Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Safe Families for Children

Amanda* is twenty-three years old and a product of the foster care system. She drifted through foster homes and group homes for years until she was emancipated at the age of 18. Her parents are both deceased, as is the father of her two little girls, ages 2 and 1. Amanda is on her own today, without the support of any extended family or friends.

Most kids who age out of the foster care system don't do so well on their own. Amanda's older brother was found shot dead just months after he aged out of the system. Her younger brother was incarcerated within a year of his emancipation and is in prison today. Many former foster children suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at rates twice as high as US war veterans. Less than half have a high school diploma and many are homeless within months of being on their own. For more sobering statistics on kids who age out of the system, CLICK HERE.

Compared to her brothers, Amanda is a success story. She earned her high school diploma while in foster care and has managed to meet her own basic needs, as well as those of her infant and toddler. But every day is a challenge, and the challenges are mounting to the point where Amanda wonders if she can face another day.

Amanda is currently homeless and without a job. She is also significantly depressed. This makes parenting her children nearly impossible.

The shaky ground on which she has been treading is slowly crumbling and she is desperately clinging to the hands of each of her babies, terrified of losing them to the very foster care system that raised her and turned her loose. Even so, she can't do it anymore. Is there a way out this nightmare?

If she lived in Indianapolis there would be. Or Chicago, Orlando, Jacksonville, or a handful of other cities across the United States. What do all these cities have in common? They are home to a program called Safe Families for Children, a program born out of the brilliant vision of it's founder, Dr. David Anderson. I first read about Safe Families in the New York Times last May.

Dr. Anderson is from Chicago. Like you and I, he watched news accounts of story after story in which a child died of abuse at the hands of a parent. These stories moved him to search for a better response and a way for parents to get help before they abuse or neglect their children.

In 2003, Safe Families for Children was started with a handful of volunteers. Biological parents facing problems such as homelessness, illness, or incarceration have an option of placing their children briefly with volunteer families who agree to care for and support children. Biological parents retain custody and volunteer families are not compensated for their services. The goal is always to provide respite and support to children and families like Amanda and her little ones.

The beauty of this model is that it is a community or family responding to those most in need of stability. Foster care is necessary and life-saving, but the Safe Families model helps families and children before blatant abuse or neglect occurs.

Because there is no exchange of custody and no reimbursement involved, everyone stays focused on resolving the issues that led to the need for placement. Being a volunteer family is a great alternative for people who've often considered fostering but have been overwhelmed by the lengthy process of licensure. Safe Families complete background checks, references, and homestudies, but the required training is all online. It is also short-term in nature, a perfect fit for families who are unsure they have what it takes to be a foster parent with placements that can last indefinitely.

I wish with all my heart that Amanda had Safe Families here in Cincinnati to turn to during this crisis. It would give her children the stability and safety they need while she focuses on getting her feet back on solid ground.

If you are intriqued by the idea of bringing this brilliant, caring alternative to Cincinnati's families in crisis, comment on this blog or email me at Maybe if we all work together we can find a way to make this a reality for our most precious resources: our children, our families, and our communities.

Thanks for reading and for caring!

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