information for transformational people

Safe Families 246Safe Families for Children 

As you might have picked up, we promote good Early Years development as key to children growing up and thiving as adults. Preventative steps taken at an early age to ensure this, can make huge differences to later lives. There is a huge amount of evidence to support this - see this collection of blogs.

One initiative that is really helping is Safe Families for Children. It helps stop children being taken into care by local authorities - instead they are placed temporarily with volunteer Host Families, mostly from churches, providing breathing room and support for parents in crisis, giving them time to get back on their feet while their children are cared for in a safe and loving environment.

Let's look at some stats in the UK; 93,000 children are ‘looked after’ children i.e. in care, 10,000 children in England are taken into care each year, 23% of the adult prison population has been in care and nearly 40% of prisoners under 21 were in care as children.

The Safe Families model originated in the USA as the brain child of a child psychologist called Dr. David Anderson. Since 2002, working with authorities, it has placed more than 35,000 children in Host Family homes. It now operates in 65+ cities in 35 states. On average, a child stays with a Host Family for slightly less than 40 days. Parents are referred for a variety of reasons but mostly because of an unstable living environment or crisis - see below. The majority of children hosted are younger than 5 years of age, and 93% return to their parent or a relative who is in a better position to care for them.

The top 5 reasons for referral in the USA have been documented as:

  • Loss of home
  • Medical/Hospitalisation
  • Parental Crisis
  • Lack of family support
  • Respite

The model has proven highly effective in stabilising families at times of crisis, preventing child neglect and abuse, and has contributed to reductions of up to 50% in the numbers of children entering the foster care system in some American states.

Since 2013, Safe Families for Children has been operating in the UK after Durham-based philanthropist, Sir Peter Vardy travelled to the USA and saw how effective the model was.

Starting from a pilot in the North East, Safe Families has now spread across the UK to Mersey, Manchester, the Midlands, the South Coast, Scotland and Wales. In the UK, Safe Families, working with local authorities and churches, has helped over 6000 children so far.

There are various ways to support the children and families:
  • Host Families - trustworthy families who take children into their loving homes, giving the parents much needed space to deal with the pressing issues.
  • Family Friends - friendly folk who befriend, mentor and support parents through their crisis, helping them get back on their feet and making the home stable for them and their children.
  • Family Coaches - skilled individuals able to offer support and experience to help families make the necessary changes and help our volunteers provide the right kind of care and support.
  • Resource Friends - generous supporters who find they are able to provide useful goods or skills to benefit families in need, such as a cot, clothing or helping with cooking or gardening.

Here is a 2 minute video about some of the options:

Could this be a partnership opportunity for your church or volunteers within the church?

To find out more, visit the Safe Families for Children UK website.

Some quotes to finish:

Firstly from Kate, whose husband was in prison and her children were looked after when she went into hospital to give birth. "Once my husband had gone to prison, at first you're left grieving, in a way. And you just feel like you're at the end of your tether. You don't know which way to turn. Before they [the Host Family] came, I thought it was going to be really difficult. I thought I wasn't a very good mum. I blamed my husband for putting us in this situation. And then when they came, instantly I felt it was the right thing to do. They were a fantastic couple. Straight away, my sons, both sons, just took to them instantly. And I just knew it was the right thing."

From Peter and Margaret, a Host Family. "Being volunteers has been really good fun. It’s been something the entire family could get involved with. It’s motivating to know we’re making a difference. We can look after one individual, a bit of the time, and have an input into their life. The girl we hosted has grown in confidence and found her voice. It’s shown her another family care for her."

And lastly from Sir Peter Vardy. "What we are looking at is what is best for the children and the parent or parents and the family. We're trying to keep families together."

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Geoff Knott, 11/04/2017

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