Families in Crisis: How Mothers Find Jonah’s Journey

September 29, 2017

Susan Moffitt’s phone rings at 9 p.m. on a Tuesday night. Child Protective Services is with a family that includes two children whose mother in need of a drug treatment program. They’ve offered her an opportunity to voluntarily place the children in temporary care instead of state foster care.

As Susan gathers the paperwork the mother will need to sign, she’s already on the phone with a Jonah’s Journey family who has cared for children in similar situations. The process moves quickly as she confirms with CPS that she has a home for the children and makes her way across town to the family.

Twelve hours later, Susan’s standing in the chaplain’s office at the Tennessee State Prison for Women. An inmate who is six months pregnant and in the second month of her two-year sentence has asked to meet with her. After speaking with the inmate, Susan begins the process to match a Jonah’s Journey family with this mother and her soon-to-be-born baby.

About half of children placed with Jonah’s Journey come from voluntary placements in the community. A school teacher, church minister or other community member may see a family who needs temporary placement for their children and suggest they call Jonah’s Journey. Other times the call comes from CPS as a last option before the children are taken into state custody. Sometimes children are placed with Jonah’s Journey while a parent, who has no other family, goes through a treatment program or is admitted to the hospital for the birth of another child.

“We have a lot of great opportunities to partner with local treatment facilities to provide services in situations when typically family members would come alongside the mother and help, but they don’t have family nearby to help them,” said Moffitt.

Other children placed into Jonah’s Journey care come as infants from expectant mothers from prisons and county jails throughout Tennessee. These placements often offer the Jonah’s Journey family and the birthmother an opportunity to get to know one another before the placement begins—an opportunity not afforded in emergency placement situations.

The key for placement with Jonah’s Journey is that the mother (or family member placing the child) must have legal custody and be willing to place the child.

“Sometimes our case workers can advocate for them [birthmother], but we can’t place a child if the individual doesn’t have custody,” said Moffitt.

Jonah’s Journey families strive to support the birthmothers as much as the children in their care. Often families who care for infants of inmates in the Tennessee prison program visit with the birthmother multiple times before the birth of the baby. They also make a commitment to bring the baby to visitation to encourage bonding between the baby and mother.

“With voluntary placement, these are moms who are trying to protect their children, to keep them close by and take care of them while they get help,” said Moffitt. “They are choosing this on purpose. They are going to meet with the family. And they know we do this because we are Believers.”

Moffitt also says most Jonah’s Journey families commit to the birthmother and the child long term. Many families continue to offer emotional support and friendship to both the birthmother and child, even after the family has been reunited. This ongoing relationship sets Jonah’s Journey apart from many other foster care organizations. It also means many families often only care for one or two children during their time with Jonah’s Journey, which makes training additional families even more important.

When Jonah’s Journey isn’t able to place a child with a family, Moffitt works to connect the family with another organization who can provide the help they need.  If you would like to learn more about how you can get involved in the mission of Jonah’s Journey, we would love to hear from you.  Click to learn about becoming a caregiver, supporting Jonah’s Journey foster families, or partnering with us financially.