Safe Families Who Care
Words by Christine Van Dyk
Illustrations by Jane Fitzsimmons
Imagine you’ve just finished dinner when you begin feeling an indescribable pain. You wait hours for it to pass before finally calling 911 in the middle of the night. As flashing lights illuminate your driveway, an EMT promises your children will meet you at the hospital. The kids spend the night curled up on blue vinyl chairs, still in their pajamas. There’s no planning for this, no way you could have anticipated a ruptured appendix.
If you’re like me, the moment you realize your kids need supervision, you call your mom, your best friend, or even a neighbor. You have backups to the favorites in your phone, people who’d drop everything in this situation.
We’ve all needed help, but what if there were no in-case-of-emergency person? What you may not know is when a parent has no backup, kids could be placed in foster care. Once in the foster care system, parents often must go to court, work with a case worker, and have their living situation assessed to regain custody—a process that takes an average of 771 days!
It happens for lots of reasons. Often kids need the protection and oversight of the foster care system, but some are there simply because there was no one to call.
Safe Families Who Care
Andrean was a mom with two young girls when she faced homelessness for the first time. She needed somewhere safe for her kids while she looked for a job and a place to live. That’s when she met Jim and Carol Sheffield, an emergency host family with Safe Families.
“The youngest girl was asleep in her car seat when they arrived,” Carol recalls. “The oldest, a two-and-a-half-year-old, was held by a volunteer. When the woman passed her to me to leave, the little girl became inconsolable; the person who’d last linked her to her mom was gone.”
Despite the initial trauma, it wasn’t long before the toddler was on the floor building blocks with Jim. In that moment a bond began to form that would last a lifetime.
“We’re like Grandma and Grandpa to those girls,” Jim says. “We have been since that first day.”
Safe Families offers parents like Andrean the opportunity to ensure their children are well taken care of in the midst of difficult times. Without it, struggles such as a hospital stay, rehab, abuse, or homelessness can lead to foster care when it may not be warranted. With Safe Families, volunteers bridge the gap between the crisis and the resolution and just may remain an ongoing support system—all without parents losing custody of their children.
“People sometimes view parents in need as second-rate, but many times they don’t have a choice,” Megan Hood, Coordinator for Safe Families, says. “The bravery it takes to place your kids with strangers is admirable. We’re often a parent’s last resort, but if they ever need us again, we’re usually the first.”
Of the 25,000 Safe Families volunteers across 120 locations, many are from faith communities. “At first, people have a million reasons why they can’t participate,” Megan jokes, “ but I explain we don’t need them to take on cases full-time. If they can just do one placement a year, it keeps one family out of foster care.”
Megan remembers an older woman on a fixed income she met at church.
“She donated a single pack of baby wipes,” Megan said. “It’s an example of the widow’s mite, being the hands and feet of Jesus.”
Safe Families hosts are trained on parenting issues ranging from discipline to CPR to water safety. They’re given power of attorney for emergencies and short-term legal guardianship for up to three months. As a result, 95 percent of these families stay together after the crisis, double the reunification rate of foster care.
But hosting children in your home is not the only way to help. There are Family Friends who transport kids and babysit, Family Coaches who teach life skills, and Resource Friends who donate items such as diapers, formula, clothing, and toys.
“It might be as simple as loaning a Pack ’n Play or a car seat,” Megan says. “Every little bit helps.”
With a commitment to what it calls “radical hospitality, disruptive generosity, and intentional compassion,” Safe Families has facilitated more than 64,000 hosting arrangements for families in need.
Throughout the years, Andrean’s girls, along with their new little sister, have returned to Jim’s and Carol’s when their mom needed help. However, unlike that first time, they aren’t going to a stranger’s house—they’re going to a place that feels an awful lot like home.
For information on how you can help a family in need, visit Safe-families.org.