Safe Families Bill Advances in West Virginia

House Bill 4237, introduced by Delegate John O’Neal, has finally reached the desk of Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and only needs his signature before becoming law.

The bill provides legislative protection to the Safe Families For Children program.

Safe Families is a private charity that has worked wonders for struggling families and their children in a handful of states, and would provide much-needed relief to West Virginia’s overburdened and overwhelmed child-protective service program.

Throughout the United States, over 400,000 children languish in foster care and 70 percent are there because of neglect. When crisis strikes at home, many of us turn to our family or religious institutions for support; but for too many parents, that safety net isn’t there and life can quickly spiral out of control.

The government cannot do it alone and that’s why Safe Families For Children is so important.

Since 2002, Safe Families For Children and its thousands of volunteer families have offered support and hope for families in crisis. Safe Families doesn’t take kids from their parents. Instead, it gives parents peace of mind that their children are protected and nurtured while they get clean, sober, working, and back on their feet. The goal is to strengthen and preserve biological families so that they can better care for their children.

Safe Families protects children from harm by providing families in crisis with a safe, supportive community to turn to before life spirals out of control. Secondly, the support offered by Safe Families volunteers allows families in crisis to get the help they need, preventing child abuse and neglect, and reducing the number of children entering the foster care system. Finally, Safe Families is a loving, nonjudgmental safety net that parents can rely on for help, advice, and support without the fear of losing custody of their children. Volunteer families are extensively screened and supported; they are never paid nor asked for money. Unlike in government foster care, biological families maintain full custody of their children.

The program stacks up very favorably over traditional government foster care. With government care, the cost per child served is roughly $29,000—all picked up by the taxpayers. Safe Families on the other hand, serves each child at a cost of roughly only $1,500—mostly or entirely privately funded. The average amount of time a child spends away from their parents under Safe Families is just 44 days, much shorter than the 717-day average for government foster care. 70 percent of these Safe Families children are under the age of five. While only 52 percent of kids who enter government foster care return to their homes, Safe Families gets 88 percent of its kids back to their families.

Over 17,000 children have been helped by Safe Families For Children since 2007, but to change lives, Safe Families needs government out of the way so private volunteer families can help kids and parents in crisis without a “foster care” designation and state takeover. Delegate O’Neal’s legislation does just that. If signed into law, at-risk kids in West Virginia will be in a much better position to lead safer, happier lives.