How Safe Families Works

I. Overview

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. 

III.   Training Materials

SFFC has training materials for all aspects of SFFC. Once a Chapter is approved by the SFFC, the training materials will be disseminated to the Chapter.

Movement Manual provides an overview of SFFC including overarching instructions designed for all volunteers involved with SFFC as guidelines for program implementation.  The Movement Manual starts with defining terms, and the SFFC theory of change and theology of Biblical Hospitality. The Movement manual focuses on connecting the placing family with a volunteer host family and how to establish a mutual respect and reciprocity relationship that will last beyond the hosting. The Movement Manual lays out the legal requirements for protecting the rights of placing parents and rights of SFFC volunteers.  The Movement Manual also addresses program branding and marking for volunteer recruitment, fundraising and building relationships with community agencies as a referral base. Volunteer recruitment and training for program implementation and program fidelity measurement completes the content of the Movement Manual.

Practice Policy Manual provides SFFC implementers with all the direct instruction in how to ensure their SFFC implementation operates within the program’s theory of change and state and federal laws and regulations.  The Practice Policy Manual first addresses the legal and ethical requirements for vetting volunteers, then moves into the nuts and bolts of program operations from intake to discharge.  The Practice manual provides specific instruction for record maintenance, confidentiality, human resources, and fiscal management. 

Family Coach Resource Binder provides training to Family Coaches, who serve in a role that supports the placing parent, monitors the safety and well-being of the child in a hosting home, supports the host family as they care for the child, and plans for the end of hosting. Family Coaches are the primary contact for both the placing parent and the host family, ensuring a successful relationship exists between them. The Family Coach Resources Binders address all the processes and practice guidelines for SFFC, including the important step of connecting a placing family and child with a host family. The binders also provide a resource kit for finding additional community-based services that a placing parent may need to help stabilize their home so their child can safely return to home.

 Host Family Handbook provides training for families who will have a child hosted in their home.  The Host Family Handbook outlines the roles for each type of volunteer that work in SFFC and the concept of compassionate hospitality which is the foundation of being a Host Family. The Hospitality in Host Family Handbook focuses on; Empowering Parents, Being a Good Enough Parent, and building Protective Factors for children. The Host Family Handbook provides details of the intake process, welcoming a child into your home, child development and growth, discipline, home safety, and preparing a child to return home. 

Family Friends Handbook provides training for volunteers who serve as a support person to parents whose children are placed with Host Families or for parents whose children are in their own homes, but who still need support from SFFC. The Family Friends Handbook identifies the types of needs parents may have and areas of the support that may be beneficial to parents.  These supports may include; moral support, monitoring, being positive, transportation, childcare, and parenting skills. The Family Friends Handbook explains the Dos and Don’ts of being a Family Friend including setting appropriate expectations and boundaries.  

Ministry Lead Handbook provides training for individuals leading SFFC in their local church.  The Ministry Lead Handbook content assists the Ministry Lead to help their church develop an understanding of the SFFC theory of change and theology of Biblical hospitality.  The Ministry Leads helps the church understand the benefits to the church and how those benefits flow out into their community. Once a church gets involved with SFFC the Ministry Lead works to develop an infrastructure of support for volunteers within the church, supports volunteers through encouragement, debriefing, and resources. This work includes assisting the church to determine the level of commitment for involvement with SFFC and helps explain the role of the Church and the role of SFFC. The Ministry Lead acts as the liaison between their church community and Safe Families staff and assists in on-going volunteer recruitment. 

Fidelity Measures provide a foundation to ensure that SFFC core elements are carried out at both an individual family level and implementing organizational level.  At the individual family level fidelity measures are completed by SFFC staff or volunteers for the scope of support services each staff or volunteer to the families. SFFC Chapter Directors also complete a fidelity measure for each family at intake and closure.  At an organizational level, SFFC fidelity measures bi-annual basis by aggregating individual families measures and setting organizational standards.

Additional training and resources by topic area, including diving deeper into cultural competency, connecting with children, relationship building, understanding poverty, and book recommendations are available for all SFFC volunteers. 

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