during that time period than were discharged. And nearly half of those in foster care during that time had been in care for longer than one year.

In Union County, at the end of the 2017 state fiscal year, there were 132 children in foster care, most of whom were 11 years old or under. Union County had the second highest number of children in foster care in area 4, which includes Columbia, Hempstead, Lafayette, Little River, Miller, Nevada, Ouachita and Sevier counties. Only Miller County had a higher number with 189 children in foster care.

Langston said when it comes to the role of The Call, it’s really to get churches involved in what she sees as a Christian mission.

“Most of them are unaware that the church even has a role to play,” she said. “There is no cop out biblically. We are commanded to take care of the orphans and the widows, and the modern day orphans are children of foster care … We were given no gray area as Christians.”

She said most organizations see it as a state issue and they should let the government do its job, but in reality, she said, a person is hard-pressed to hear someone say that the state is doing a perfect job and doesn’t need any help. The CALL, she said, works to educate the church congregation on the needs and then helps people get through the next steps to connect the assistance to those who need it.

“We are blessed that society as a whole has realized that we have to step up and take care of our kids,” she said.

Langston said most of the issues in society are stemming from childhood trauma and the more that people collectively begin to step in and intervene at a young age to help create productive citizens once they are adult.

“We see time and time again where children who have been victims of drug abuse or in-vitro abuse or just neglect in general, they are growing up to be 25-year-olds who don’t understand what it means to provide and to take care of and to hold their own and to contribute to society,” Langston said.

Substance abuse and neglect are the top two reasons for a child entering foster care in the state, according to the state report.

Langston said neglect can be especially harmful to a child because it’s as if nothing they do matters, so to go to a foster home and a church community filled with people telling and showing that child that they matter is of immeasurable importance.

“When people realize there are orphans in our backyard, they feel called to do something,” Langston said. “I’ve never left a church without a check, a foster family or a volunteer. And that says a lot for our town and our county.”

Madeleine Leroux can be reached at 862-6611 or Follow her on Twitter at @mleroux821 or follow @el_newstimes for News-Times updates.

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