BY JANET MANDELSTAM
Sometimes parents need help with their children for a few days or a few weeks. They may be temporarily experiencing homelessness or another crisis such as a medical emergency and not know where to turn. That’s when Safe Families for Children can step in and provide short-term childcare in a local host home.
Safe Families is an international organization that connects families in crisis with families who take children into their homes for an average of six weeks. The goal is to soon reunite the parents and children and eliminate the need for foster care. The Monroe County chapter was launched in 2014. It originated in, and is supported by, local churches.
“We are extended family-like care,” says Meghan Garcia, director of the local chapter. “Parents can place their children with a host family without the threat of losing custody.” Safe Families does not have legal custody of the children in its care, and there is no expectation of adoption. “The relationship is voluntary,” Garcia says. “The parent can ask for the child back at any time.”
Homelessness is the most common reason parents seek help, she says. Other reasons include medical crises, unemployment, domestic violence, and mental health issues. If there is an open case at the state Department of Child Services, Safe Families does not intervene.
In July, there were 18 host families, all from Bloomington-area churches, and 10 more in the process of being vetted.
Garcia says the vetting “is comparable to how foster parents are selected.” Host family applications require three references, including one from a spiritual leader. Safe Families performs a series of background checks, conducts a home evaluation, and interviews prospective hosts. Then the families receive training in issues such as safety and discipline.
Susan Powell, a stay-at-home mother of three, learned about Safe Families at her church in 2014 and launched the Bloomington area chapter. “I said, ‘we can fold this into our lives,’” Powell recalls.
The Powells have been a host family ever since. “We took care of a newborn for a few weeks, and my older children fed the baby,” she says. “Another time we had four little girls overnight. It’s been chaos, and it’s been beautiful.”
The host families are supported by a network of volunteers who provide mentoring services for parents, transportation, employment assistance, and basic supplies like diapers and car seats.
Garcia and Powell both say the relationships between parents and host families often continue after the children return home.
Host families receive no compensation. Powell says they are motivated by faith. “The church has historically been involved in the care of the community; it’s part of our calling,” she says. Reaching out to help others, she says, is “biblical hospitality.”
For more information, visit safe-families.org.