Oftentimes the media focuses on much of the negative happenings in the world; but one community program is improving lives for children and families, and is getting some much deserved positive media attention.
If you’re not familiar with this organization, Safe Families is a community based non-profit that partners with local families to offer an alternative to the broken government run foster care system. Safe Families also allows for the quick reunion of parents and their children “without the barriers and pitfalls that sometimes come along with the foster care system.”
Andrew Brown, senior fellow at FGA, told The Blaze “Safe Families, by allowing a parent to place their children with a safe, supportive host family, protects kids by removing them from unstable situations, ensuring that they are well cared for until the issues are addressed and stability is achieved at home.”
As Opportunity Lives points out, Safe Families, “helps parents in difficult situations, neighbor to neighbor, within a community.”
A host family provides a safe and temporary home that gives the struggling parent or parents the ability to “navigate their problems without worrying about losing custody of children.” Hosts often work through their local church to be screened and trained, and are strictly volunteer. It’s “a process that has not only helped the families in need, but has also enriched host families’ lives.”
Andrew Brown told The Blaze, “The goal of Safe Families and our legislation is to help [child protective services] do its job effectively, which is not happening right now. Over 70 percent of children in foster care are there for neglect, rather than physical or sexual abuse.” He said, “The result is a child welfare system that is overburdened and unable to give appropriate attention to the most critical cases.”
In Traverse City, Michigan Marshall and Tammy Holtvluwer, who became a host family after the encouragement of their own children, have worked mostly with inner-city families in need, including one mom who was very ill. Tammy said, “One mom had lupus, so she would be hospitalized quite often and, when you don’t have a family because she had been in foster care her whole life, there wasn’t a family resource for her.”
“I feel like it’s a hard cycle for these single moms,” she said. “I mean, they need to work. But if they do have young children and they’re not in school, they have to have a job to get care or any kind of daycare to consider helping them with their children. So how do they even get their feet off the ground?”
Marshall said that the work Safe Families does, “is important because it helps parents in crisis before the foster care system takes over.”
“You’re caring for the child, but it’s to support the parent,” he said. “Most of these parents were never taught things, so many take for granted things like routines, stability, and structure.” Helping mothers develop those skills empowers them to be even better parents once they are reunited with their children.
It seems so simple doesn’t it? But in many states there are no legislative protections for groups like Safe Families and some parents in crisis have no options other than turning their child over to CPS – often removing the child from the only community familiar to them. But, through this program lifelong bonds are formed. Bonds which strengthen the family and community as a whole.
“Think of how the community will benefit,” said Marshall, “if mom has some more stability and support that doesn’t come from the government, but just comes from people that are seeking to be obedient to Christ.”
That’s what communities are supposed to do: support one another.
“Safe Families really is just a ministry that we, as the church and neighbors, should be doing anyways to fill that need, they’re just our link to do it,” Tammy added.
As the Holtvluwer’s, Brown, placing parents, and their host families will tell you, all of this provides an improved alternative to the foster care system, without the government’s involvement. Marshal Holtvluwer said, “The common thread is family. We are extending our family to be a family to those who don’t seem to have a family.”
It’s great to see this program and its successes highlighted in the media, and as legislators are aware of proven options like Safe Families and are given the tools to alleviate the overcrowding in their foster care systems, families will thrive – and we’ll be here to help.
Picture courtesy of the Holtvluwer family