MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, February 6th. You’re listening to The World and Everything in It, and we are so glad you are! Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next: Helping children in need.
More than 400,000 children in the United States are in the foster care system. Some wind up in group homes.
That’s where Joyce Wilson fits in. She’s a steadying force at a cluster of residential homes known as The Baptist Children’s Village. It’s an agency of the Mississippi Baptist Convention.
WORLD Radio’s Kim Henderson brings us her story.
KIM HENDERSON, REPORTER: It’s a good day to be on a swing set on the rambling, rural campus called Dickerson Place.
Children age 2 to 20 arrive here one of two ways: through Child Protection Services or by the voluntary request of a legal guardian. Most have experienced some type of abuse, or they’ve witnessed it. Some have suffered from neglect.
WILSON: A 5 year old or 6 year old trying to find a can opener to open something just to eat…a baby in dirty diapers for a week or more with just just horrible rashes…Kids who have STDs because they’ve been sexually abused…
Campus Director Joyce Wilson has seen a lot over the course of her 35-year career. She says addictions are changing the heart of parenting.
WILSON: We do have some parents who love their children, but the drugs have taken over and they are not the same people.
Kids have arrived needing breathing treatments.
WILSON: Parents making, manufacturing drugs which cause respiratory issues for the children living in the home.
Kids that have seen much.
WILSON: A 5 year old who could tell you how to do a cocaine pipe, um, hiding from the cops in the bushes.
Kids that have suffered much.
WILSON: Who’ve been hit or beat with just about anything you can think of. Starvation, lack of food. Sometimes that’s because of drugs that parents were on a high or a binge and they leave their children alone.
Helping these children is consuming work. It may account for Wilson’s shock of white hair.
AUDIO: [SOUND OF JOYCE WALKING THROUGH GRAVEL]
But her petite frame moves at a Millennial’s pace.
Her small office is a good 100 yards away from the girls’ cottage. There, young artwork covers the door. A cut-out Valentine. A pencil drawing of Dalmatians.
Inside, tangible effects of Wlison’s life’s work line shelves and walls.
WILSON: So, this is a bulletin board that actually doesn’t hold all of the pictures of kids that have been here through the years…
In an unstable world, Wilson has been a sure thing for hundreds of displaced children.
WILSON: There was a young lady who came to us when she was about 13. She was able to finish high school. She was able to get at least a couple of years of college. And she talked about the fact that this was the most stable time in her life…
That’s because the teenager could concentrate on her schoolwork instead of trying to figure out how to feed her siblings. She also had time to consider what God wanted her to do with her life.
WILSON: Our lives only change when our hearts change, and our hearts only change when Jesus changes it. And so the different perspective we have is that to move families in a direction and children in a direction, to at least expose them to what it is that Christ did for them and the hope that He has. He can heal our hearts if we’ll let Him.
Wilson’s role means she’s on the go. Today, she’s popping in at the rink where residents are skating.
AUDIO: [SOUND OF WILSON ENCOURAGING SKATERS]
But it’s not all fun. Wilson also describes herself as “the heavy.” Like when she had to decide what to do when a resident was caught shoplifting.
WILSON: If you steal from a store, then you don’t go back in any store for three months, and it had to have enough bite so that it would be something like, “I don’t want to do this again because I want to go shopping . . .”
Community service was another requirement: Picking up trash. Helping a neighbor with yard work.
WILSON: Something that gives back to the community. If you take from the community, you give back to the community. It’s not just a punishment. It’s, “What can we help them learn from the situation?”
Wilson says residents like these posing for a picture beside caring houseparents have an advantage. Many just like them remain in tough situations because there’s a national push to keep kids in the home.
Even while parents are treated for addictions.
WILSON: I have a concern that, that that’s going to lead to more children um growing up in situations where they don’t know right from wrong. The patterns will continue. Um, or that those children will be traumatized, uh, abused in some other manner.
Wilson compares drug abuse to a cancer that can afflict an entire family tree. That’s why living with close relatives isn’t always a good option when kids are removed from homes. She’s frustrated when faith-based entities like theirs are the last to be considered for placement.
WILSON: I don’t know if that’s because we’re faith-based or because we look more at the heart and a change in a family as opposed to just six months is up and you need to go home.
Even so, that’s not the biggest challenge facing Wilson. It’s the kids themselves. Teaching them to love their families from a distance.
WILSON: You have to figure out a distance that you can love your family, but not get caught back up in that. It’s almost like a vortex, and it’ll, it’ll just suck you in.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Kim Henderson.