West Virginia bill HB 4237 introduced by Delegate David O’Neal that would provide legislative protection for the Safe Families For Children foster program has been signed into law by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.
Safe Families is a private charity that has worked wonders for struggling families and their children in a handful of states and would help provide much-needed relief to West Virginia’s overburdened and overwhelmed child-protective service bureaucracy.
Across the country, more than 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 church for support. But for too many parents, that safety net isn’t there and life can spiral out of control. Results have shown that the government cannot do it alone, and this is where Safe Families For Children steps into the breach.
Since 2002, Safe Families For Children and its thousands of volunteer families has 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 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, and are never paid or asked for money. Unlike in government foster care, biological families maintain full custody of their children.
The program stacks up incredibly favorably over old-style government foster care. Where 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 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, with only 38 percent for government care. And 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. Del. O’Neal’s legislation does just that. If eventually signed into law, at-risk kids in West Virginia will be in a much better position to lead safer, happier lives.
The bills found a lot of support in the Legislature, with the Judiciary Chairs in both chambers, Delegate John Shott and Senator Charles Trump, as well as the support of Delegates Jill Upson, Eric Householder, and the bill’s Senate sponsor, Senator Ed Gaunch. Delegates Mike Azinger, Lynne Arvon, Erikka Storch, Jim Butler, Danny Hamrick, Kayla Kessinger, Ruth Rowan, Peggy Donaldson Smith, Michael Ferro, and Linda Longstreth all co-sponsored the bill.