I liked everything that I heard about Safe Families before I experienced the ministry first hand. It’s an organization committed to caring for children and families in crisis—needless to say, they’ve generated pretty positive word of mouth.

Before my first visit, people described the ministry to me as incredible, unstoppable, innovative, and all-around awesome, which was why I was a little surprised when I wandered into the office for my first meeting with Krista Davis, the director. The headquarters of this “incredible” ministry seemed pretty…well, regular.

Seemingly Ordinary

I made my way past a friendly receptionist into a space with quiet, plain rows of cubicles where Krista approached me with a warm smile. Everything about Krista was calm, together, and kind.  She led me into a conference room to discuss Safe Families a little.

We sat across from one another under pretty standard office conditions—rolling chairs , conference table, bookshelves, etc. It was all so tranquil…not really what I’d imagined. I’m not saying I was expecting the Law & Order theme song to be playing…but kind of. Wasn’t this supposed to be a cutting edge, high impact ministry, fighting injustice one child at a time?

Krista Davis, local Safe Families director.

After basic introductions, Krista began explaining how Safe Families works, and within five minutes, I realized that this ministry wasn’t “incredible” and “unstoppable”—it was much more.

The Need

Krista may have begun the Indiana chapter of this growing organization, but she doesn’t take credit for the design behind it—that one belongs to God. Safe Families is simply orchestrating a system in which people can act as a community. It’s just a matter of matching a need with people who are ready to meet it.

The need is big: safe places for children when their families can’t care for them. In my mind, I thought that foster care had this covered, but it turns out that our system has a gap between keeping an eye on children in nurturing environments and caring for children who need legal intervention on their behalf.

I was shocked to learn who falls into this unfortunate gap. We are surrounded by people who are raising children without support—single parents, people without extended family, some people who haven’t connected with anyone that they can trust to take care of their children when a situation arises.

Children like this little guy are in need of a safe place to stay while his mom gets back on her feet.

What happens when you’re a parent without a support network? Krista explained that something as simple as checking into the hospital to get a necessary surgery becomes impossible. Getting evicted from your home puts not only you but your children on the streets. Overcoming an addiction becomes especially difficult as you try to cope and parent simultaneously.

In these situations, children enter into the care of the state. Well, they did before Safe Families arrived.

Jumping In

Last week, I decided to “ease” my way into the Safe Families world by sitting down at their weekly staff meeting with the fulltime staff at the core of the organization. We began with a serious moment of prayer for the work ahead—a prayer that included things like, “Lord, we know sometimes you have to break us to bless us.” What was I stepping into?

Immediately following prayer, we got to work. Each staff member brought forth what was on her plate at the moment—children in placement, children who need placement, moms struggling to get back on their feet, volunteers who are looking to help…

As we jumped from case to case, I was distressed. I listened to the story of woman who is wheelchair bound after being hit by a car, and now she needs someone to take care of her young children while she recovers. I listened to the story of a woman who has entered back into an abusive relationship that the staff of Safe Families is trying to pull her out of. We discussed case after case of heartbreaking situations, all taking place within miles of that meeting.

Safe Families employee Diane.

Meeting the Need

It was a lot to take in, but I was in awe of the women around me. Not only do these ladies know the ins and outs of their clients and their needs, but they know exactly who can help. They brought up volunteer after volunteer from memory and discussed who would be the best fit…oh, and this was out of a database of over 160 volunteer families.

That’s right. 160 local families are opening their homes to children. Beyond that, there are countless volunteers who offer rides and other services to families hosting children and to the families in crisis.

But the volunteer families don’t just take in children, they become invested supporters of the family in crisis. Even after a child is returned to his or her biological family, the volunteer host family maintains a relationship with them.

Safe Families volunteers reviewing cases together.

So this is what people mean by ‘innovative’ and ‘incredible’, but those labels aren’t exactly fitting for what’s going on here. To put it in the words of Krista, the model of Safe Families “just makes sense!”

Community in Action

Now I understand the hype. Safe Families is more than an organization—it is a functional community. The staff has created a network where people can step up to serve one another. They are invited to truly be neighbors to one another, to offer support when it’s needed most.

Honestly, the proposition is a little daunting. Making a conscious decision to embrace need in our own backyards can be exhausting—just ask anyone who has been involved in placing 649 children through Safe Families in only three years of business.

Safe Families social worker, Lisa, waiting with two little girls as they prepare to head home with their new temporary families.

But it’s certainly right.

Krista explains it as mercy we are all carrying, “…a mercy that needs to be poured out, and when you do, it fills you.”

These are the people I’m excited to meet. We are surrounded by people who are full, people who have embraced caring for children and caring for families as an extension of their own families. Their actions are not heroic, not far removed from anything that we’re capable of—they’re just doing what makes sense.

From what I’m learning, what makes sense is revolutionizing how we live in community with one another.

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Next Steps
    • Learn more about Safe Families by visiting their website: www.safe-families.org
    • Not from Indianapolis? No worries! Safe Families is in action around the country. Find what’s going on near you on this map: http://www.safe-families.org/whatis_locations.aspx
    • Consider volunteering with Safe Families. The organization can use your talents and time to help impact the lives of children and families.
    • Do you work with children? Be on the lookout for signs that children and families are struggling—they may need the help of Safe Families or your local child services to intervene. Children need advocates.
    • Next Steps

About the Author: Laura is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She graduated from the University of Arizona, Tucson with a degree in Animal Sciences and a minor in Spanish. She is constantly learning, making friends, dancing, and trying to understand her role in alleviating the suffering of others. Laura also attracts a lot of awkward situations.

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Comments

  1. Dave Rod said... 

    Reply

    September 27th, 2011 at 7:51 am  

    Thanks Laura for shining the light on this incredible movement of God. Looking forward to hearing more!

  2. Josie Tilyou said... 

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    September 27th, 2011 at 8:12 am  

    Thank you for your article. We are in the process of filling out our information. The little boy’s eyes in the photo speak all the words he dosen’t yet have.

    God’s Blessings for your Tuesday!
    Josie Tilyou

  3. Chuck Easton said... 

    Reply

    September 27th, 2011 at 8:23 am  

    Laura, you’ve hit the nail on the head! This ministry is “unstoppable and incredible” in a non-assuming way. They make it happen! Thanks for visiting Safe Families and bringing this important ministry to our attention.

  4. Jane VanOsdol said... 

    Reply

    September 27th, 2011 at 12:01 pm  

    Laura, thanks for spotlighting this ministry that fills a gap that many of us didn’t even know existed. But, I think you’re wrong on one point. I’m sure in the eyes of the moms, the volunteers are heroes!

  5. Jim.M said... 

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    September 28th, 2011 at 6:56 am  

    Laura, so good to read about Safe Families! We know of it, we don’t know about it. I sense that’s about to change in the next few days. More important than that I also suspect we are about to have our eyes opened to a great need right in our own back yard….dangerous to read on I suppose.

    Show us….

  6. Laura Stump said... 

    Reply

    September 28th, 2011 at 10:29 am  

    Dave, Chuck and Jim: It is an important ministry to learn about and share with others. There are so many things that God is doing through each volunteer, employee, biological family, and child. I’m excited to share more!

    Jane: You’re absolutely right. The relationship between a biological mom and a volunteer Safe Family may be a little tricky at first, but once a mom knows that her children are in good hands, she is free to get things in her own life together before welcoming her children home to a better environment. I’ve definitely been meeting a lot of grateful moms lately…

    Josie: Congratulations, and way to step up! Safe Families will be happy to have you. I’m sure that there are many great experiences ahead of you :)

  7. Lori O. said... 

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    October 5th, 2011 at 11:26 am  

    We’ve been a Safe Families host family in the Chicagoland area for about 18 months now, and hosted nine different children from completely different backgrounds. We had one six year old boy for 3 days while his mom recovered from the emergency surgery she needed while driving through our town on her way home from a trip. We’ve had a 10 year old girl who’s suburban mom abandoned her to go on a drug spree. (So sad!) We’ve had a 3 year old boy for three months while his young mom completed a high risk pregnancy. And the babies! Lots of beautiful babies! And you’re right–sometimes the moms are VERY grateful–they cannot believe that someone would volunteer to care for a stranger’s child with no compensation. Other times, the moms don’t seem grateful at all, regardless of what you have sacrificed to invest in their child. But the point is, none of us had a choice as to which family we’d be born into, but we can choose to help the kids in crisis, and perhaps build a relationship with the parent that mentors them into making good life choices. We do it because we love God, and it’s the right thing to do.

  8. Laura Stump said... 

    Reply

    October 5th, 2011 at 1:29 pm  

    Lori–well said. Your experiences are such a testimony to the unique situations that these kids and families are coming from. I wholeheartedly agree with your last statement–no matter the circumstance, we are called to show God’s love. Thanks for demonstrating that!

  9. Lynnea said... 

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    October 8th, 2011 at 1:11 am  

    Laura…thank-you for these posts on Safe Families. We are a new host family and our first placement started last Sunday….I have a 2 yo girl and 3yo boy sleeping “safely”.:) While going through the training I scoured the internet looking for information, especially from host families and I came up with very little. So to see your stories on Safe Families is an encouragement to us.

  10. Laura Stump said... 

    Reply

    October 8th, 2011 at 9:24 am  

    I’m glad to hear that, Lynnea! Congratulations on starting your Safe Families involvement–I hope your little ones are doing well :)

  11. Josie Tilyou said... 

    Reply

    October 8th, 2011 at 11:47 am  

    Hey Laura
    Stepping up with Safe Families is looking different than I expected…….I’m the one being placed in somone elses home!! I was happy filling out my paper-work, but that must not be a prerequisite in God’s timing:) I will be working with a family who has 2 teenagers with a lot of “issues” & I am meeting them today! I don’t feel very qualified for this situation but I know God has “my back”:). I’m just praying He’s chosen the right person.
    Thank you for your ministry,
    Josie

  12. Laura Stump said... 

    Reply

    October 9th, 2011 at 6:54 pm  

    Oh my gosh, Josie! That is probably NOT what you had in mind when you saw the picture of the toddler…sorry for the false advertising :)

    But you’re right–this situation has fallen on you for a specific reason. I will be praying for you!

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