Ordained Assemblies of God minister Sharen E. Ford is helping to change the perception of adoption and foster care, exhorting Christians across the nation to think of the two needs not as the assignment for a select few, but — at some level — a calling for all.
For the past eight years, Ford, 65, has been director for adoption and foster care for the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family. During her tenure there, the ministry has shifted its emphasis.
Ford has stressed the importance of wraparound care — supporting those engaged in caring for children whether in adoptive, foster, kinship, or biological situations. Such efforts provide respite relief and practical helps for those engaged full time in the process, thus reducing the likelihood of burnout.
“Sharen is always looking at ways for people to get involved somehow, such as wraparound care,” says Robyn Chambers, Focus on the Family executive director for advocacy for children. “She has shaped ways for people to get involved, believing that everyone can do something — and they need to find out what that is.”
“There is a season for everybody to say yes to serving these children,” Ford declares.
Before joining Focus, Ford worked for the state of Colorado for three decades, overseeing foster care and adoption programs. In her role with the ministry, she engages state government agencies and raises the need for quality care families among parachurch organizations. Ford is both an educator and advocate.
Chambers, who has worked at Focus for 28 years, says Ford’s background with 30 years of experience at the state level has proven invaluable in her current role.
“Seeing the difficulties that sometimes occur in a foster care situation, combined with her faith in Christ, makes Sharen a perfect fit for what she’s doing,” says Chambers, 58. “Focus is not just a job to Sharon. It’s a way for her to fulfill the purpose God has called her to do.”
Ford believes churchgoers need to engage at a higher level.
“Children are sleeping on the floors of motels and in family services offices because there are not enough foster families,” Ford says. “Who better to support these children than the body of Christ?”
Ford stresses the importance of children being able to live with an individual family that can provide nurturing.
“Kids as young as 8 years old are placed in group homes, often with up to 10 other kids,” Ford says. “There is high turnover of staff, who work 24-hour shifts. It’s not a homelike atmosphere, but rather just a place for kids to eat, shower, and have a roof over their head. It’s not a family-like setting.”
Ford also teaches families to better appreciate the trauma children have endured, and thus understand their behavioral issues.
“Children are in need of people to love and care for them, not to judge them,” says Ford.
Some children have been coerced by adults to steal from stores, lest they or their siblings be sexually abused, Ford says.
“There are 10-year-old kids missing school because mom is passed out and they feel responsible for supervising a 3-year-old sibling,” says Ford, who holds a doctorate in counseling psychology from Cornerstone University in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Chambers credits Ford with bringing about a change in ministry circles involving foster care nomenclature.
“She has taught us that foster kid is not the identity of the child,” Chambers says. “Instead, that child happens to be in a foster care situation.”
Such lexicon shifts bring more respect to young ones who are in the circumstances through no fault of their own, Chambers says. Ford likewise instructed how to respect the birth family, because the ordeals they go through may involve extenuating circumstances.
“Sharen is an inspiration,” Chambers says. “It’s a real joy to work alongside her.”
Shelly Radic, president since 2013 of Project 1.27, a Denver-based organization that helps recruit foster families, also credits Ford with expanding orphan and foster care opportunities.
“Sharen has identified places where the faith community could step in,” says Radic, 61. “She takes her deep insights of child welfare and her understanding of the Church, and bridges those entities together. She is inspiring so many people to get involved at a national level.” For the past four years, Ford and Radic have been part of a weekly group praying for children and families.
Whenever she speaks in churches, Ford says she is encouraged to find congregants tell her God is tugging at their heart to become involved in caring for orphans or children in a foster care situation.
As if she doesn’t have enough to do, Ford is interim pastor of New Life Christian Center in Montbello, Colorado, where she has been a member for over 30 years. She received her AG ministerial ordination in April.
In childhood, Ford moved from place to place, not because of a dysfunctional family but rather due to her father, Johnny Wilkerson, being in the military. She, her four siblings, and her mother, Bernice, lived on bases around the nation.