Safe Families offer an alternative option for mothers in need

Madeline Gray—North State Journal
(L to R) The Klabunde family

RALEIGH — For mothers, it is important for them to feel their children are safe. When life gets difficult for some, they are in need of a safe space for their children. This is where Safe Families steps in.”Safe Families is not a program, it’s a movement within a grassroots movement with church involvement for children and families in a crisis,” said Steve Marshall, director of Safe Families N.C..Through Safe Families, families within a church are trained to be prepared to invite children into their homes for care while the mother reorganizes her life for the better. It’s an alternative that is offered to help mothers before the Department of Social Services steps in and takes the children away to foster care.”It’s a very prevalent goal at heart to be able to get to know a family in crisis and help them before a mother loses custody,” said Marshall. “The major issues with mothers are that they are undersupported, lack resources, or support from family and friends.”The majority of referrals of families to the Safe Families program are by word of mouth. People have learned about Safe Families from social media, churches, schools, teachers, and police departments. Safe Families is a nonprofit organization funded by churches and grants from private foundations.”The number one reason mothers come to us is homelessness. They are running away from a domestic violence situation, have lost their job or home, the mother needs medical attention or drug rehab. Our goal is for the mother to get her life back on track,” said Marshall.Safe Families undergo background and home checks, fingerprints, etc., just as foster care families do. The state spends an average of $26,000 a year on a child in foster care. Families and churches helping mothers are funding the expenses from their own pockets.”This is totally voluntary and out of the goodness of their hearts. These Safe Families aren’t subsidized. When children are invited into the homes, it’s both physical and financial for the acting parents,” said Marshall.”We tell the biological mothers in need that these families are safe,” he added.Safe Families has been in North Carolina for over a year which includes the Triangle and Southeastern part of North Carolina. Anywhere from 10 to 15 families are open to assisting mothers in need.Safe Families host children for approximately six weeks, but the length of time can vary. Safe Families is currently in 26 states and originally launched in the United Kingdom.Couples like Anya and Jordan Wilkins serve as a Safe Family.”We are happy to open our hearts and our home to a child in need while a mother is away getting the help she needs. This is another way we can serve the Lord and show the kindness and graciousness he teaches us,” said Anya Wilkins.Of the more than 24,000 placements of children in the United States through Safe Families, 91 percent are reunited with their mothers. Two percent have been adopted following the death of the mother.Mothers are required to contact the Safe Family daily by telephone to maintain and strengthen the relationship between parent and child. Safe Families and the mother build strong relationships as well so the mother continuously feels supported.Freida Watson, of Durham, is grateful Safe Families was there for her and her children in their time of need.”I was prideful and not wanting to ask for help, but I realized I couldn’t do this alone. Safe Families heard me and responded to my cry for help,” said Watson. “As a single mother, this was a wonderful option for me to receive support and know my children were in a safe space and place.”Watson is a single mother of two children. She is also a veteran, and at the time of using Safe Families, she was suffering from trauma related experiences from her time in the service. She needed time to get her mental health back on track.”My home was substandard housing and I couldn’t afford the repairs. My income and disability compensation was being reduced, and obtaining child support from my children’s father was unsuccessful. Life was heavy,” said Watson.She turned to Safe Families. A family took in her children and the church helped repair her home while she re-organized her life.”They gave me grace, generosity, love and support,” she said. “I want to be all I can be for my children. Safe Families walked me through getting me the help I needed and I’m very grateful.”Placing her children with a Safe Family kept Watson from losing custody. She was able to visit with her children once a week and know they were well cared for and loved in her absence.”I’m no longer in a place of despair. I’m optimistic about life,” she added.