Meet Jonah’s Journey

April 14, 2016

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Meet Jonah’s Journey: Palmer Home for Children’s answer to the Mississippi state foster care crisis. Founded in Nashville nearly a decade ago, Jonah’s Journey served as an alternative to state foster care for children born to incarcerated women. These mothers were presented with the opportunity to place their child with a willing caregiver family rather than face the daunting prospect of potentially losing them in the foster system. The accomplishments of the program, which include maintaining a relationship between mother and child, have been remarkable!

Seven years after its beginnings, the organization was acquired by Palmer Home for Children in an effort to reach an even wider range of children in need of a safe place to call home. In the midst of a particularly difficult time for Mississippi’s child welfare system, Jonah’s Journey is a solution many have been searching for.

While the ministry of Palmer Home has traditionally provided residential care by means of multiple group homes, referred to as cottages, spread across a single campus, Jonah’s Journey will look to certify and equip caregiver families to bring a child or sibling group into their own home. This new focus would effectively create a privately funded network of Christian caregivers across the state of Mississippi who are providing homes and families for children in need, thereby relieving pressure from the underfunded, overworked state system. It’s ambitious, but Jonah’s Journey is up for the challenge.

The practical aspects are already in place.  For the past few years, Palmer Home for Children has worked closely with similar organizations to understand and develop an effective system of certifying caregivers. For Jonah’s Journey, this method is the Whole Child Initiative, training developed through Palmer Home. WCI is a comprehensive approach to caring for children that recognizes and addresses the multi-dimensional aspects of a child’s life: Physical, Emotional, Educational, and Spiritual. Families who foster through Jonah’s Journey are trained through the program, and it all begins with expressing interest.

Families who contact Palmer Home seeking to become a caregiver are quickly placed into contact with a caseworker who will ensure they understand exactly what the program entails. Unlike state-run foster care, there is no financial stipend available to participants. However, any Jonah’s Journey family will have the full support of the organization behind them as they take on the responsibility of caring for a child. Training, resources, and community are available to everyone involved.

Once the family understands the responsibilities of becoming a caregiver, the process begins with an application packet used to gain insight into the familial structure which includes relational dynamics, financial stability, and church involvement. This also involves a home questionnaire designed to ensure there’s a safe environment with adequate space to accommodate the needs of a child. Later, a home study is performed utilizing the Structured Analysis Family Evaluation (SAFE) process and standards to ensure thoroughness, and an in-depth questionnaire delves deeper into the lifestyle of the family. Personal references are provided and interviewed by Jonah’s Journey. Each step of the process is focused on ensuring the family is approaching the responsibility of caregiving from a healthy perspective and is able to provide a safe and beneficial environment for the child.

Assuming these steps are completed to the satisfaction of Palmer Home for Children, the process continues to phone interviews with the husband and wife, followed by in-person interviews and a home visit by a trained staff member. During this time, the family will also engage in WCI training, much of which can be done online with follow-up in person. The process is rigorous by necessity, and also by intent. While it is not designed to hold families to a false standard of perfection, it is meant to ensure that couples are extremely committed, healthy, and have proven their ability to successfully navigate life’s inevitable challenges.

If a family’s application, interviews, home visits and training are completed and approved, Jonah’s Journey matches them with a child in need. A number of factors are considered during placement, including the legal status of the child, whether he or she is part of a sibling group, and if any special needs exist—emotional or physical. Perhaps the family feels more equipped to provide for a child with specific needs, or has already established a relationship with a child. While circumstances vary, the great care put into this process is consistent. And the relationship does not end at placement! Jonah’s Journey remains involved in the life of the child and family through regular on-site visits, interviews and training.

The thoroughness and availability of the Palmer Home staff, and the efficiency of their process are great benefits of becoming a caregiver through Jonah’s Journey. The ability to provide one-on-one attention and the option of online training set the organization apart.  That said, Jonah’s Journey is diligent to emphasize it is not an adoption agency. Most children placed through Jonah’s Journey are legally unable to be considered for adoption. Palmer Home and Jonah’s Journey desire maximum stability for a child, and aim for long-term placements. However, if in the best interest of parent and child, they rejoice at the opportunity to reunite a family.

If your family, or someone you know, is interested in becoming a caregiver through Jonah’s Journey, applications are being accepted. Jonah’s Journey aims to provide loving families to care for 150-200 boys and girls across the state of Mississippi in the next 18 months. While the need is daunting, the chance to be part of the solution is yours.

To learn more about ways you can join Jonah’s Journey, contact us at 844-77JONAH or visit our website.