By Laura Deavers
People with strong family and social networks usually have several options available to them when a crisis occurs. But many families in poverty or social isolation have no safety net when life’s unexpected events occur. They have no one to turn to for support when they need it. The crisis could be as normal as post-partum depression or as unusual as homelessness because they lost a job.
Representatives from Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, St. Alphonsus Liguori Church in Greenwell Springs and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge learn about Safe Families for Children, which was started in Chicago nine years ago. The talk was at St. George Church last fall. Photo by Laura Deavers | The Catholic Commentator
Parents trying to deal with these issues when they have no resources or ideas of how to get out of the situation become irrational. Often children suffer most in these situations from neglect or abuse and all too often are removed from the family and placed in state custody.
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge (CCDBR) is stepping up to help organize volunteers in area churches who will provide temporary care for the estimated 60 percent of children who are at risk of abuse or neglect because their parents have limited resources to resolve the crisis situation.
Barbara Thompson, a social worker with Catholic Charities, is leading the effort for the movement known as Safe Families for Children. Thompson has contacted many church communities and says three Catholic Churches – St. George and St. Patrick in Baton Rouge and Immaculate Conception in Denham Springs – have stepped forward to find families who will agree to be part of Safe Families for Children.
“We are looking for volunteers who practice biblical hospitality by opening their homes to children while their parents are in short-term crisis,” said Thompson. The host families provide for the children but the parents placing the child in the care of the host family maintains full custody of the child. The placing parents are encouraged to participate in decisions regarding their child’s care while they address whatever issues led to the crisis.
For some this could mean drug rehabilitation; for others, it might involve leaving an abusive relationship or finding steady employment.
Thompson said about a year ago the Casey Family Program approached Catholic Charities in Baton Rouge about being the one to organize Safe Families for Children. She said Casey Family Program had recognized the work CCDBR has achieved in the past, especially since the hurricanes of 2005, to keep families together while providing for the needs of all of the family members.
“This is a faith-based program,” said Thompson. “No money is exchanged and there is no coercion.” She added that those who volunteer, who are identified as willing to participate through their church, can be involved in several different areas. They can be a host family, a family friend, a resource friend, or a member of YouShare.org.
The host family provides for the needs of the children when their parents are unable to provide adequate care for them. The family friend mentors the parents who are in crisis to support them in making necessary changes to their lives so they can get back on their feet, where they are able to care for themselves and their children. Resource friends provide assistance to the parents and the other volunteers in the Safe Family Movement through services they can offer such as baby-sitting, transportation or lawn care; professional services such as physicians, dentists, mental health professionals, barbers and teachers; and physical assistance by provided items such as diapers, formula and gently used baby equipment and children’s clothing.
YouShare.org is an online outlet for giving that builds relationships between resource-differentiated families and connects the specific needs of local families with the resources and talents of their neighbors.
One of the primary objectives of Safe Families, according to Thompson, is to keep children out of foster care. “The state was not created to take care of children, that is what churches are to do,” Thompson said.
Once a child is put into foster care because parents are identified as not being able to care for them the chances are great that the child will remain in the foster care system. The advantage of Safe Families, according to Thompson, is that there is not a lot of paper work involved, no bureaucracy and the parents can get their children back when they are ready and able to care for them.
Those interested in volunteering to be host families do have to go through a background check and be certified by Catholic Charities before they can begin caring for children.
People who are interested in providing biblical hospitality to those who need a safe home can contact Thompson at Catholic Charities 225-336-8700.