It appears that you're using a severely outdated version of Safari on Windows. Many features won't work correctly, and functionality can't be guaranteed. Please try viewing this website in Edge, Mozilla, Chrome, or another modern browser. Sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused!Read More
Fort Smith’s Matt and Becca Whitson have a heart for foster care and adoption: three of their four children were adopted. Through their experience with fostering and adoption, they witnessed the heartache of biological parents who feel the circumstantial need to place their children for adoption. Based on this, as well as their work experience—Matt as a pastor for 20 years, Becca as a counselor, now at a private practice for the past seven years—they launched Arkansas Family Alliance in 2017 with the mission to unite the community to help support children and families in crisis.
Arkansas Family Alliance founders Matt & Becca Whitson
Foster care is traumatic for children, Matt Whitson explains; ideally, children should remain with their biological families. The answer lies partly in meeting the needs of struggling parents and families to prevent their children from ever entering the foster system. For this, Whitson believes, churches and similar bodies are uniquely equipped. Churches want to help, he explains: “You start to get the church involved, the community involved, they can put a dent in problems really quick.”
Whitson stepped down from the pulpit when he co-founded Arkansas Family Alliance, but has continued to work with community churches to harness their cumulative efforts for the common vision. Their goals focus on strengthening families to prevent children from leaving their biological families and entering the foster system, training foster families, and improving communication between government agencies and communities, as well as between communities and families in crisis.
Whitson is proud of the relationships being formed all around, saying, “It’s cool to see the church and the state working together, and the relationship these churches have with the state and with these families.” He reflects that many of these people might not have the chance to interact with each other without these opportunities.
To further their goals, the Whitsons and Arkansas Family Alliance brought CarePortal to Sebastian County in May 2017. CarePortal is an online platform that both physically locates and outlines specific needs families have—the No. 1 need, Whitson says, is for beds—and gives churches and individuals the opportunity to quickly respond to meet the needs. Other needs families might have include help with a utility or medical bill, to furnish a room or to get supplies for a newborn baby. The needs appear as open requests with a timeline of their urgency and what meeting the need will ultimately accomplish—fueling a woman’s car within 24 hours so she can afford to travel to a trial reunification with her children will “help reunify a bio family” while providing a carbon monoxide detector to a woman caring for her great-grandchild so she can satisfy licensing requirements will “help preserve a foster care or kinship placement.”
Arkansas Family Alliance served over 100 kids in its first year and 200 in its second; this past year, the Alliance served over 400 kids—as well as adoptive families. Tellingly, since the Arkansas Family Alliance started, children being placed in foster care in Sebastian County has decreased almost 40%. While the Alliance can’t take all the credit, the secret to their success, Whitson shares, is the relationships being formed: “We give churches the opportunity to build relationships with the people they serve, form mentorships, and it helps break the cycle and address the root of the problem and prevent kids entering foster care.” These relationships exist or have been strengthened thanks to opportunities opened up by Arkansas Family Alliance and CarePortal.
Besides Sebastian County, CarePortal is present in Arkansas in Pulaski County. CarePortal expands naturally by stretching into neighboring counties. Explore CarePortal and consider bringing it to your county.
Photos provided courtesy of Arkansas Family Alliance
Sign up for our weekly e-news.
Get stories sent straight to your inbox!
Sign up for
Sign up for weekly e-news!