Two of the main goals of Safe Families are to prevent child abuse and decrease the number of children being forcibly separated from their parents (family preservation). By doing so, kids are safe and families are preserved. It also reduces the number of kids in foster care which then creates adequate resources for those parents who desperately need government involvement.
Many families, even when they are doing ‘all the right things’ are just one crisis away from major instability in their lives. Under-resourced communities leave families in the throes of hospitalization, unemployment, incarceration, substance abuse recovery, and other crises related to poverty without the resources and support to care for their children. These children are then at risk for trauma, abuse, and neglect. The foster care system is overloaded with over 400,000 youth, 70% of which may not even need to be there. What I mean by 70% might not need to be there is that although foster care was created for kids who were physically harmed or sexually abused, only 30% go in for those reasons. 70% enter because of neglect. The problem with neglect is that the definition is vague and often mistaken for poverty.
Forced removals by the government against the will of parents are traumatic for children and has resulted in significant racial disparity in foster care. Black children are removed from their families at much greater rates than any other race or ethnicity in this country. We know that poor families, particularly poor families of color, are reported to child welfare agencies at higher rates, and child removal happens more often. At the same time the sheer number of all child abuse investigations in the US is staggering: experts estimate that by age 18 one out of three children has been the subject of a child protective services investigation (50% of black children will be reported to state child abuse hotlines by the time they are 18).
After many years of declining numbers of children entering foster care, the last few years have seen a significant increase in removals. The number of incoming children is outpacing the number exiting. Once in the system, the path for children to return home after government removals is difficult, sometimes with unrealistic child welfare expectations of the parent, and is time intensive, which reduces the likelihood of it occurring. On average, a child placed into the foster care system will rotate between multiple homes before finding a permanent placement. This disruption to the stability in their lives has adverse effects on educational, social and behavioral outcomes. Additionally, parents are disempowered, devalued, humiliated, and are invisible to the system once their children enter.
There is a better way. A recently completed 5-year randomized control evaluation on Safe Families in Illinois demonstrated that when kids are safe and parents are supported, forced removals of children from their parents can be reduced. Not all the time though. Foster Care is needed for some. In fact, 3% of kids in Safe Families eventually go into foster care. That means that many families can be restored.
We are showing that there is another way. Unleashing biblical hospitality does have a measurable impact in our society. When we love the most vulnerable and give them tangible hope, lives are changed. With significant increases in children entering foster care the past few years and that number accelerating with the social impact of the pandemic, Safe Families is need more than ever. Many of you have been part of this beautiful story of radical hospitality and disruptive generosity that shows that a different way is possible, a beautiful way of strangers helping strangers. We are not just providing a warm bed to a child needing a temporary home and a supportive a parent, we are telling and showing that the Safe Family way is better. Thank you for being part of this story.