Safe Families for children is about helping at-risk children before they are placed in harms way. It’s about giving them a place until families can work out personal matters. It’s about providing a place for kids where Mom can leave them in confidence knowing that her kids will not be taken from her, as often happens in state foster care systems.
But on a personal level, Safe Families is about connecting families that leads to personal and spiritual growth not just for the intake family (at-risk kids where Mom has no place to turn), but also the host family and care assistants that make up the team of Safe Families extended support family. So who are the people that play a part in this extended family?
It starts with a local church that shares in the faith-based principles of Safe Families. There are four components of volunteer support that is needed. Each leader plays an important role in providing a delicate balance to the intake family through support and encouragement for both mom and kids. Families seek help for many reasons, including homelessness, domestic violence, and substance abuse, to name a few.
But as Safe Families Director Derek Cutlip reminds us its common and easy to judge a mom or family in these situations. “I can walk into a Walmart and see a woman with five children and judge her for being (this or that),” Derek confesses expressing disappointment in himself. But, then he quickly changes his tone to one of a stern father when talking about our attitudes. ” We need to stop this! The church must be better than this when looking at the women (and families) in these situations.”
One of those women in these situations is Alisha. In the testimonial below, Alisha describes her life two years before her encounter with Safe Families as full of “sadness, loneliness, and addiction”. But with the assistance of Safe Families and their team of host family, friends, and advocates, Alisha’s life, as well as her kids’ lives, have been restored through love and a newly found closeness to God.
Personal testimony from Alisha about how Safe Families has changed her life.
But people like Alisha are not the only ones that benefit from an organization like Safe Families. Many of the volunteers that take the step to help women and families in crisis say they benefit as much as the people they help. One of those faithful volunteers is Darrel Startin. Along with his wife Joni and their kids, Darrel feels blessed to have been there for Alisha and her kids. “I can tell you it’s the most rewarding thing we have ever done,” Darrel said, “I probably learned more than she did.”
This is true for many of Safe Families caring and committed host families and friends. David & Rachel, a couple that also serves as a host family says, “A host family takes in a child and loves them like you would were your own and then send them to be with mom and dad, where they belong.” Chad and Holly describe their calling to be a host family like this: “I told her (Samantha, who left her infant, Africa, with them while she sorted out personal issues) we were willing to sacrifice for her because Jesus sacrificed his life for us.” That is quite a testament to the level of dedication by host families!
Safe Families for Children founder, Dr. Dave Anderson, explains the genesis of this movement and how his epiphany moment came when a woman asked him to watch her children. The woman did not want to place them in foster care for fear she would never get them back. While Dr. Anderson worked in the foster care program, the woman said to him, “No! I need you to watch my child.” This is when Dr. Anderson realized a need that was missing apart from foster care. “It was a defining moment for me…so we went ahead with this idea that we can take in children whose parents were going through a hard time.”
So he created a way in which the parents were not forced to give up their children. But instead, the parents could work things out and get their children back when they were ready. “The parent would decide ‘I need my kid in Safe Families (with a host family)’, and then decide when they need their kid(s) back; no money, no coercion, no exchange of anything…”. Dr. Anderson would go on to define Safe Families as a place that views the worth of children as greater than the circumstances that put them in such a difficult place. “If we truly, in our communities, value a kid enough, then we should allow a child a safe place for whatever reason…”, he says.
Dr. Dave Anderson, Founder of Safe Families for Children.
Safe Families plays a very critical role for moms in crisis or parents that are going through a difficult time. It allows them the confidence of knowing that their kids will be safe while they sort out matters at home and in their personal lives. It allows the kids to be in a loving home knowing that they will have open communication from their parents and also know they will be reunited with them soon. And, most importantly for moms, it lets remain in control of their families knowing that they will get their kids back when the time is right for them.
“She wasn’t about to lose her kids and was not ever going to give them up,” Darrel said about Alisha. “We never took custody of her children and she was able to see them as often as she liked”. Darrel & Joni Startin were always reassuring to Alisha about her role as mom never being altered. “”We encouraged her to communicate with the kids, but at the same time keep a balance in the relationship,” Darrel stated. But then he also had to reiterate to the children that everything was fine with mom, and she will return. “Mom would leave, and you want to assure them that Mom is OK”.
I asked Darrel what he would tell a family that is considering volunteering as a host family? “There is nothing to fear. I think people are pretty busy and they fear that adding something on their plate will make life more difficult…you cant be afraid to do what God calls you to do…these kids just need to be loved on and shown who God is (through our love and care).”
If you would like to answer the call of faith and be a part of the Safe Families for Children team of volunteers, or you are involved in a crisis and need someone to care for your children, contact Safe Families here. They would love to give you the opportunity to grow in your faith and create a life-changing outcome that you can share with others.
(Chris Gaines is an author and Editor-in-Chief for Patriot Gaines. He resides in the Cedar Valley of Northern Iowa with his wife, Jennifer, and two kids, Patrick & Megan.)