September 19, 2011

Community Hospitality

The other week we had yet a home visit from a social worker. I'm thinking we should have some version of a home study every year, because when else do we pull it together to have every room in the house clean at the same moment?

It was not for an adoption this time round, but to have our household approved as an official Safe Families host family. Safe Families is a voluntary program that parents can use to care for their children temporarily when things are unstable. Occasions when most of us reading this would probably be able to rely on our personal support networks; our friends or families or faith communities would help us care for our kids during our crisis. Not every family has that sort of safety net. That is where Safe Families steps in--to be part of the support network for a stranger and help prevent the sort of situations that sometimes can snowball into neglect and end up with kids in the foster care system. Most children stay just one or two months and there is a real emphasis on the parents and host families working together to share information and keep the children connected with their parents during their stay.

The saying gets kicked around a lot that adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I think it's overly simplistic, but it does speak some to why Safe Families appeals to me. It is a temporary solution to temporary problems, communities working together to keep families intact and stable.

I learned about Safe Families years ago from another blogger (of course) who was part of the program in Illinois, where it began. I found out that our local Catholic Community Services branch was working on starting a program in our city (no small feat--it required passage of a new state law) when they set up an information booth at one of the annual summer festivals here several years ago. Every year I've gone to ask if they are ready for host families and every year have been told, "Not yet." Until this year, when they handed me an application packet instead. We zipped through the online training and paperwork, and here we are.

The program is brand spanking new where I live. I think we will be only the fourth or fifth family to be approved. So there is a small band of us sort of forging ahead together, learning as we go. After seeing our home and talking over our options with us, the program director thought that our family could be a good fit for children from 0-8 years old or possibly for teens who are parenting children of their own. It's strange to imagine older kids living here!

Eddie is especially enthusiastic about the whole thing, although I'm sure that will be tempered eventually by the reality of having to share his room and his toys. (And his parents.) We've explained that sometimes kids need a place to stay while their parents solve adult problems. To him it is simple: there are families who need a little help and we have places for kids to sleep. So why are we not doing it already? I have my adult worries about stretching our family to do something we've never done, about whether our best will be enough for kids in such vulnerable spots. I'm nervous. But I have to admit, I have a little bit of his excitement, too, to be part of a community solution like this for an issue that means so much to me.

14 comments:

Rebecca Hawkes said...

I've been reading about Safe Families lately myself. Definitely something I'm interested in exploring in the future. I'm looking forward to reading more about your experiences as things progress.

luna said...

what a wonderful program. sounds like it could be a great match for you guys too!

Bumber's Bumblings said...

I've definitely heard about this wonderful program. I'd love to be involved in this when my children are a little older, and when I have a house that has more room than we have now. Good for you for getting involved!

Jody said...

What a neat program, sort of like Fostering, but with the idea of building the family some strength instead of tearing it apart. Interesting!

makingmonkeysoup.com said...

I really like the idea of this. My husband and I let our foster license laspe after we adopted Mea. I wish that we hadn't. We could have at least been on board for respite care. We have been discussing going back and getting re-licensed for this sole purpose.

With Safe Families are you licensed like a foster home? I doesn't look like we have a program in Iowa.

Monika said...

What a cool idea. Foster care not just for the kids, but involving the child's whole family! Love that you guys are doing this, and I'm looking forward to hearing more about your adventures!

A said...

I love it - I cannot wait to read your reflections as you embark on this.

Heather said...

@makingmonkeysoup - Safe Families talks about a "home study" and you fill out an application, get references, have a background check (no fingerprinting), etc. But it's no where near as rigorous as the home studies we did for our private agency adoptions and nothing like the one we started for the state's foster care system. It's totally separate from the state's system and you don't have an official license that needs to be renewed.

makingmonkeysoup.com said...

I think this would be awesome. I would sign us up in a minute for it. I wonder who I would contact to see if this is something our state is working on.

Heather said...

@makingmonkeysoup - It looks like there is something in Iowa. I'd probably start with the quadcities@safe-families.org address they have listed to see what the options are. The program needs respite families and parent coaches, too. Lots of ways to be involved!

makingmonkeysoup.com said...

Thanks so much, Heather. I'll look into it further today!

Anonymous said...

We've been a Safe Families home and it was a positive experience. The only downside (that we saw) is that the child's parents can ask for them back at any time. You may not agree that the mom is really ready to handle parenting again, but it's not up to you. But they're a great organization doing important work and they need help.

Rebeccah said...

Oh, I love pioneers! : ) Good for you! Sounds like a great program.

Liz @ Six Year Itch said...

This sounds like an amazing program. I have never heard about it before, but it does sound like an important step in the right, supportive direction.

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