‘That tore us apart’: Carl and Mary Brown invest their lives serving foster children

Carl and Mary Brown have spent the last 44 years caring for foster children — about 200 of them, in fact — and they want to get the word out to churches that the need for families to open their homes to children in crisis is more urgent than ever.

“Did you know that 22 percent of homeless people are former foster children?” Carl asks. Then he makes a sobering statement: The majority of child sex-trafficking victims are foster care children. (In 2013, 60 percent of the child sex-trafficking victims recovered as part of an FBI nationwide raid from over 70 cities were children from foster care or group homes, according to a story from National Public Radio.)

Carl and Mary didn’t start their marriage looking to become foster parents. They were teaching a young-marrieds Sunday school class at their home church, Spears Creek Baptist Church, just of northeast of Columbia, in the early 1970s. They were visiting in the home of a new class member when the woman, who worked for the Department of Social Services, received a phone call about an 11-year-old girl who had been raped by her mother’s boyfriend.

“That tore us apart,” said Carl. In those days there were no emergency shelters, he said, and many child victims had to spend the night at the county jail until arrangements for them could be made.

Carl and Mary were moved to act. Over the next several years, they advocated for foster children, helped spur the opening of emergency shelters, and became foster parents themselves.

Today, Carl is executive director of the South Carolina Foster Parents Association, which brings together parents, agency representatives and members of the community to promote coordination and encourage recruitment of foster families who have “a heartfelt calling” to help children.

The association, which has chapters in every South Carolina county, offers programs for foster children and training for foster parents. The association’s website, scfpa.com, is a good first stop for churches interested in promoting foster care, Carl said. (He also recommends a sister website, heartfeltcalling.org, for those interested in becoming foster parents.)

Carl and Mary, who have three biological children and six adopted children, have fostered around 200 children over the last 44 years, and they want to spread the word about the blessings of foster parenting with South Carolina Baptists.

“Without our churches, we can’t be where we want to be,” said Carl, who added that he welcomes the opportunity to speak in churches. He can be reached at 803-513-7016 or cbrown39@aol.com.

“We need our churches to open their hearts and homes,” he said.

Chrysti Shain, public information officer for South Carolina DSS, said her agency stands ready to work closely with churches and other groups who desire to raise awareness “of the needs of our children and the families who care for them.”

“We need more families who can step into the breach and be a safe, loving, temporary home for children,” she said.


By the Numbers

  • 4,300:Children in foster care in S.C.
  • 570: Foster children who are eligible for adoption in S.C.
  • 1,600: The number of additional foster families needed in S.C.

Source: S.C. Department of Social Services

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