Opportunity Knocks – Safe Families for Children comes to Iowa City
Are you looking for ways to help our hurting world? Have you wondered how to be “salt and light” when all your friends are Christians? Recently our family discovered a program that allows us to minister as a family to the hurting dearest to our hearts – families.
Safe Families for Children is a national organization celebrating its 10th anniversary of helping at-risk families navigate crisis situations. SFFC works with local agencies to connect parents who are temporarily unable to care for their children with Christians willing to take them in. By opening their doors and providing safe havens for children, host families have the opportunity to share the love of Christ with children and parents and establish lasting relationships of friendship and support. Parents who voluntarily sign-up to participate in the program place their children into short-term care with the goal of being reunited as soon as possible. The host families don’t receive compensation other than assistance from local churches.
My husband Shawn and I stumbled across SFFC quite by accident (which means quite providentially) while inquiring about foster care. We had just made the call to sign up with Iowa KidsNet when a friend forwarded an email to me about Safe Families for Children. Right away, I contacted Mirinda Cole from Bethany Christian Services in Cedar Rapids to find out more about this ministry. Shawn and I realized immediately that SFFC was a unique opportunity that allows the responsibility of caring for families to be given back to the church where they can experience true healing and redemption through Jesus Christ. Since our hearts were already prepared for foster care, we decided to sign up for the SFFC training and continue to prayerfully consider whether SFFC was part of God’s direction for us.
The first step was filling out a short Initial Application that allowed us to begin our online training. Although we weren’t sure how we’d find the time for four hours of video training, the training segments were only 2 to 20 minutes each so they were easy to fit in whenever we had some down time together. These helpful videos included general information about SFFC’s goals, information about what to expect, guidelines for caring for the kids and ministering to the parents, answers to questions and concerns, and an interview with a host family about their own SFFC experience. Safe Families’ founder Dr. David Anderson says, “Our passion is to connect people willing to be ‘spiritual extended family’ to those who lack that kind of support.” By providing safe homes for temporary childcare, the ministry hopes to prevent child abuse, provide support and stability to families, and help keep kids out of the foster care system. A child’s stay can be anywhere from a few days to several months and most of the children are under six years of age although the program is available for kids up to 18-years-old. Children may be placed into Safe Families for Children for many reasons, but the three most common are homelessness, parental crisis and medical complications or hospitalization. Safe Families may receive requests directly from parents, or from hospitals, police stations or other service organizations. It’s hard to imagine being completely without the support of friends and family. Emergency situations can happen to anyone, and most of us have people who stand by us and step in when we need them. What a great opportunity to be that extended family and bless people in our own communities in the name of Jesus.
After our video training, Shawn and I completed a rather intensive nine page Full Application. This included some of the basic information that was on our Initial Application as well as some more involved questions about our histories, our personalities and our parenting styles. Fortunately, Mirinda was able to help us with some of the harder questions when she came for the home visit. We went over the application and discussed with her some of our personal story, our thoughts, our family dynamics, and some questions we still had. Mirinda shared with us her desire to see Safe Families for Children established here in the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids area. Even though SFFC had 3000 placements in 2012 and presently has 2100 host families, Safe Families for Children in new to our area. Mirinda’s goal is to have at least 10 host families trained by July 1st so that they can begin to offer this service here.
Our final steps to becoming a host family were fingerprints and references. Our applications listed our references’ contact information, but we were also emailed a Host Family Reference Form which was easy to forward to those giving references. They had the option to either complete the form online or to print it off and mail it in. There is a minimal cost for fingerprinting. Fingerprinting can be done by the police station, and then the prints may be sent in to Bethany Christian Services.
Caring for children in your home is never completely comfortable or easy, but fortunately our whole family is looking forward this experience. We have a high school junior this year, and we had considered waiting until her college years to move her sister into her room and open up another bedroom. But when she heard about the idea of foster care, she wanted us to start right away. The girls are willing to share a bedroom so that we can bring in another child. With the foster care system, we would not be able to finish the training until next fall. With Safe Families we will be able to help children as soon as SFFC has its ten initial families in place.
Becoming a host family is not the only way to get involved with SFFC. You and your church can also work with Safe Families to provide help and support to the host families and the sponsored families. The SFFC website, www.safe-families.org, lists several ways that churches can help to spread the word about Safe Families for Children, minister to the parents and children seeking care, and help the host families. You can also email Mirinda Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 319-350-7509 to speak with her about how you and your church can be part of this fantastic ministry.
Everyone has gifts that can be used to show God’s love, mercy and powerful redemption (1 Peter4:10), and Safe Families opens the doors for hurting people to enter our homes, our churches, and our hearts. Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20). In Matthew 18:5, he said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes Me.” Maybe your family is called to welcome these children in Jesus name. Maybe you can be a host family or a church support to help Safe Families for Children’s get started here in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. Our family is looking forward to this ministry nurturing and building one of our greatest resources, strong families.
By Penny Davidson
Informed Choices Medical Clinic in Iowa City will be having an informational meeting about Safe Families for Children on June 11th at 7:00 pm.
At Informed Choices we see a great need for SFFC with our Clients. Some of the women we see question their ability to parent because they do not have stable housing or employment and this ministry would serve these very women. Some women just need time to secure housing or employment before they are able to care for their babies. Some women have children already to care for so they feel they can’t care for another child so they question whether or not to carry out their pregnancy. This would give women more options and time to make the best decision. We are asking that our “Friends for Life” and their churches help us build a net for Children in and out of the womb.