Years ago, when George Coxhead first heard about Palmer Home for Children, he never dreamed that it would one day become a part of his own family’s story. He supported the mission, and even served on the board of directors to help guide the future of Palmer Home.
Many years later, he and his wife Margaret received a phone call that changed their family. Due to difficult circumstances, their four grandchildren were facing the threat of being removed from their home and separated into various foster homes. Though they were hundreds of miles away, the Coxheads immediately made plans to travel across the country and advocate for their grandchildren. A few months later, their home was brimming with the activity and excitement of four busy adolescents. It was quite an adjustment for all involved.
As Margaret became primary caregiver for the youth, the constant stream of life with four teens became challenging. Between school, church, extracurricular activities, meals, and doctor’s appointments there was little down time. The new pace of life, coupled with limitations from Multiple Sclerosis, made it clear to Margaret that change would be necessary sooner rather than later.
George and Margaret began praying together that God would provide a solution for their family- a place where their grandchildren could remain together and be well-provided for. A family that would love them and help them grow into kind, responsible adults. They cried and searched and prayed for many long days and nights.
Then one day, George remembered Palmer Home.
They scheduled a visit, and brought the children to tour the Columbus campus. After hours talking with the staff, asking questions, and re-familiarizing themselves with the organization and its leadership, the decision was clear to everyone. Palmer Home would be welcoming four new young people to campus. Their prayers were answered.
Today, the Coxhead’s grandchildren are thriving. The oldest of the siblings made up multiple courses and months of missed school in a single year. Thanks to her hard work, guidance from her houseparents and the investment of teachers at Palmer School she is headed to college. They’re involved in church, sports, summer camps and campus activities. The older children have become leaders in their cottages and examples of what God can do to redeem even the greatest challenges in a child’s life.
Of course, the journey has not always been easy. Transitions and time away from their extended family network has been hard on the children and their grandparents alike. But they all agree that Palmer Home is giving the siblings an opportunity to thrive.
“Even though we have had to deal with grief and loss, we are optimistic about their future,” says George. “They have a lot of potential to not just grow and be survivors, but to be leaders in this world. We know Palmer Home has the resources and background to develop leaders for Christ.”
Margaret agrees, “They aren’t just a number or a statistic. There are people who care about them. We call them the ‘fab four’—they’re so amazing and have come through such hardship, but I can finally sleep knowing that even if they’re apart from me, I know they’re safe.”
Palmer Home was the answer for the Coxhead family during their time of need. Could it be the answer for your or someone you know?
Every year the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) hosts a global summit intended to bring together individuals and organizations all over the world who uphold the cause of the orphan. It’s a two-day conference with invitational workshops and collaboration in the days preceding the summit. This year, Palmer Home attended the conference in order to debut Whole Child Initiative, our comprehensive approach to caring for children. I had the privilege of attending the CAFO Summit this year, and would love to share with you a few things I learned and experienced there.
1. God’s heart is for the orphan.
One of my favorite verses has always been the passage in Matthew where Jesus tells his followers that whatever they have done for “the least of these” was actually for Him. In any civilization, vulnerable children most certainly constitute the “least” of society. It’s easy to get bogged down some days in the hard parts of caring for a child with a traumatic past, or to lose heart considering all of the evil things a child may have seen in their young life. I find there is tremendous hope and joy when my focus returns to the simple fact that God’s love for these children is overwhelmingly deep, and every menial task done for them is actually done for Him.
2. The Church must rise up.
In response to God’s love for us and his equal love for the orphan, there is but one response for the Christian church: Love like Jesus. During CAFO I had the privilege of speaking to individuals from Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Mexico, Ukraine, Haiti, South Carolina, and everywhere in between. Around the world, the plight for vulnerable children worsens, yet around the world it is Christians who are rising up to make a difference. While it is true that governments have a responsibility to their citizens, the Church often has the resources and passion to be a large part of the solution.
3. Training is needed.
While the Church is more and more willing to meet the needs of these children, we heard again and again that training was needed to help equip caregivers to understand the special needs of children from hard places. Whole Child Initiative is excited to be able to provide the type of resources that will help individuals around the world through our online training and our community-based discussion forums. We’ve learned through over 120 years of experience that care must look at the “whole child”; that is to say, no one area can be neglected without it affecting all other areas of a child’s life. We love being able to address the needs of a child physically, educationally, emotionally, and spiritually, and we are so glad we can share this resource with others.
4. We are not alone.
There are amazing organizations all over the planet who are working hard to be the answer for every child in need. While the statistics are often daunting and the task before us may seem overwhelming, it’s so encouraging to see that we are not alone in our efforts. While our friends in Democratic Republic of Congo work to equip grandmothers to care for orphans whose lives have been ravaged by war, and while our friends from Ukraine strive to be a safe place for children living on the streets, our neighbors here in the U.S. search to find ways to increase the odds of success for children aging out of foster care. Whole Child Initiative will keep producing the best possible training and resources to equip those in our back yard and those a world away.
We each have a role to play.
What will your role be?
In March of 2004, a battle began over the rights of abused and neglected children in the state of Mississippi. Today, the struggle rages on, as Mississippi fights to restore a broken system. The New York Times revealed the dismal story in a recent article, detailing the patterns of negligence that led to the clash in the courtroom.
According to their website, Children’s Rights, with a counsel of lawyers acting on behalf of every Mississippi child in the custody of the Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS), filed a lawsuit against DFCS alleging violations of the state’s obligations to protect the abused and neglected children in its custody, and of the children’s constitutional rights to due process. While settlements were reached and substantial reforms were made, more than a decade later, many regions continued to lag behind. Fast forward to today, and the state admits that it never actually complied with many of the mandatory regulations put into place to start with. Mississippi must now attempt to avoid becoming the first state to have its child welfare program put into receivership, in which an outside agency would be hired to run the system.
The Times reported that as of December 2015, the state recognized 1,486 licensed foster homes for the over 5,000 children in its care. Additionally, over 4,000 children are monitored by the state, while not being under its custody. This brings the number of documented at-risk children to almost 10,000. They also uncovered accounts of overwhelmed social workers leaving a child in an abusive situation or even destroying evidence of abuse in order to keep from adding to an already unmanageable caseload. While Governor Bryant has been quick to engage the situation, naming former Supreme Court Justice David Chandler as head of DFCS, the previous legislative session met only a fourth of his requested budget increase. It has become increasingly evident that while the need is astronomical, the resources are slim.
Enter Palmer Home for Children—an organization that has provided an alternative to the state foster care system for children in need since 1895.
Today, Palmer Home and its affiliates care for over 100 children, through residential care and foster care networks. While the need is still great, their impact cannot be ignored. President and CEO Drake Bassett says the organization is ready to become an even larger part of the solution.
Under Bassett’s leadership, Palmer Home for Children has drawn on 120 years of experience in childcare to develop the Whole Child Initiative, a comprehensive approach to caring for children that addresses the physical, emotional, educational, and spiritual needs of each child that comes into their care. Palmer Home is actively involved in training and equipping individuals and families through the Whole Child Initiative. Bassett describes the vision as a way to build “a privately funded foster care network that relieves financial pressure from the state and delivers people committed to doing this for all the right reasons.” He adds, “Our organization is prepared to work closely with Dr. Chandler and state officials to address the ongoing need and provide an answer for the children of Mississippi.”
As the 2016 legislative session continues and lawmakers work to decide the fate of the state-run system, Palmer Home for Children continues its mission. The results they see are nothing short of remarkable. From children improving by multiple grade levels in a single school year, to young adults regaining even the slightest proclivity for affection and trust, lives are being restored every day. Some might even call it a miracle. In light of tragedies revealed by The New York Times, one thing is for sure—lives are being transformed through Palmer Home for Children.