When Maggie Sharp was diagnosed with brain cancer, she had no idea what she would do with her two children post-operation, until discovering Safe Families For Children.
Sharp’s church, Twin Cities in Grass Valley, is one of the many Northern California churches that participate in the program, which allows struggling parents to voluntarily and temporarily place their children with prescreened families.
“I can’t say how much it’s relieved my mind how my kids are going to be safe,” Sharp said. “Because that is a huge, huge burden, to not know that your kids are going to be safe. It’s really scary not to know that and it relieves you.”
Because Sharp’s family runs a business and was going to be out of town, she needed someone to take care of her 14-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter.
“A friend of mine who is in my small group at church had mentioned that they had services because I’m not able to drive, so I said I would be interested in that,” Sharp said.
“It started in them giving my kids rides to and from school and they have been abundantly generous with that. Then I found out I was going to be having surgery this month and so they will be keeping my kids for me, which is amazing.”
Koinonia Family Services, a California and Nevada Foster Family Agency, performs home studies, screenings and training for families that would like to have care for children.
“We go out and recruit churches and volunteers and provide training and approval for volunteers,” said Laura Richardson, Koinonia project and resources manager. “The church provides the initial approval and they forward their approved list to us and then we go through that with them.”
Koinonia has partnered with local churches throughout Northern California including some in Nevada and Placer counties, specifically Twin Cities, Bayside of Rocklin, Metro Calvary in Roseville, along with Foursquare Church and Grace Lutheran in Auburn. The voluntary and communicative aspects of the program make it successful, said Jean Gregory, who serves as ministry lead for the organization with her husband, George.
“Two things really stand out that make this program so unique and successful,” Gregory said. “First, it is completely volunteer. The parents and children have not entered the system, but may be in danger of doing so. And second, the biological parents keep in touch daily (when possible) with the host family and visit the children weekly.”
Safe Families For Children also draws on involvement from not just the host family, but the community as well, as others may babysit, make meals, provide transportation, etc.
Twin Cities has six host families and 30 volunteers to help with these kinds of services.
“There’s an inherent ‘wrap’ system, where ‘friends,’ who are also fully vetted, may babysit, make meals, provide transportation, or just fold laundry to help the ‘host’ family, but also may mentor and support the bio-family,” Gregory said.
Gregory began working with the program after having personally experienced a difficult childhood.
“We started because my husband and I both had a very difficult youth and have always been interested in at-risk youth,” Gregory said. “And we learned about Safe Families and it’s such an amazing way for the church to step up.”
One host family took on two young children, siblings Daniel and Abey, so the children’s mother, Sarah, could enter rehab while their father was in jail.
“It was quite an adjustment, but everyone in the family loved having the children,” said Maggie Maloney, one of the host families through Twin Cities, who cared for the children for seven weeks.
“We try to keep contact every day and try to support Sarah. And there is no adversity because she voluntarily gave the kids to us when she was going through that.”
Maloney said Sarah and her children have become almost like an extended family.
“We are going to try to keep contact like an extended family because she has no extended family to help her,” Maloney said.
“It’s something new for her and it’s good for us. And if she ever got in a bind, she could call the director for help if needed.”
The program is a safety net for struggling parents afraid of losing their children, Maloney said.
“I think it will allow parents, who are afraid to get help because they don’t want their kids to be taken away, to get help,” Maloney said.
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.
“I can’t say how much it’s relieved my mind how my kids are going to be safe.”
— Maggie Sharp