'When you see something, do something'

Most communities across the country recognize April as Child Abuse Prevention Month. This is a reminder to us that there are families in our communities going through difficult times which often leave their children vulnerable. When things get too out of hand, the local child welfare system often has to step in to intervene, occasionally removing kids from their parents and putting them into foster care. Child abuse can be traumatic to children but removals and placement with strangers can also be a challenge for children to navigate.

That's why, during Child Abuse Prevention Month, we at Safe Families are reminded of the importance of preventing neglect and harm to children by making sure we are supporting the parents. Most kids removed from their parents into foster care are not removed because they have been physically injured or sexually abused. They are removed because of neglect, a recognition that the parent is not doing what is needed to ensure the welfare of their children. Neglect is driven by parents not having anyone else to call, internal factors such as stress and depression often leading to drug use, but also environmental stressors including poverty that weakens the parent's ability to do the right thing.

Safe Families for Children (SFFC) is designed to move beyond mandated reporting to mandated support. The safety of children and the support of parents in our communities is not just the child welfare system's responsibility. All of us are needed.

Safe Families offers families in or near crisis a community of compassionate volunteers who are motivated by their faith, values, and beliefs to keep families well and their children safe. The program offers a wide spectrum of services and support that includes hosting vulnerable children on behalf of their parents and creating extended family-like support for struggling and isolated families. SFFC has recently been designated as an evidence-based practice, proven to keep children out of foster care and living safely with their families even after Safe Families' involvement has formally ended.

Founded in Chicago in 2003, Safe Families for Children is a volunteer movement that gives hope and support to families in distress. In Safe Families, parents voluntarily ask for support: they make the choice to place their children in safe, loving homes, with adults they meet and trust, where they are cared for while (average of 6 weeks) other volunteers wrap around and support the parent to help them get back on their feet and restore stability in their lives. Additionally, the SFFC model has expanded over the years to offer parents and their children support and relationships that they can call on - time and time again - much like an extended family. SFFC is a child prevention model, dedicated to family support, stabilization, and, most importantly, helping families prevent the kinds of crises that may result in child abuse and neglect. At times, we know that those crises are associated with physical and behavioral health issues.

What we have learned about many families is that even when they are doing "all the right things,' they are just one crisis away from major instability in their lives. Under-resourced and under-served communities leave families in the throes of hospitalization, unemployment, incarceration, substance abuse recovery, and other crises related to poverty without equitable access to the resources and support they need to move out of survival mode and find a path to thriving. Many of these families cannot find a path to thriving because no one (but them) owns their wellness. SFFC offers these families a set of relationships that serve as anchors in the storms they encounter.

We have all heard the saying "when you see something, say something." At Safe Families, we take it a step farther and say, "when you see something, do something." As we acknowledge Child Abuse Prevention Month, let's commit to doing something, keeping kids safe by supporting their parents. You can join Safe Families as a host family (take children into your home for a short time while a parent gets on their feet), a family friend (help a parent out by listening, encouraging, mentoring, or helping them overcome challenges like unemployment, etc), or resource friends (offering your extra toys, children's clothes, furniture) to a parent who is struggling simply because they don't have enough money to get what their children need.

We are here in your community. Call #773-653-2200 for more information. You can also reach out to the Greater Chicago Chapter at . Or just ask a parent that you know if going through a hard time how you might help them. If you see something, do something. When we do so together, children are safe and families are supported.

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