How Safe Families Works
Safe Families for Children (SFFC) hosts vulnerable children and creates extended family-like supports for families facing a crisis through a community of compassionate volunteers to keep children safe and families together.
By statute, most state child welfare agencies are only allowed to provide an alternative home placement for children when the child has been adjudicated as a victim of abuse or neglect. This leaves thousands of children and their families in difficult situations who are experiencing financial crisis, unemployment, and homelessness. Others are dealing with family violence, parental drug and/or alcohol use, illness or incarceration. During such crises, many parents struggle to provide a safe and caring environment for their children. Historically, the extended family often stepped in to support parents by taking care of children for short periods of time, and neighbors came alongside families in crisis. However, many families are socially isolated, and their extended family is non-existent or not available. This places children at risk for neglect or abuse as their parents struggle to cope with crushing circumstances and emotions. Without assistance, many of these situations will lead to the recurrence of abuse/neglect episodes with long-lasting consequences for the child. The goal of SFFC is to provide voluntary services to families experiencing a time of crisis.
II. How SFFC Works
Hosting and Supporting Families in Crisis: The family in need is called the “placing family,” and the family taking in the child is called the “host family.” Placing- family parents voluntarily place their children with a volunteer host family for a limited time (the average length of stay is six weeks) and they can opt to reunify with their children at any time. The assumption is that the voluntary placement of children by parents and the hosting of voluntarily with no compensation or expectation of adoption builds trust. During the hosting (placement) process, SFFC considers such factors as the location of the child’s school and the existence of siblings, aiming to place siblings together to maintain as much stability and consistency as possible.
The connection between the placing family and host family is the most central relationship of the movement, as it creates a safe haven for the children, as well as social support and a network for the placing family. The relationship between the two families is a partnership in caring for the children, with shared decision-making and responsibility. Throughout the hosting arrangement, the host families and SFFC Circle of Support (COS) (volunteer host families, family friends, family coaches, and resource families) address the placing parents’ needs to prepare the children to be safely returned to their parents.
After the hosting arrangement ends, SFFC’s goal is for families and COS to remain in contact, thereby reducing social isolation for the placing family and potentially providing ongoing support to the placing family after the child returns home. The host family also develops bonds with the children placed in their home and the placing parents, generally staying very invested in their lives over the long run.
Building Networks of Relationships: Throughout the hosting, lead SFFC volunteers called Family Coaches facilitate communication and relationship building between the families (Host and Placing). They explain the history and behavior of the placing family to the host family to build understanding, empathy and compassion for the family. They visit the host families’ homes on a regular basis to offer guidance on problems that may arise and to reassure hosted children that the goal is to reunite them with their family of origin.
Beyond supporting the relationship between the host family and placing family, the Family Coach also works to increase a placing family’s problem-solving and coping skills. The Coach connects placing parents with additional community supports intended to help alleviate the destructive stresses that weaken the ability to parent. In order to do this, SFFC accepts a variety of offers for help from the volunteer communities, ranging from donations of goods and money, to offers to complete simple chores like running an errand for a family, and provide moral support.
Another basic tenet of SFFC is to engage as much of a community as possible in volunteering. Many community members begin to engage as Family Friends and Resource Friends, volunteering in ways that don’t require a large commitment. Over time, many of these volunteers offer to get more involved. Family Friend is an individual or family who engages in a partnering relationship with parents in crisis or host families without necessarily caring for the children. This may involve mentoring, transportation, childcare, etc. A Resource Friend is an individual who has something tangible (bed, clothes, etc) to help meet the needs of a host family.
The success of the SFFC movement is predicated on a robust community of volunteers who continually increase their engagement, ultimately agreeing to become host families. The COS is team mobilized through small groups and is composed of Host Family, Family Friends, Family Coach, and Resource Friends.
A Randomized control trial has been completed that demonstrates SFFC is effective in preventing foster care placements and promotes permanency when compared to usual child welfare services. For more information about the research supporting SFFC please click here.
Online video training for all the above listed areas have been developed, are updated periodically and available to approved Chapter on an internal SFFC web-based portal. For individuals or organizations interested in learning more about starting a SFFC Chapter or who want to receive more information about SFFC please click here.