Numerous agencies work together to make a positive impact on the lives of children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected. Some of these agencies and programs will be featured in the coming weeks to show the breadth of the need and the depth of the services for abused children.
One such agency is BAANK: Believers Against Abuse and Neglect of Kids.
BAANK is a ministry of the Central Church of Christ established to link the child welfare community to the faith community. BAANK was born out of tragedy, as many organizations are.
In 2004, Carlie Brucia was found on our church property after she was abducted, raped and murdered. Such a horrible crime cannot be ignored. The church responded to make our community safer for children.
A close look at our community makes it clear that we have a local and national epidemic of abuse and neglect of children. In the 12th circuit (Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties), more than 1,300 children are "in the system" at any one time because of abuse and neglect.
This is not a static number. Children are constantly being reunited with their families as more stream into the child welfare system. In October, the Safe Children Coalition served almost 600 children in Manatee County. And 122 children in the county are in licensed care.
A high majority of removals involve substance abuse and domestic violence. Children are exposed to high-risk environments within their homes, leading to abuse and neglect. Many children are homeless. Many lack the necessities of food, clothing, emotional support, academic encouragement and spiritual training. The majority of removals involve children younger than 6, the most vulnerable who have no voice.
BAANK has identified ways that people of faith can plug into the system to make a difference.
Our Righteous Path program provides training and guidance for faith-based organizations to offer court-approved, faith-based parenting classes within the 12th circuit.
Our Operation Relaxation program provides training and guidance for people of faith giving foster parents a night out knowing their children are safe.
Our Quality Time program recruits people of faith for the community-based supervised visitation program assisting parents with quantity and quality time with their children in natural settings, thereby facilitating quicker and
more solid reunifications.
BAANK also promotes SAFE (Safe Environment For Everyone) programs within faith institutions to ensure opportunities for abuse and neglect are reduced. BAANK provides leadership for Drug Free Youth (D-Fy), a program that rewards youth for making good decisions. And BAANK provides consulting services to faith institutions, helping them to form community partnerships for meaningful service.
In Manatee County, BAANK partnerships are growing. Bayside Community Church sponsors a ministry under the direction of Danny Jones, called Bridge a Life that recruits foster and adoptive parents. They have partnered with BAANK in our Operation Relaxation program by providing respite care for foster parents.
A few months ago, Sanctuary Community Church heard about our Righteous Path parenting classes. Pastor Ally Zanon, whose church was already heavily involved in outreach to vulnerable families, saw an opportunity to expand their ministry. They are now preparing to offer their own faith-based, court-approved parenting program in the near future. Family Integrity Ministry ministers in the Manatee County Jail and is a BAANK partner.
Another partnership was formed with Guardian ad Litem, Family Safety Alliance, Safe Children Coalition and Bayside Community Church as a result of Judge Scott Brownell's vision for more supervised visitation for parents. Brownell serves the juvenile and dependency section of the circuit court in Bradenton. Our goal is to have 50 visitation supervisors.
DCF has made it clear that the abuse and neglect of our children is such an overwhelming problem in Florida that the battle cannot be won without people of faith providing more boots on the ground. BAANK seeks to be a recruiter and trainer for this battle.
Rod Myers, minister for the Central Church of Christ for the past 20 years, is the director of BAANK, member of the Family Safety Alliance, and chaplain for the Sarasota County Fire Department. He resides in Sarasota with his wife, Brenda, of 38 years, and has five married children and 10 grandchildren.