The following article was submitted by a member of  Bethany Christian Services to discuss their Safe Families For Children program. We would like to thank them for their contribution. 


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Bethany Christian Services

Colleen Carter, BSW, LSW


The single biggest influence on the lives and outcomes of children is… their family. The problem is many at-risk families lack the family support needed to assist them in times of need. Historically, the extended family lived nearby and could step in to support parents when they were in crisis. Today, many families are isolated with extended family not available. Without family support, parents are “on their own” when facing life stressors. Children, in a family traumatized by crisis, become at risk for abuse or neglect as parents struggle to cope. However, by law & policy most state child welfare agencies can’t rescue children unless they have suffered blatant abuse or neglect. State welfare emergency hotlines (across the US) report 5 million calls each year of suspected child abuse or neglect, and only 1 million of those calls fit their criteria for state intervention. What happens to the 4 million families that don’t qualify? Children and their families are left in difficult situations… Where can they find help?

Safe Families for Children was Founded in 2002 by LYDIA Home, a Chicago based Christian social service agency. It has grown to a network of over 1900 volunteer families serving 4000 placements, representing 2200 children and is successfully established in more than 19 states and 25 cities. Locally, Safe Families has been in West Virginia since 2013 and primarily focused on the Martinsburg community. Bethany Christian Services of WV wants to grow this program into both Berkeley and Jefferson counties and make it into a successful community resource.

Safe Families is a network of host families, friends, and churches that extends the community safety-net. It is a loving sanctuary for parents to place their children in times of crisis. Parents do not have fear of losing custody (as opposed to the foster care system). Some possible situations which may lead to a need for Safe Family placement include financial struggles, unemployment, homelessness, hospitalization, the parent needs time to heal physically or emotionally, the parent is recovering from alcohol or drug addiction, the mother is in an abusive situation, or a parent is incarcerated. Children served at Safe Families for Children are between the ages of zero and seventeen. The average age group is children zero to six years old. An average length of stay in a Safe Families placement is forty five days. Length of stay can vary from two days to a year.

Some Key elements to Safe Families for Children include, biological parents maintain full legal custody and voluntarily participate in SFFC. Volunteer Host Families are motivated to help families in crisis out of care and concern, not financial compensation. There is a commitment to reunite the children with their biological parents as soon as possible. Family Coaches are the staff efforts to support and help both biological parents and Host Families. There is a parent agreement and ongoing involvement with the biological parents and child(ren). Our Host Families are thoroughly screened through references, clearances, and a home safety check. Host Families receive temporary guardianship and are supported by our Bethany Christian Services Family Coach.

We realize not everyone has the time, energy, and/or resources to be a host family. We have other opportunities for everyone wanting to be a part of Safe Families for Children in WV. Additional opportunities include Church Coordinator, Transportation for biological family, host children, etc., Provide resources (donations of food, clothing, etc), Offer your professional services (doctors, dentists, etc), Provide respite care (less than 1 day care),  Mentor biological families, Become a volunteer family coach, and Tell others about Safe Families!

We have three main objectives for our Safe Families for Children program. Our first objective is Child Welfare Deflection, SFFC significantly reduces the number of children entering the child welfare system. Our second objective is Child Abuse Prevention, SFFC steps in before a crisis escalates into potential child abuse. Our third objective is Family Support and Stabilization, Host Families become the extended family that a parent does not have. At Bethany Christian Services of WV we believe if we can get both Jefferson and Berkeley counties involved in this program we can meet these three objective and change lives in our local community.


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