Suburban Agency Places Children in Short-Term Foster Care

They’ve already raised three sons and have six grandchildren, so the last thing Jim and Kathleen needed in the house was a colicky, 8-week-old baby waking them up at night.

But the Libertyville couple, who asked their last names not be used for security reasons, say caring for little Jason was a privilege.

Jason’s mom was in serious depression earlier this year after being abused by Jason’s father. On the edge of suicide, caring for a newborn was out of the question for the young mother. But instead of giving her baby to the state system, she sought out an organization that promised to place the child with a loving family until she completed treatment.

Safe Families for Children is a faith-based, nonprofit agency, offering short-term placement for children whose parents are in crisis. Volunteers take the children into their homes until the birthparents can get back on their feet. The average stay is 44 days, but could be as short as a day or as long as a year.

Jim and Kathleen see their efforts as a divine invitation.

“It’s a call from God,” Kathleen said. “God has blessed us and so we want to bless these little ones by keeping them loved and safe. They add joy to our lives too.”

Safe Families is a ministry of LYDIA Home Association, a Chicago-based Christian social service organization founded in 1916. David Anderson, a clinical psychologist, is the executive director of LYDIA Home and started Safe Families in 2003.

Anderson said the beauty of the ministry is it gives parents an alternative to placing their children into the state welfare system. When a short-term crisis happens, mothers don’t have to give up custody of their kids while they get their lives back on track.

“Our clients lack a support system. They often don’t have other family members to turn to or even neighbors,” Anderson said. “We provide a kind of extended family for them. We try as much as possible to normalize the situations for these kids.”

Safe Families works closely with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Anderson said.

“The DCFS is our biggest fan,” he said. “It’s obviously very expensive every time you place another child in the state system. Each child we place saves the state money.”

Every situation is different, but Anderson said homelessness, substance abuse, job loss, hospitalization, incarceration and domestic violence are common reasons parents seek help from Safe Families. The word gets out through hospitals, the police, churches and other social service agencies, he said.

Most of the kids are younger than age 5, but can be as old as 18. Host parents are given background checks and screened in the same way as foster parents. Safe Families officials conduct home studies before placement. Host parents must complete a six-hour training course.

The program has grown significantly since it began in 2003. Anderson said 600 host families are on board. Neary 1,000 children have been placed this year.

Besides Chicago and the suburbs, Safe Families operates in Rockford, the Quad Cities, Indianapolis and 10 other Midwestern cities. Partnering with other social service agencies, Safe Families expects to add 15 more cities across the county in 2010.

Miriam is a mom who said Safe Families was a godsend for her when she found herself homeless recently.

“Just knowing my children were in such good hands with such good people was a big relief for me,” she said. “This has been a huge blessing for me. I don’t know what I would have done without their help.”

Katie and Clark Cashman of Libertyville have been a part of Safe Families for the past couple of years. They’ve had five placements in that time and consider it a privilege to provide a refuge for the little ones.

Having four girls of their own, the Cashmans said it’s especially fun to have a boy in the house.

“My girls have really embraced this,” Katie Cashman said. “It’s really brought out the best in them. They are always wanting to help, whether changing a diaper or whatever. And as soon as one child leaves, they are asking when the next one might be coming.”

Letting them go can be hard, Katie Cashman said. Whether they are there for a few days or a few months, saying goodbye is tough.

“I cry each time,” she said. “I love them with my whole heart, just like I would if they were my own. But we see this as a ministry and feel honored that God allows us to help in this way.”

Source: Daily Herald
Date: December 27, 2009