TOPEKA — Wrong perceptions are at the heart of criticisms of a Wichita group that works with children and families, the head of that organization said Thursday.
Andrea Dixon, director of FaithBuilders, told an audience of social workers and case managers at the Governor’s Conference for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect that she and her 300 volunteers work hard to keep children with their biological families.
“Our biggest problem is the perception of us,” she said during a conference workshop titled Strengthening and Stabilizing the Family, A Grassroots Approach. “They see a piece here, a piece there. We fight hard to keep kids out of the (state) system. They think we’re fighting to take kids. We’re fighting to help families.
“They don’t see the rest of the piece, that we sat with these families for a maybe a year or more and tried to help them.”
FaithBuilders is the subject of an ongoing review by the Kansas Department of Children and Families, which is looking into claims that the nonprofit has circumvented the court process on parental rights and improperly directed children to its foster care homes.
On Oct. 24, DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore ordered that no more children be placed in foster care homes operated by FaithBuilders until a review was completed.
Theresa Freed, spokeswoman for DCF, said she didn’t know when the review would be completed.
The review follows a preliminary review that was concluded Oct. 10 – just days before Diane Bidwell resigned as director of DCF’s regional office in Wichita. There were claims that Bidwell improperly gave confidential information to FaithBuilders.
DCF officials have said Bidwell’s resignation was voluntary and unrelated to any issues with FaithBuilders.
“We follow the rules,” Dixon said after the workshop. “We don’t violate confidential information. We can’t explain ourselves, because we can’t break confidentiality.”
FaithBuilders operates under the direction of Lawrence-based DCCCA, which is a state-licensed placement agency and issues licenses to foster homes.
Jeannette Owens, the child-placing director for DCCCA for more than a decade, said after the workshop that she’s disappointed that the state isn’t allowing children to be put in FaithBuilders’ homes for now.
“It’s hurting the kids,” Owens said. “What FaithBuilders does best is keep families together. I’ve never seen an agency do it better, which is why this is so discouraging.”
FaithBuilders has helped 350 to 400 children in some way since it started in 2007, Dixon said.
More than 200 children – or about 90 percent of those placed in foster or respite homes – have been reunited with their biological families, she added.
Only two children have been adopted by FaithBuilders homes in nearly seven years, Dixon said.
FaithBuilders has about 30 respite or foster care homes, with about 30 children in each category.
“That is the smallest but most visible part of what we do,” Dixon said during the workshop. “The biggest piece of our ministry is goods and services. We do diapers, clothes, furniture … the sky is the limit.
“Our ultimate goal is relationship. We’re not Bible-beating, head-stomping people.”
She said FaithBuilders works on relationships with the families by providing such things as mentoring and parenting and budgeting instruction for families.
Dixon said FaithBuilders accepts children for its foster care homes only if the organization has had a prior relationship with the family.
The organization began having foster care homes as part of its ministry in 2010 because, at the time, a child could stay in respite care for only 30 days, she said.
“Thirty days isn’t enough time for a mom to get her life turned around,” said Dixon, who has six children in her home – three biological daughters, one stepdaughter, one foster child and another child for whom she has legal custodianship.
Respite care was extended to 90 days in recent months.
“We never started this to do foster care,” she said. “We only added foster care homes to bring stability because so many of the children are moved from home to home to home.”
FaithBuilders families are committed to keeping the children as long as necessary to help the children and families, Dixon said. And that, she added, is where misconceptions seem to arise.
“We follow the natural progression of foster care. We have no power to do it differently,” she said after the workshop. “It’s just persecution because we have FaithBuilders for our name.
“I’ll take persecution every day, because you’ll never remove faith out of my homes.”