The Vision . . .
A Child's Heart began 24 years ago as a vision of Jackie Cotton, an unwed woman raising her then seven-year-old son:
She saw a party in her back yard with children running and playing in the grass, adults talking on the back deck…then all disappeared. In the quiet, she heard crying.
Looking for the crying, she looked under the deck and saw three little boys, of different racial-ethnic backgrounds. The burden in her heart was so heavy that tears were forming in her eyes and the urge to find out about these children and the meaning was powerful.
As she sought God in His Word for the meaning of this vision, Psalm 27:10 came and planted itself in her heart: “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close.”
Her heart heard: “They need to be brought out from under the deck, cleaned off, and told I love them, because the church and society are walking above them on top of the deck, unaware of their broken-hearted feeling of abandonment.”
That is when the name “A Child’s Heart” was given, along with the urgency to carry out God’s healing for these precious families.
The ACH Calling & Hope
- Our calling is all about any family in which children live without both birth parents in the home (foster families; single-parent families--divorced, bereaved, never-married; blended families; grandparents raising grandchildren; and orphans and adoptive families).
- Our hope is to provide the Church with Biblical methods and materials for weekly support groups, providing discipling opportunities for their lay people, especially those who have a vision borne of their life experience.
- Our future holds the writing, piloting, and revising of the last five sessions for the 8-12 year olds; developing the teen sessions; and finally, molding the full family sessions for family discussion of any given topic.
The History of A Child’s Heart . . .
- A Child's Heart (ACH) was incorporated as a non-profit in 1992.
- “Street League,” conceived as a sports-based outreach to children and youth from broken homes, was offered by various churches in Colorado Springs and Denver, as well as by Salvation Army, through ca. 1997. We extimate that Street League reached approximately 250 children and young adults of all racial-ethnic backgrounds during these years.
- In 1999, permission was granted by Walt and Valerie Acuff, of the non-profit Skills for Living, to form a curriculum team and begin work on adapting for elementary school-age children their healing adult Bible study “Building Healthy Relationships in an unhealthy world.” www.skills.org
- Since the summer of 2002, A Child's Heart has been pilot-testing and revising the elementary-age children's material, called Longing of the Heart. We have held mini day camps ("Camp Nehemiah") held in local parks with foster children. Some of the children that came to the camps were from Family Life Services in Colorado Springs, a residential program for single mothers and their children. Approximately 41 children (some who attended multiple years) from different racial-ethnic groups have been served thus far.
- In 2009, work began on adapting the Bible studies for use with pre-K and kindergarten-age children. ACH has also developed a self-directed Bible study series format for Session 1 for single parents, and anticipates adapting that for parents in step and blended families in the first quarter of 2010, with pilot-testing of both formats following.
- In early 2009, A Child's Heart began working with Pastor Moses Makokha and his wife Tatu of Fresh Manna Prayer Centre and Mount Zion Project (orphanage) in Kisumu, Kenya. Pastor Moses and Tatu run a rehab center for street children, and minster to children living in the dumps of Kisumu, as well as to incarcerated mothers and youths, single-parents families in a large slum north of Kisumu, and orphans in an impoverished rural community in a neighboring region. Pastor Moses has translated (into Kiswahili) and begun piloting the children's Session 1 lessons, and Moses and Tatu have committed to adapting the single-parent Bible study series for us with step/blended families.
The Why, What, and How...
Why the concern for children and youth growing up without both natural parents in the home?
We all learn the basics about life, God, and relationships within our families, first—as God designed to be the case (e.g., Deut. 11:18-21; Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4). When childhood and adolescent experiences in the family do not unfold as God intended them to, it can fracture the developing child’s sense of God, self, and others.
Specifically, the absence of a natural parent in the home, as well as experiencing multiple parental changes (e.g., parental divorce, parental incarceration, addition of a step-parent, foster-care placement) can increase the risk of later problems, including:
- suicidal ideation and attempts
- mental and substance use disorders
- delinquency and criminal offending
- school failure
- risky sexual behavior and becoming a teenaged parent
- becoming divorced, themselves
Note also that our concepts of God are related to our concepts of our parents: if children experience abuse, abandonment, or betrayal at the hands of their parents, they will likely experience greater difficulties in their relationship with God.
My/our children seem fine—what’s the big deal?
Aren’t these concerns just for a minority of kids?
Yes, for most of the major problems listed above, only a minority of children from broken family structures will experience them. HOWEVER, virtually ALL children growing up with these kinds of family situations suffer from feelings of loss, anger, and sadness, which themselves are worthy to be addressed—and, which can increase their risk for other problems.
Furthermore, some problems, such as their own divorce, may not surface for many years. That is, children and youth may look “fine” for a time, as far as effects of having grown up without one or either of their natural parents, but may then start to experience problems in their relationships or with life satisfaction years later.
The real question therefore is:
Why NOT invest in our children’s health and well-being from the beginning? Why wait until we see problems starting to arise?
Why be content to invest nothing and let our children simply seem free of major problems?—why not give them everything we can for them to grow into strong, loving, healthy and happy adults?
Why the concern for adults who have been affected by a broken family structure?
For adults who experienced childhood wounds around these family situations, they may find themselves facing such challenges such as:
- their own divorce
- abusive or unfulfilling and dysfunctional romantic relationships
- the long-term negative consequences of choices (e.g., around school failure or risky sex) they made in anger or hurt years prior when they were reacting to their family pain
For single parents, they may find themselves facing challenges such as:
- financial woes and child care woes
- loneliness and lack of support
- lack of energy and time to be with their children
- dealing with angry, hurting, and hurtful children without the support of the other parent
For step parents, they may find themselves facing challenges such as:
- having to forge bonds with children and teens who may not want the step parent to be in their life
- having to deal with their spouse’s ex-partner, including, around conflicts of loyalty and responsibility regarding the children
- parenting children without having any legal rights
- forging a family unit from separate elements (especially the case with step- and half-siblings involved)
For foster and adoptive parents, they may find themselves facing challenges such as:
- parenting children with severe psychological wounds, with accompanying behavior problems that may be very difficult and disruptive
- having to balance the needs of their foster children and those of their natural children
- having disruptions in their bonds with their children via their visits to natural parents or changes in custody
What can be done to help equip these children and families for a Godly, healthy life?
- provide tangible and emotional support and encouragement on a weekly basis
- provide mentoring (of the children and parents)
- provide opportunities to practice and experience positive ways of interacting with others
- provide Scriptural teaching directed specifically at the issues they face (e.g., trust, anger, abandonment, forgiveness, grief, guilt and shame, God’s purpose for family, loving vs. unloving relationships, etc.)
- provide a community of those who understand and have been through similar experiences
How can this be done?