Anna Smith’s baby girl was born prematurely at 27 weeks.
Anna (not her real name) wanted to care for her baby when she was able to leave the neonatal intensive care unit. But Anna and her husband were homeless and living in their car, and in those circumstances they couldn’t give the baby the medical care she needed.
“They were on the edge of getting the Department of Human Services involved and having the baby placed in foster care,” said Jillian Stephenson, family coach supervisor and acting chapter director of Safe Families for Children.
“We were able to get the family connected to one of our host families.
“The baby was discharged to our host family, while we partnered with the parents to try to get them connected with housing resources, groceries and baby items.”
Within two weeks, the Smiths were able to move in with some friends and got their daughter back. If the child had gone into foster care, the family would have been apart for much longer.
Safe Families for Children has helped more than 45 families like the Smiths since the local chapter of this international organization opened a year ago.
A faith-informed organization, Safe Families recruits host families primarily through partnerships with churches, though volunteers do not have to be affiliated with a church. They provide temporary care for children from infants to age 18 whose families are in crisis.
“Our goal is to prevent the separation of parents and children and placement in the foster care system,” Stephenson said. “We certify host families who are able to temporarily take care of children to give their parents a break or to establish stability or resolve whatever is precipitating the crisis that’s in their life.”
Homelessness is a common reason why parents seek Safe Families’ assistance. Stephenson recounts the case of another woman who had four children ages 2 to 12 and was pregnant with her fifth child.
“We were able to host them multiple times while she sorted out her housing dilemma,” she said. “We were able to get her accepted into a transitional program for single mothers and help her transition into that program while we were providing care for her kids.”
Safe Families works with about 20 host families, as well as what it calls family friends, who provide support to families in crisis and respite for host families.
Family friends serve as parent-to-parent mentors. They may help a parent write a résumé, take them to a job interview, or just provide emotional support.
“They can be just someone they can call on when they’re having a hard day and need to process something,” Stephenson said. “They can also help with babysitting once the child returns to the parents.”
The organization also recruits family coaches, who help support both families in crisis and host families and provide some case management services. They assess and monitor the safety of children; provide families in need with community resources, from employment and housing to mental health treatment if needed; help them create goals; and facilitate the relationship between the parents and host families.
Volunteers called resource friends assist host families and parents with goods and services they may need. They provide items such as cribs, strollers and clothing, or health care, day care and other professional services.
Many of these volunteers remain involved with parents after they are reunited with their children, forming a continuing, compassionate network with support and resources for families to help keep them together.
For more information or to donate, visit indygive.com.