Standing in the Gap

May 25, 2016

The sign "Mind the gap" painted on train station platform
Standing on the subway platform in London’s railway station as the train pulls into view, you’ll hear a repeated warning from their intercom system: “Mind the gap.” It’s referring to the space between the train car and the platform.  It serves as a reminder that if you are not mindful of the place between where you are and where you are going, the fall could yield serious consequences.

For over 120 years, Palmer Home for Children has stood in the gap between where hurting children have been and where they are going. Through a new ministry called Jonah’s Journey, we’re looking for more Christian caregivers to help us “mind the gap” for vulnerable children through this alternative to the state foster care system.

Jonah’s Journey began almost exclusively as a private placement option for infants of incarcerated mothers in a Nashville prison.  Today, under the umbrella of Palmer Home, Jonah’s Journey offers children of all ages the Christian care they need away from the difficulties of the state-run foster care system and outside of the group home environment. No longer limited to infants of incarcerated mothers, referrals to Jonah’s Journey may be any age and come from a variety of places.

The children who are placed with Jonah’s Journey caregivers start as a referral to Palmer Home by a relative or through our rescue hotline. As our Rescue team evaluates the children who come into our care, they look at all aspects of the child to help determine whether residential placement in a Palmer Home cottage or foster placement in an private family home might suit the child’s needs best.

As we conduct our Jonah’s Journey interest meetings, inevitably someone asks if the children we place will be available for adoption. While the opportunity for foster parents to adopt may arise in rare circumstances, most often it will not. Adoption is a destination, but usually it’s not the destination for children at Jonah’s Journey. Our goal is to help children who need a safe and loving place for a temporary amount of time, whether that means days or years. We need families to help these children transition from their past into their future; from where they are to where they are going. We need Christian husbands and wives willing to “mind the gap”.

Mary Beth Ketchum, who oversees the caregiver approval and placement process, says she’s very honest with potential caregivers who ask if the children placed will be infants. “I tell them if you are looking for a baby, we probably won’t be the right ministry for you.”  While infants played a huge role in the founding of Jonah’s Journey, the current need for Jonah’s Journey is caregivers for older children and teenagers.

Being a Jonah’s Journey caregiver gives families access to educational resources through Whole Child Initiative, and a support network that doesn’t exist within other temporary care systems.  It’s a huge benefit, and the organization encourages churches and communities to surround caregivers with support and encouragement.

“These are children. They have the same issues other kids do, but because they come from hard places there are additional factors.  I’ve yet to meet a caregiver who has said it wasn’t worth it,” Ketchum said.

As we expand our search for Christian caregivers to provide foster care in their homes, our commitment to residential group care is stronger than ever. Palmer Home recently broke ground on three new cottages at our Hernando campus to house thirty additional children and touch countless lives. We’re constantly in search of additional on-campus caregivers in order to keep our current cottages operating at full capacity, caring for as many children as possible.

But if we stop there—if we go no further to help the vulnerable children of Mississippi and the Southeast, we’ll barely scratch the surface of the thousands of children in need of help. In order to rescue and restore more children, we have to look beyond the property lines of our facilities. Our organization needs the support of families willing to open their homes as Jonah’s Journey caregivers to help “mind the gap”.

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a Jonah’s Journey caregiver, interest forms are available on our website at http://jonahsjourney.org/interest-form/.