HANCOCK COUNTY — Safe Families for Children, a faith-based nonprofit providing temporary shelter and sanctuary for children of families in crisis, is seeking to expand its base in Hancock County.
Established locally last April with an $8,000 grant from the Hancock County Community Foundation Women’s Fund, the program places children from families facing displacement or other threatening situations with volunteer host families outside the framework of state agencies or the court system.
Host families neither seek nor acquire custody of the children they assist, and care can be extended for a night or for an extended stay, depending on the need.
“About 45 percent of our placements concern housing issues, where the family is homeless and living on the street, where they’ve been evicted or the power has been shut off,” said Krista Davis, executive director of Safe Families for Children Central Indiana.
The group also provides homes for children living in the midst of domestic violence or where a parent is in jail, Davis said.
When the situation causing the crisis has been resolved, the children are returned to their parents.
Sometimes the precipitating factor is not so much a catastrophe but simply a family that needs a break.
“The easiest situation we might face is where a mother is suffering from postpartum depression. You and I had a neighbor or friend for that kind of situation,” Davis said.
And being a good neighbor is essentially what Safe Families is all about.
“It just makes sense that we should help our neighbors when they need help,” she said.
Currently, the organization has 10 active host families in the county through its primary clearinghouse, Outlook Christian Church in McCordsville, but the need is growing, Davis said.
Already, Safe Families has served more than 250 families, with a growth rate of 25 to 37 percent, Davis said.
Host family volunteers have only grown by about 25 percent, so the group is actively seeking and working to establish further relationships with county churches for volunteers.
“The need is staggering,” she said. “We’ve just touched the top of the iceberg.”
Parents facing displacement or other crises will generally find an option, Davis said, but many times it’s less than the best choice.
“Sometimes parents use unsafe alternatives,” she said. “They’ll go couch-surfing where two or more families live in Section 8 housing when that isn’t allowed, and that places everyone in jeopardy.”
Davis said she is looking for opportunities to speak at area churches and other organizations to get her message out and sign up volunteers.
Families are not charged to become hosts for kids in need, but they are asked to submit to a background check and a home study visitation, Davis said.
The background checks are similar to those given to the state’s foster families, and the visitation is designed primarily to determine what types of children would best fit a home in terms of age, need and temperament, she said.
Additionally, most of the children placed by Safe Families receive Medicaid for their medical treatment, which is many times a significant concern for prospective volunteer families.
Equally as important as finding and securing host families is making sure those that need Safe Families’ services have a way to connect and take advantage of what the group has to offer.
“It’s an obstacle,” Davis said. “One of the needs in Hancock County is establishing a referral system.”
The group’s social workers have been building relationships with county schools, hospitals and homeless shelters to ensure those operations are aware of the resources available.
Though providing a roof over needy kids’ heads is the group’s tangible offering, Davis said there’s more to Safe Families than simply shelter.
“We encourage our families to establish a relationship with the families they’re serving for mentoring and support in the future,” she said.
Safe Families currently operates with a staff of four full-time employees and what amounts to a half-time, part-time employee.
“We’re very volunteer dependent, and we use volunteers in significant roles,” Davis said.
Mary Gibble, HCCF president, said Safe Families fills a needed niche in the county.
“We feel this is a wonderful program,” Gibble said. “We really think it fills a gap here in the county.”
Safe Families for Children was first organized in Chicago in 2005. Indiana was the first state to establish a chapter outside Illinois.
In 2010, the organization won the Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation, according to the award’s website.
For more information on partnering with Safe Families, contact the group at (317) 519-4615.
To seek assistance with a crisis, call the organization’s crisis line at (317) 519-3839.