In 2014, my husband and I became aware of a compassionate arm of Bethany Christian Services called Safe Families for Children, a community-based program that relies on church involvement to give hope and support to families in crisis.
After our daughter moved out for college, we turned her bedroom into a guest room with the goal of making room to help children in need. We then prayed for direction and talked it over with our youngest son—who was still at home—and attended an informational meeting.
Shortly following the meeting, we began the process of becoming a host family, where Safe Families screens host families with a process that includes background checks, home visits, training and verification of references.
The mothers Safe Families serves have found themselves in an unsafe or unstable place, such as homelessness or domestic violence, and their children are potentially at risk. Generally, these women have no extended family in the area, or no family that they would see as an option to step in and help.
By temporarily placing their children in an approved host home, these mothers gain the time to get a handle on their own situation while providing their children with structure and stability. With placements ranging from a couple of days to two months, Safe Families allows these moms to take action before Child Protective Services is forced to remove the children from the home involuntarily.
Our First Run at Hosting
The first child my husband and I hosted was “Keyana,” a sweet 8-year-old who was staying with her pregnant mom at a local maternity shelter. Keyana’s mom was pregnant with twins and with the risk of early labor, the doctor admitted her to the hospital for two weeks.
The maternity shelter wasn’t licensed to house children without their mother present, but they were able to secure an emergency spot at a children’s crisis center nearby. Since the crisis center made an emergency accommodation, they were only able to keep her for a couple of days.
The mother had initially found herself at the shelter after getting out of an abusive relationship and the father was incarcerated. She also had no family she trusted with her daughter, so this was the perfect situation for a place like Safe Families to step in and help.
Referred to Safe Families from the shelter, the mother called to arrange a host home. That’s where we came in.
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I worked outside of the home full-time, so we initially thought we would only be able to do respite hosting on the weekends. But, when the request came through for this little girl, everything fit.
I worked downtown at the federal courthouse and Keyana happened to go to a school in the city and only about 12 miles from my work. She was also enrolled in a fully funded after-school care program, which also met one of our requirements to host fulltime, since I didn’t get out of work until 4:30.
My husband and I prayed and agreed to host Keyana. We prepared our youngest child for the hosting, and the next day we picked her up.
Part of Our Family
Keyana was so excited as we spent time getting to know each other a little. My son was excited to meet her and have someone close to his age that he can hang around. They got along well, despite the occasional competition for attention that arises between two children in the same home.
They would have races and our son even taught her how to ride a bike—it was so sweet to see her become so integrated into our family. She loved to read. When my husband offered to read to her a princess story the first night, Keyana seemed shocked at first and then curled up to him while he read.
That was something that became a nightly favorite of hers. It would bring tears to our eyes thinking that Keyana may never have had a positive male figure. (Quite the opposite, we came to find, when she told us how her mom had to plant cactuses under their windows so her father wouldn’t come in the house.)
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We made sure Keyana talked to her mom every night, and after she and I would drop my son off at his school, I would have her call her mom on the way to her school each morning. We did our best to make sure she felt safe and loved while she was with us, leaving the light on for her at night and coming in to comfort her when she would call out to us.
Keyana only came with a school uniform and a couple of outfits, so our church family blessed her with plenty of clothes and shoes from their daughters’ closets. She was apprehensive about using the dresser to keep her clothes in at first and wanted everything to stay in bags and backpacks, but eventually she warmed up to it and made herself at home.
Keyana stayed with us for a few weeks and we would take her to see her mom when we could. We learned so much about the environment that she and so many other children are exposed to and were so thankful to be able to help her in some way—giving her mom the peace of mind knowing that her precious daughter was safe.
Even if your family can’t host a child, there are many other ways to get involved through your local chapter of Safe Families—from being a Family or Resources Friend to being a Family Coach or Mentor. You can visit the Safe Families website for more information and to find out ways you, your organization and your church can partner with this caring outreach.