Mississippi Legislature Passes FGA’s Safe Families For Children Bill

Mississippi’s Senate and House of Representatives have passed FGA’s Safe Families legislation. The bill introduced by Senator David Parker, provides protection for establishing the Safe Families For Children program in the Magnolia State.

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 Mississippi’s child-protective service bureaucracy. In February 2016, Mississippi had more than 2,700 children in their foster care system, and the problems facing the agency have been well documented in the media. Passage of this legislation will allow organizations like Safe Families to assist in relieving the overburdened foster care system.

Across the country, more than 415,000 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.

Jennifer and Andy Ray, volunteer hosts through Safe Families, have hosted a child. “The fact that you know that this parent is taking steps for the betterment of their life and their children. And all we are is a safe family to just sit there for a while they get help or do whatever they have to do, that really makes it easier,” Andy told Mississippi News Now. Jennifer explained that initially the mother needed to go into treatment, “And so she did that. So, we had him from basically just before Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve last year.”

Mallorie Bonds, Safe Families for Children Coordinator in Mississippi, said “We’re hoping that this is the foster care prevention. For families are in need, maybe they haven’t reached the point where their children have been abused or neglected, can reach out and say, I can see where this is headed.” She also explained that “Parents are able to maintain custody throughout this process, and at any time they can say this is not for me. I just want my children back under my roof.” This is one of the key differences between traditional foster care and the benefits of Safe Families for Children.

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, non-judgmental 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. This legislation does precisely that.

The finalized bill is now awaiting Governor Phil Bryant’s signature.