Rock County Child Protective Services (CPS) places an average of 200 children into foster care every year. Safe Families for Children (SFFC) Wisconsin is committed to reducing this number by empowering families in crisis through community and faith-based support. In contrast to court-mandated foster care, SFFC is completely voluntary. It pairs families in crisis with community members to prevent child maltreatment, circumvent welfare placements, and provide wrap-around family support.
In 2014 SFFC Wisconsin, a Safe Families affiliate, began working in the southeastern portion of the state. The organization has since served over 500 families. SFFC aims to expand its reach through a pilot initiative with Rock County Human Services, says Director Nicole Zorn. The pilot was made possible through a grant awarded by the Hendricks Family Foundation.The goal of the pilot program is to build a support network of hosts and other volunteers to help families through crises. SFFC pairs children with host families who provide secure, temporary housing. Meanwhile, it partners parents with volunteer mentors who work with parents to identify and address the root causes of the emergency at hand. The program helps parents take steps to prevent future crises and, ultimately, identify a swift but realistic reunification date.
“I experienced the stress of the foster care system first-hand. Safe Families is a good alternative for children in temporary crises,” said a Beloit resident, who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s reassuring to know that [my] host family was acting out of goodwill.”
Rock County resident J. Aaron White is one such host. “Upon learning more about the mission and vision of Wisconsin Safe Families, [my wife and I] knew that opening our home to children in need was something we needed to do,” he says. Says White of his first assigned child, “Within the span of a few days, he was playing, eating, and traveling with our children as if he were part of the family.”SFFC host parents like White cover the costs of caring for a child without remuneration. Host families are supported by a network of other volunteers, who provide things like meals, transportation, diapers or respite.
The Rock County pilot aims to divert sixty foster care placements over its two-year duration. Zorn says SFFC Wisconsin will achieve this objective through its emphasis on “parental resilience, social connections, knowledge of parenting and child development, concrete support in times of need, and social and emotional competence of children.” If successful, the Rock County pilot program could save taxpayers a projected $780,000 annually.
SFFC Wisconsin encourages Beloit area agencies such as schools, hospitals, social workers, and places of worship to refer volunteers and families in need to their website.
“This work not only transforms the lives of struggling families, but it increases awareness and compassion in our volunteers, enhancing the social fabric of our communities, where neighbors love and serve neighbors,” Zorn says.
Said White, “It was and is rewarding to provide stability, love, and comfort.”