A new technology platform was introduced to area churches last week, but the idea behind it is as old as the concept of church itself.
CarePortal, an online platform of the Global Orphan Project, went live Thursday in 11 north central Kansas counties, the sixth region in the state for the Kansas City-based platform to operate in.
The purpose of the web-based platform is to connect churches with children and families in need through social work agencies.
CarePortal conducted a launch party for the platform Thursday morning at Celebration Community Church.
“I saw this as a game-changer in this field for the church for getting involved with families in crisis,” said CarePortal Regional Manager Bubba Dowling, Alton.
Dowling worked with the Kansas Department of Children and Families before taking the position with the Global Orphan Project.
Three Hays churches — Celebration Community, North Oak Community and High Plains Baptist — are actively using the platform.
Three others in Hays and two in north central Kansas are enrolled and awaiting approval — Dialog Ministries/Breathe Coffee House, First United Methodist Church and Westview Church in Hays, Mt. Ayr Friends Church in Alton, and New Covenant Church of Harvest in Smith Center.
The platform is growing quickly, said CarePortal State Manager Tate Williams. It started in 2014 with five churches. Today, almost 1,500 churches in 15 states are enrolled.
The goal is to have 10 percent of churches in each county enrolled, Williams said.
“With only 10 percent, we would literally change the child welfare conversation in this state,” he said.
The platform allows social workers with the state or a contracting agency to post a request for a family in need — a bicycle for transportation or needed home repairs, for example.
That request is then emailed to designated contacts with participating churches. Through that email, churches can respond directly or they can coordinate with other churches to fill the request.
It’s not just up to the church to fill the request, but rather the parishioners, Williams said.
“This is not about whether the church has it in their budget. This is about what the people in the pew have access to through their network. So the communication has to get out to the people,” he said.
“This isn’t anything new we’re talking about today,” Williams said. “This is actually something very old and something that has been happening ever since the church was a thing.”
While churches in other parts of the world have made helping those in crisis an essential part of their ministries, American churches tend to see it as a side project, Williams said.
“When we come to you with CarePortal, we’re coming with a very different philosophical approach, a very different theological approach,” he said.
“We’re actually saying this is fundamental to the church itself, this work of caring for families and children in crisis,” he said.
Connections are made through the social workers. Families can decide if they want the churches to make direct contact with them or protect their privacy and have the church work through the social worker, Williams said.
Churches are encouraged to work outside the platform in offering continuing support for a family, but they should do so with no expectations, Williams said.
“The platform is not a mechanism to grow church attendance, to create converts. The platform is a mechanism for the church to be the church to the community, regardless of who or what the person believes,” he said.
“It’s simply saying, ‘Hey, Jesus tells us to care for people in crisis because we were in crisis and he cared for us. So we’re going to care for you with no expectations of outcome or you doing anything in response,’ ” he said.
Vicki Cain, foster care recruitment supervisor for St. Francis Community Services, said CarePortal has been successful in other parts of the state.
“When families feel supported by their church, their community, that acceptance level of support, the longevity of foster care and taking care of children increases. That to me is a good thing when we’re talking about as many children coming into care as far as not having enough homes to provide,” she said.
Williams and Cain said CarePortal has also had a benefit that wasn’t predicted — helping retain social workers in the field.
“That’s hard work. These young women and men are on the road, late hours, crisis mode all the time,” Cain said.
Volunteers with the churches have shown support for the social workers as well as the families and children needing help, she said.
“They’ve provided snacks, they’ve provided appreciation notes, which goes a long ways. It doesn’t just impact children and families, it impacts the entire spectrum of the child welfare system, which I think is amazing,” she said.