If you or I were in crisis and faced with the possibility of our children being taken from us, we would likely first turn to our community for support. We would seek the help of family, friends, our church, or other resources to help us through and make sure our children were properly taken care of. However, there are those who lack such a support system and are forced to make a devastating choice between going it alone or allowing the government to intervene.
For the socially isolated, there is no one to ask for help with their children in times of crisis. Without these resources, children are left alone or otherwise neglected, causing Child Protective Services, or other bureaucracies to get involved, and often setting into motion a series of events that is difficult to reverse.
In 2002, Safe Families for Children was founded to give parents in crisis a loving alternative to failing government foster care programs. SFFC gives parents a family to place their children with until the crisis has passed and families can be reunited.
“The foster care system,” said Andrew Brown, senior fellow at the FGA, “is reactive instead of proactive.”
SFFC gives families a proactive option
In the SFFC network, churches recruit families who volunteer to take care of children until their parents are again able to care for them, an average of 44 days (as compared to over 700 days for foster care). In addition, and in a large departure from foster care, these volunteers also support the children’s parents, building a relationship with the entire family. Although churches may provide resources for volunteer families, there is no compensation for being a host family, removing a barrier between foster and birth families and reducing government expenditures.
This is simply neighbors helping neighbors, and allowing churches and communities to do what they were designed to do before ceding power to the government.
This program not only supports families in need, but also reduces the pressure on Child Protective Services. There are record numbers of children entering foster care, and the burdensome red tape involved in being a foster family has caused the number of foster families to wane. This rise in CPS cases is largely among low-impact neglect cases that can be better served with SFFC, leaving CPS to work on higher-impact cases.
SFFC provides, said Brown, an “alternative to government foster care that leverages the community. There’s a lot of hope there.” To that end, the FGA is supporting legislation that supports the project: The Supporting and Strengthening Families Act. This legislation clarifies that parents keep their parental rights which, Brown said, gives them “the confidence and courage to ask for help.” This approach can mean the difference between families being divided and separated forever or reunited.
“With Safe Families for Children, parents are motivated by a love for their kids, not a fear of foster care.”
With legislation active in seven states and pending in an additional two, we at the FGA are working to ensure that more families have access to this lifeline. Will you help?