USA (MNN/BCS) — April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. This is one of those months where you hear a lot of statistics about abuse, neglect, and other problems. A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds, according to Childhelp.org.
Safe Families For Children’s (SFFC) National Director Tim Nolan says they’re trying to get in front of a problem before it becomes a problem. Specifically, “Safe Families helps prevent child abuse by supporting the parent through a temporary crisis and providing supportive care for their children.”
For example, he says, high stressors with little-to-no support play a significant role in abuse and neglect. “Perhaps a loss of job, and a loss of housing, but not having anybody help you to navigate through that, having no family members in the area who can help you care for your kids during that process.”
Sometimes, a stressed parent has no idea how to ask or to whom they can go for help. Nolan says, “There are a number of organizations in the community — there are child welfare agencies, social service organizations, but also hospitals, police stations, fire stations, those are all organizations [that help]. Anybody who has contact with a person in need will introduce them to Safe Families, and they can utilize the services of the Safe Families program.”
The next part of the puzzle is how to best help a family in crisis. This is an opportunity for building community, building hope, and keeping a family together. Bethany Christian Services is inviting families who have room in their hearts and homes to consider joining Safe Families for Children, is a national movement of compassion and hospitality. Nolan describes it this way: “It is not foster care, and it’s not adoption. The families retain full custody of their children throughout the process. We often refer to it as not ‘substitute parenting’, but ‘co-parenting’.”
Safe Families for Children (SFFC) is a network of volunteers from local churches who can provide host families to help parents who need temporary care for their children as they work through unmanageable or critical circumstances. The average length of stay for a child within Safe Families is around 30 days, he explains, “So it’s a short amount of time. It’s not a long-term, multi-year commitment, but it is an opportunity to show compassion, on average for 30 days, so that a parent can get stabilized and strengthened, together, with their family.”
Parents are actively involved in their children’s lives and develop a relationship with the host family. Bethany staff works with the parents during this transition to identify steps to regain stability and to be reunited with their children quickly and safely. To see this succeed, it takes local believers who are willing to step out of their comfort zones.
“Pray that churches would recognize the need to step out and reach into the community, and be that compassionate arm for families in need. Families may not come to the church asking for help, but the church can reach out and ask if they need help.”
Nolan says the success of SFFC depends on relationships. “When we are able to demonstrate how hospitality and compassion was first shown to us, we are able to demonstrate and show that same compassion and hospitality to families in crisis by sharing the hope we have in Christ, by providing that safe and stable environment. We provide an opportunity to share the Gospel while working with the parent and those kids.”
Since its inception in 2002, over 4,600 families have hosted children with the Safe Families program. During this time frame, over 28,000 children have been matched with a volunteer host family. “It’s a ministry of local churches, first and foremost, that wraps around families in need in their communities.” The initiative takes place in 108 U.S. cities, the U.K., Canada, and Kenya. The worldwide program is motivated by compassion and dedicated to keeping children safe and out of foster care.