ISR News & Events

Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion Showcases Harvest of Hope: A Faith-Based Child Welfare Intermediary

Harvest of Hope, an African American faith-based organization in New Jersey, served as an intermediary for the state for recruiting, training and retaining foster parents

Media Contact:  Terry Goodrich, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-644-4155
Follow us on Twitter: @BaylorUMedia

WACO, Texas (May 12, 2021) – Children of color are overrepresented in the foster care system.    For example, statistics on African American children in foster care document the following findings:

  • African American children, representing only 14% of the national population, represent 22% of children in foster care awaiting adoption, and 22% of children with 2 or more placements[1];
  • Of the 149,459 children and youth who experienced multiple placements in 2015, 40% were black1;
  • In Washington DC, while 52% of all children are African American, they represent 82% of all children in Washington DC’s child welfare system[2].

The Harvest of Hope Family Services Network, a faith-based non-profit, served as a partner/contractor with the New Jersey Department of Children and Families between 1996 and 2015.  The primary measure of activity that the state required in its contract with Harvest of Hope was to recruit foster families.  However, HoH also provided extensive support services for the families it helped to get licensed as foster homes, along with supporting foster-to-adoption among the families they recruited and trained.

This case study examines how Harvest of Hope, an off-shoot 501c(3) created through First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens under the leadership of Reverend DeForest Soaries, recruited and trained over 450 foster families (mostly African-American), placed over 1,400 children and found permanent adoptive homes for 284 of these children over that nineteen year time span.

This case study is published through Baylor’s Institute for the Studies of Religion.

“All across the United States, we have children who are awaiting placement in foster families as well as adoptive homes.  Our research findings confirm that a key resource to address this pressing  problem can be found within our houses of worship. Without any fanfare, faith-motivated people continue to respond in selfless ways in meeting such critical needs. This case study is a testament not only to Rev. Soaries and First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens, but to a host of congregations and faith communities that are also responding to this great need in our society” stated Byron R. Johnson,  of Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion.

“For a single congregation to come forward and to bring these 58 babies into their community and to raise them up, that is an unprecedented achievement and testimony to the First Baptist Church and its commitment to meeting the needs of its community.  I have never seen anything like it in all my years and travels”  said Bob Woodson, CEO of the Woodson Center, which provided funding for this case study.

In addition to successfully recruiting foster families of color, Harvest of Hope was also able to provide cultural competency for white foster families caring for foster children of color.  As Reverend Soaries explained:  “For white foster parents, sometimes it was something as simple as understanding how to care for skin and hair for the black children placed in their care.  Harvest of Hope support events and celebrations were not just for the children, but also provided an affirming environment for white foster parents to gain more skills and better serve the children under their care.”

In this Q&A, co-authors Johnson, ISR non-resident fellow William Wubbenhorst and Harvest of Hope founder Reverend Soaries explain the distinctive elements of this unique child welfare intermediary organization .

Q:  What did Harvest of Hope add to the public child welfare system in terms of the care of foster children, permanent placement and foster parents through this partnership? 

Soaries:  The key contributions made by Harvest of Hope were: 1. Embedding of foster care into the core structure of black churches which are still the strongest institutions in black communities. Foster care became a sustainable ministry and not simply a government agency placement and a stipend; 2. Creating a community environment for foster children that enhanced the traditional foster care placement into a single home. Foster children were integrated into the church family and that family supplemented the foster family with all of its resources.

Q:  What were some of the distinct findings from this evaluation that demonstrated the important value-added of Harvest of Hope regarding child welfare services in the state?

Wubbenhorst:  In March of 2016, the Central Jersey CDC (formerly named the First Baptist CDC) conducted a telephone survey with former Harvest of Hope families to gain an understanding of what their experiences were like in working directly with the state (i.e., without the benefit of Harvest of Hope’s intermediary role).  These results shoed that 100% of the foster families reported at least one contact with Harvest of Hope over a three-month period, compared to only 55% of those families being contacted by the Department of Children and Families after the partnership with Harvest of Hope ended.

In addition, Harvest of Hope retained 85% of the foster families it served over the six years of their partnership with the state, as compared to the estimated annual statewide retention rate of 60%.

Q:  What kind of outcomes and impact did you observe for the youth served through this Open Table partnership?

Wubbenhorst:  From a Return On Investment (ROI) perspective, Harvest of Hope’s higher retention rates resulted in a level of savings almost equal to the average annual amount contract with the state of about $1 million.  Over the course of the 20 years of service to the state, the total estimated savings from HoH’s improved retention of foster families is approximately $18.75 million.  In total, including the improved outcomes projected for the 284 children permanently placed through adoption, Harvest of Hope produced an estimated benefit of over $69 million which, compared to the $20 million received for services from the state, results in a ROI of $3.45 for every $1.00 invested in Harvest of Hope.

Q: Will you do future research related directly to social support programs like Open Table?

Johnson: Yes. We are always looking to examine exemplary programs in order to determine which elements of these kind of efforts are most consequential for producing significant outcomes. 


Launched in August 2004, the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) initiates, supports and conducts research on religion, involving scholars and projects spanning the intellectual spectrum: history, psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology, political science, epidemiology, theology and religious studies. The institute’s mandate extends to all religions, everywhere, and throughout history, and embraces the study of religious effects on prosocial behavior, family life, population health, economic development and social conflict.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 18,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

[1] Data Source: Child Trends analysis of data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), made available through the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect.

[2] Foster Care Demographics | cfsadashboard (