It is really hard to believe. Twenty years ago, the Lord planted the vision of Safe Families for Children in my heart. At that time, I had spent most of my professional life working with children and families involved in the child welfare system. In 1996, I did my doctoral research on the impact of child abuse on the psychological function of children. I was concerned about the long-lasting trauma children suffer long after their bodies physically recovered. I wondered, “Was there a way to prevent the tragedies of child abuse and neglect? Could the Church be the answer to helping families in crisis stabilize and thrive?”
When the Lord gave me the idea of Safe Families for Children, I knew social isolation to be one of the most significant factors contributing to child abuse and neglect. Most parents need this kind of help but few have family and friends to turn to in their moment of crisis. They literally don’t have anyone to call. I knew that had to change, and I wanted to answer the call!
I remember sending a letter to then-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley describing the idea of Safe Families and the need for a safety net in Chicago for vulnerable children. Mayor Daley assigned B.J. Walker, who at that time was Director of Human Infrastructure for the City of Chicago, to help us get started. Looking back on that decision, I see God’s favor because B.J. Walker has become one of our biggest advocates for Safe Families and the necessity of our model to host children and support parents before a crisis situation to avert children from unnecessarily entering the foster care system.
After receiving the green light from Mayor Daley, he suggested I meet with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to get their blessing. So in 2003, I met with the DCFS Deputy Director who initially said that it was the best idea he has ever heard! However, he then said it would never work. He said we would be a complete failure. When I asked why his answer troubled me. He said, “Children are not valuable in our society unless their your own or you adopt them. In America, people only look after what they own (their own). Nobody will look after someone else’s child without getting paid. We can’t even pay people enough money (foster care) to care for someone else’s children.” He went on to say, “and these are people of faith you mention, they only protest things, they don’t do anything proactive.”
From those early days of doubts and setbacks, it hasn’t always been an easy road. But the Lord has provided all we needed at the moment we needed it. The Lord has continued to bless our efforts as we’ve overcome various legal hurdles and financial barriers.
When my wife and I started what is now known as Safe Families for Children, we had high hopes. We knew that there had to be a better way to do child welfare. To impact those families in crisis whose children were on the edge of entering foster care and susceptible to abuse or neglect. The goal was to raise up a national movement of families supporting families.
Safe Families for Children was born out of the need to keep children safe, keep families intact, and reduce the need for foster care. Today, I’m proud to say our volunteers and staff have served over 40,000 children and parents offering a caring, compassionate community. 20 years later and over 67,000 hosting arrangements later, we are now present in over hundreds of cities across the country and even birthed two sister organizations in the UK, Canada, Hong Kong with potential launchings in Australia, Gambia, Uganda, South Africa, Honduras, and the Philippines.
Through this movement, we’re mobilizing the Church to love and care for the most vulnerable among us, our children. Now churches of all sizes play roles in providing for the less fortunate families in their communities.
It’s an exciting time for Safe Families for Children, and we are so grateful for the thousands that have joined the the movement to keep children safe and families together. Their is a role for everyone to be involved, and we ask you to join us so we can serve and support thousands more parents that live in social isolation and have no community! Will you help us stand in the gap for families?