HANCOCK COUNTY — As the mother of two boys, Melissa Ham knows the demands of parenthood.
But she also recognizes that her sons, 11 and 7, have had the privilege of growing up as part of a stable family. So in 2012, when Ham and her husband were asked to foster a young boy whose mother was jobless and couldn’t support her son while trying to find work, they saw it as their duty to say yes.
Over the past three years, as trained volunteers with the Safe Families for Children program, the Hams have shared their home with more than a dozen children whose parents needed a helping hand. Now, the program is seeking more local families to step up and do the same.
Safe Families for Children, a nonprofit organization, acts as a safety net for families in crisis. The faith-based organization is a resource for parents who, for whatever reason, find they temporarily can no longer care for their children, offering a temporary home to those children until their parents are back on their feet, said Krista Davis, executive director for central Indiana.
The organization seeks to provide assistance in cases where families are clearly in crisis but whose situations might not rise to a level requiring intervention by state child welfare officials. Safe Families networks with area churches, but volunteers don’t have to be affiliated with a church to serve as a host family.
Parents reach out to Safe Families for help for all kinds of reasons; often, it is because a young family doesn’t have the resources to care for a child while balancing a job, Davis said.
“We’re here to help fill the gaps and to provide some support when they need it most,” she said.
Host families neither seek nor acquire custody of the children they assist, and care can be offered for as little as a night or a multiple-month extended stay, depending on need, Davis said. The average stay is about six weeks, according to the organization’s website.
The organization was launched in Hancock County in 2012 and has established a small network of families willing to host children through Outlook Christian Church in McCordsville, but the organization is now expanding its reach to other local churches.
Park Chapel Christian Church in Greenfield is leading the charge to find more host families with assistance from a handful of other local congregations.
Fostering boys and girls who have ranged in age from 6 months to 8 years old has required her family to remain flexible, Ham said.
“It’s amazing how quickly our children shifted their routines,” Ham said. “They had to learn how to share their beds, their toys and their parents — pretty much everything they have for the amount of time that we’re fostering.”
But the reward has been worth it, she said.
“What we’ve noticed is that these kids just want a structured routine, and to be able to provide that has made our family grow so much,” she said.
Love INC, a local faith-based organization that helps provide resources to area churches and organizations, is helping to spread the word of Safe Families’ cause.
Jim Peters, executive director of Love INC, said the organization will help match interested families with children in need of care. He said he’s noticed a growing need for child care and support services for families in need in Hancock County.
“It’s a gap that needs to be filled, and our greatest hope in breaking the cycle of poverty and dependence is to reach the kids directly and help provide for them so they know what it’s like to grow in a stable environment,” Peters said.
Park Chapel Christian Church, 1176 E. McKenzie Road in Greenfield, will hold a training meeting on Oct. 31 for interested host families.
For more information about Safe Families for Children, visit insafefamilies.org.
What: Safe Families for Children training session
Where: Park Chapel Christian Church, 1176 E. McKenzie Road, Greenfield
When: 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday
Cost: $38 (includes background check and fingerprinting)
Why: Safe Families for Children volunteers (must be at least 25) open their homes to children whose families are in crisis, giving parents a chance to get back on their feet while their children are being cared for in a safe environment.