(Photo courtesy of Safe Families)
USA (MNN) ― Christina Frank knew she needed help. She had quit her job as a certified nursing assistant at an assisted living center when she was four months pregnant, planning to find work again when the baby was born, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Several months later, she was running out of money to care for 4-month-old Jayden and 18-month-old Isaiah.
About four years before, absence from a drug treatment program and the discovery of marijuana in her home had resulted in Frank losing custody of her three oldest children. Frank was determined not to lose a chance to do better for Isaiah and Jayden. She called a 1-800 crisis number affiliated with Bethany Christian Services and found a lifeline in the form of Safe Families for Children.
Safe Families provides temporary homes for children while their parents focus on resolving issues that threaten family stability, such as sudden loss of employment or housing, post-partum depression, acute illness, physical injury, financial instability, relational stress, or teenage pregnancy. The idea is to help parents resolve crises before they escalate, children are hurt, and families break up.
"I cried all night thinking about being away from my boys," Frank recalled about her decision to place her boys with Safe Families. "But I was suffering. I knew what I had to do: I told myself I needed to take this opportunity to find a job to be with my kids and to make things better." Jayden was placed in one family, and Isaiah in another, with the Gordons. Later, the Gordons went out of town, and Isaiah came to live with the Oakes family.
Bethany screens and trains the host families, who not only care for the children but also build supportive relationships with their parents. In Frank's case, the Gordon and Oakes families helped her find an apartment and revise her resume, as well as providing encouragement throughout the job hunt.
"I think I would have felt like giving up if it weren't for the emotional support," Frank said. "They were not judgmental. They were there to help."
The program did not burden Frank with strict requirements, but it did put her on a treatment plan that set goals such as finding a job and daycare for her kids. For three weeks, she spent 10 hours every day looking for a job. She found a telemarketing job that pays $25 for every subscription she sells.
"Christina has a really great personality, and she has a lot going for her," said host mother Mary Oakes. "I know the blessings we bestow on her, she will bestow on someone else."
The average stay of a child with Safe Families is 45 days. During that time, the parents are kept in touch with their child and kept up-to-date on how they are doing. Host mother Kelly Gordon said this communication is key to helping the child's stay go smoothly.
"The parents will tell me what the routine is," she explained. "Some kids like to take a bath right before bed. Some kids like it when you sing to them before bedtime."
The program began in Chicago in 2002 and has now spread to 14 different locations. In Atlanta, the state government covers the $199,700 annual administrative costs but plays no role in running the program.
"What's not to like about it?" said B.J. Walker, commissioner of the state Department of Human Services, whose office oversees state child welfare services. "I think most people would love to help someone who has been trying to do the right thing and they stumble. . .These children have not been abused or neglected."
To learn more how you could make a difference in the life of a needy family, visit http://www.safe-families.org.