Editor's Note: Covenant of the Cross PATH class to start dated has been pushed back to April 25.

Recently the Tennessee Department of Children Service’s has been under the scrutiny of the media. With 8,457 children currently in foster care, who wouldn’t be concerned?

But there is a group within the foster care system that they are struggling to find homes for. That group is GLBT youth.

While it’s unknown the exact number in the system, it’s something our community should be aware of. And it’s easy to think the reason for this is because of their sexuality.

But according to one person who has been helping the state find homes for these “lost children,” the real reason for the problem will leave our community reassessing their actions. And hopefully will lead to some to “step-up to the plate.”

THE ISSUES

“The predominate reason they are having problems with GLBT youth issues is not so much because of sexuality, but because of all of the other behaviors kids get into,” said Pastor Greg Bullard from Covenant of the Cross. “Whether it’s prostitution or drug dealing or violence, there’s a lot of other things that are attendant with that and it becomes harder.”

He said for example if there’s a violent teenage boy who’s fighting against who he is and trying to find a place when there are younger children in the home is difficult. That’s where some of these problems come from.

The other part of the problem, in his opinion, is something you would not expect. “Quite frankly our (GLBT) community has completely failed our youth,” Bullard said. “We have acted more scared of children and youth other than sometimes men who are wanting a young thing to date, while they may always be legal ... We have been too scared to do what we had to do to make sure they have safe space. We blame everybody else for that and I’m going to tell you it’s not everybody else’s job to make sure our children are safe.”

Bullard and his church at Covenant of the Cross have worked with several youth to the point where he has lost count. “Foster care has it’s usual issues, but I have yet to find an issue of it being just purely a gay and lesbian issue, it’s always other issues going on,” he said. “And it’s really hard for us to deal with and help people.”

Bullard has been a pastor at Covenant of the Cross since 2002 and previously served at churches in Alabama, Memphis and one other church in Nashville. He has focused a lot of his time and energy into counseling services, as well as pastoral.

He has opened up his home and helped people struggling. But with a baby now, his husband and him cannot do that anymore. “The reality is too many times (our community) hasn’t been giving a helping hand up when we should have been. And too often we blame another agency or another person because the result we thought should have happened didn’t happen because we didn’t do what we should have done.”

“Most of the kids that lose or can’t find a foster home is because of the some other issue. DCS cannot show me one time (where a youth was kicked out of a foster home because of their sexuality),” Bullard said.


THE NUMBERS

Recently, DCS has received a lot of media attention regarding the deaths of 31 children who were in the state’s protection in the first six months of 2012.

According to the 2011-12 state budget, the Department of Children’s Services total recommended budget is more than $651 million. The total recommend full-time personnel are 4,570 and six part-time. The money is funded through the state, federal government and other means.

The 2009-10 actual budget was $660,793,600. The 2010-11 estimated budget increased by $5,659,900. But this year’s recommended budget was decreased by $14,942,400.

The 2009-10 actual budget had 4,950 full-time personnel and 25 part-time. The 2010-11 estimated budget decreased by 144 full-time and 19 part-time personnel. This year’s recommended budget had another decrease by 239 full-time personnel and kept six part-time. That’s a total of 383 full-time personnel cut from the budget since 2009.

Bullard believes the reason DCS fails is because they are not acquitted enough resources. “Sometime’s there is such a heavy caseload that you can’t do it all,” he said. “And will us valuing low taxes; at some level the issue isn’t the people who are working and doing their best.”

Bullard said, “Jesus is the only one I know that can multiple fish and bread. He can feed 5,000 with two fish and five loaves of bread, but Jesus don’t work for DCS.”

According to Molly Sudderth, director of Communications for DCS, at fiscal year-end 2011, DCS had 7,514 children in foster care. As of Dec. 21, 2012, the total increased by 943.

One of the individuals Bullard has helped before — and church has helped —thought that he wanted “something in return” for helping him. “Every person who had said they were there to help him wanted a favor from him ... In the bed,” Bullard said. “He thought everybody who would want to help him, wanted to do something sexually because that was his only experience.”

According to Covenant Cupboard’s — Covenant of the Cross’s community assistant program — website, 20 percent of all homeless youth identify as GLBT. About 60 percent commit suicide. And around 60 percent of homeless GLBT youth have been sexually victimized.

“That’s actually a lot more common than people expect,” Bullard said. “Not because of what someone did outside our community. It’s because of what people inside our community did.”

He believes the safety of our children should come first; even before equal rights. “There are GLBT youth on the street getting rapped because GLBT adults have not taken their responsibility seriously,” Bullard said. “If someone is starving in my community, equal rights don’t mean nothing to me.”


HOW YOU CAN HELP

“We always need to remember that DCS needs a lot of support,” Bullard said. “We don’t think about that organization to go volunteer for to help create safe spaces even for just any child.”

There is a location full of toys that DCS takes children that have been pulled from a home. Volunteers can sit or play with them: anything to create a sense of normalcy.

Not only is DCS in Nashville, but in small towns like Smithville. They place youth all of the time with people in our community according to Bullard. “The question isn’t do they get placed; the question is do we sign up so that they can be placed with us. DSC will do what’s in the best interest of the child all of the time.”

Bullard recently received permission from the DCS to start a PATH class with the specific target of the GLBT community. Anyone seeking to become a foster parent must take a 30-hour training program — Parents As Tender Healers — and provide five references, fingerprints and undergo a complete background check.

The PATH class will first be held at Covenant of the Cross. For Bullard, safety of child is his paramount issue.

His goal is to get 15 men and women in the PATH class who would be willing to take an emergency child at the drop of a hat. “My hope is to help DCS identify people and train people who will be positive role models, who will not have any form of attraction to a child or teenager ... These kids need to know they are in a safe place.”

This PATH class will be held at Covenant of the Cross starting around the end of February and will go through mid-April. The church will provide food and maybe handling the registration process to make it easier.

If interested, Bullard wants you to contact his church. “I am always going to be cognizant as a pastor with a lot of child in my church,” he said. His church has increased by over 500 percent with the number of children. They now have to add classroom space for more children. They also feed around 150 people per month.

According to DCS website, foster parents can be “single or married, with or without their own children, employed or not employed (but must be able to financially meet needs), be in good health, at least 21, and be a homeowner or renter.”

Other criteria include “love and care for children with problems, learn to use behavioral management skills, have room in your home and in your daily life, and give without expecting anything in return.”

Foster families do receive a daily rate for each child they foster. According to Sudderth, the regular rates are $23.26 per day for ages 0-11. Ages 12 and up receive $27.28.

Special circumstances rates are $25.59 per to day for ages 0-11 and $30.01 for ages 12 and up. “The greatest benefit I think is helping a child realize their potential,” Bullard said.

A concept has been created that Nashville is only friendly to the GLBT community, but in the end DCS will do what’s in the best interest of the child. Bullard said, ”I don’t know any kid who cares (if their foster parent is GLBT). They just want somebody to love them. For us to blame everybody else is to seek to scapegoat somebody because we didn’t prepare to do what we should’ve done.”

Bullard ended by saying, “There’s a lot kids who need help. I hope people step up. Because in a city of 1.5 million people total in the metro area, just on bare statistics, that would mean there’s 150,000 GLBT adults. Why don’t we have more of them helping in the foster system? And it isn’t because DCS doesn’t want them in it.”
 

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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