There was this kid I knew back in elementary school. He seemed like a normal, decent, good all-American boy. But things did not seem right at home. Nobody could ever put their finger on it. But they knew that this boy had troubles with family. Some parents in the neighborhood would say, “sometimes I wish I could just walk up to the door of his house and just take him away from whatever he has to deal with in there.”
Many families have issues that aren’t being dealt with on the home front. And the impact and scars that it leaves on a young child can be devastating to the outcome of their little lives; and often times irreversible. With this in mind, I always wished back then that there was a place for that little boy to turn to like there is today. One of the organizations that could have helped is a wonderful group of people working together for at-risk individuals like the little boy. The organization is called Safe Families for Children.
Since 2003, Safe Families (as they call themselves for short) is an outreach for parents experiencing a temporary crisis. They can arrange for their children (newborn through 16 years old) to stay with Safe Families volunteers while they address the issues that led to the instability in their lives. Many of these kids that Safe Families help are found through a network of organizations that reach out to them in hopes of connecting kids in need with host families.
Derek Cutlip is the Area Director of Safe Families for Children in the Pacific Northwest. His job is to find leaders & families that can help at-risk children, while connecting parents or guardians that are in crisis and are reaching out for help. “We not only want to make a difference in the lives of families (we are helping through Safe Families),” Derek states, “but we also want to change the hearts of the volunteers in the churches that serve our organization.”
Safe families is a unique collaboration between churches and volunteers, with the support of childcare professionals. The way Safe Families works, according to Derek, is he must find Safe Families Churches (as they are a faith-based outreach) that seek volunteers in order to provide a structure of support to the kids and families in need. “What we do is reach out to area churches in hope that they will become a participating church.” Derek explains. Once that church makes Safe Families a part of their ministry, Derek will then seek out through church leadership a “ministry lead”. “They are typically a congregational leader (someone whom is not holding a leadership title within the church) identified through church leadership. This person becomes my liaison.”
This liaison, or ministry lead, is the first of the four components that make up the structure of support required to achieve the goals of this collaborative effort. What are these goals? Here is their objectives straight from the website:
Safe Families for Children creates extended family-like supports for desperate families through a community of devoted volunteers who are motivated by faith to keep children safe and families intact.
This is an important element that is a comfort to the parents of these children, as often the concern is if they seek help in crisis, they ask, will they have their children taken from them? At Safe Families, the answer to that question is a resounding NO! “We assure the Moms, ” Derek says, “that we are not here to take their children away from them…as the goal is to reunite the kids with their family once (issues have been resolved).”
Getting back to the Safe Family Church, once they have agreed to make Safe Families a part of their ministry, these are the four components of volunteer support that is needed:
Ministry Lead- Liaison to the director; can identify and serve to coordinate host families within the church
Host Families- Provide at-risk children a stable family structure until they are reunited with their own family. Host families undergo an application and screening process, where they must provide references, go through a background check, and have an in-home study to determine if they are equipped to provide the care needed.
Family Coach- They offer emotional and tangible support to both the families in need and the host families. The family coach work with parents in crisis to develop family goals, while visiting the host families regularly to offer guidance and support.
Family Friend- Supports parents in need through friendship, coaching, and moral support until the parents situation becomes stable.
Each individual has a unique role within the support system. Derek describes how each role is a critical part of this interdependent support system, as well as providing accountability. “All of these folks should all be from the same church to keep proper accountability.” Derek goes on to share how, as a faith-based ministry, biblical principles are applied and make Safe Families paradigm unique from others in this field. “There are no walls of separation, no court mandates. We use biblical hospitality to build trust and respect. And at no point does (the mom) surrender control of her family. She remains in control of her family unit.”
Derek handles the “intakes”, which 98% are single moms. “Intakes are defined as a Mom in crisis mode, whether it be emotionally, financially, or (alcohol and/or drug abuse) involved…they have no extended family in the area, burnt bridges, or done something to become estranged from their (extended family).”
Derek networks with many other local charities in which he will get a referral for a candidate for intake. Then he will conduct an interview with the candidate and let them know what his role is. Many are very distrusting and are worried that they are going to take away their babies. He must reassure them that he is not CPS or DHS. It seems that he must work very hard to build trust in most cases.
Having been a local pastor and on-air radio personality, Derek connects with many churches and organizations in the Greater Spokane (Washington) Area, which serves as his base of operation. His love for the Lord and his community has driven this passion to serve families in need. That passion is palpable when discussing an element that is missing (in some cases, but not all) from our churches and the community at large. In this regard, Derek talks about something that is truly at the heart of what we do here at Patriot Gaines:
“We need a transformation in our communities. In order to make this happen, we have to engage with widow and orphan. Eighty times God mentioned widows and orphans to both Israel and the church. God calls them to care for the widow and the orphan.” Derek goes on to say if we see this embracing of the widow and orphan, as God has called us to do, “a revival will come through a transformation in the community.”
If you would like to be a part of this revival, get involved with Safe Families. If you know a church that may want to become a Safe Families Church, or if you know of a family that may benefit from this amazing community service, you can reach out to Derek if you are in the Greater Spokane Area through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or if you you are in another part of the country, Safe Families provides hope and support in 70 cities (including the UK and Canada). Go online to find a city near you through safe-families.org. You may be able to help a kid like the little boy that I mentioned earlier…as that little boy was me.
(Chris Gaines is an author and Editor-in-Chief for Patriot Gaines. He resides in the Cedar Valley of Northern Iowa with his wife, Jen, and two kids, Patrick & Megan.)
Photo Sources: safe-families.org