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    • Four years ago, my husband and I attended a local meeting for doctors of our faith. Two women were presenting about a national program that was relatively new to our community: Safe Families for Children.

      The cause immediately resonated with me as a much-needed alternative to foster care. Basically it consists of families helping other families who are in crisis. No money is involved. It's voluntary on both sides and as personal or anonymous as is desired by both parties (though volunteers are vetted thoroughly first).

      What kinds of crisis? I've seen people ask for and receive help while experiencing: temporary homelessness, marriage and addiction counseling, acute depression after death of a partner, job loss, respite for care of a terminally ill child, and more. We all need help; for people without extended family, Safe Families can fill that role to help the children have peace in a chaotic time and help the family recover.

      Although we were able to help a little financially, during the presentation I felt a strong pull to do more.

      The program was looking for host families. At the time we were hoping to get pregnant with #4 and my husband and I shared a Subaru Outback with three car seats squeezed across the back. How would we help even one additional child?! We were already maxed out.

      It seemed like a crazy thing to do on one hand, and on the other hand it felt like a perfect fit. I love supporting families and I have a soft spot for single mothers and kids in a rough spot, probably because my dad spent some time on the streets as a child. Yet, because my hands were full at home I wasn't exactly able to get out in the community and help in more typical ways (soup kitchens, after school programs, etc.) What kept running through my head is that what these kids in crisis needed most was a home. That was something I could absolutely give. It's what I spent most of my time on, creating a loving home for my own kids.

      My husband is a gem and he's my biggest fan. He saw the fire in my eyes for this cause and said he'd support me in it and he has 100%, even though it's been a wild ride.

    • I'd like to share some more details of the ups and downs of the last four years for those who are curious and want to learn more (and share their own experiences!) but I need to clear something up right at the start:

      We are regular people. Our entryway is full of kicked off shoes, our dinner table is loud and crazy, and I often feel behind on just about everything. We didn't suddenly have room in our car or room in our schedule to make this work. We started with room in our hearts and muddled our way through it from there.

      And yes, it has looked really messy at times. I don't make it look easy!

      Put another way: If I even had a pinterest account I wouldn't have a thing to post on there. :)

    • One of the most surprising things to me has been seeing the power of play to break down barriers of class, race, and situation.

      My kids are the best ambassadors for the Safe Families kids who walk through our door. Kids who are often shy around me and my husband and very emotional (or tight lipped) from what they were experiencing at home will often fall naturally into play and set aside those burdens. They'll open up, relax, and just settle down and settle in when they are interacting kid-to-kid.

      *Yes, we've had a child who was not a good fit for our situation because he was really aggressive towards the other kids. I maybe could have helped him but not with other young kids in the house. But in every other case, play has unlocked doors in connecting with these kids.

    • One of many hilarious moments along the way:

      We have hosted the same sibling group on several occasions and they have kinky hair so I made a habit of stocking appropriate hair product. Well, I was in another room one day and the little boy saw my daughter's diaper rash cream and thought it was his hair grease so he helped me out...

    • Who can blame him right? They look awfully similar...

      I can now tell you from experience that they have one major difference: Triple paste should never, ever be used in slick hair (or any hair for that matter).

    • It is obvious you and your family are doing a wonderful and selfless thing. I am sure blessings and good things will come to your family because of your willingness to help others. Your kids will learn all kinds of valuable lessons just by being a part of what you are doing.

    • Those who mentioned that it has likely been a wonderful experience for my children as well were spot on.

      They've gained perspective and compassion and made some lasting friendships along the way. We didn't do it for their benefit; in fact, we structured our involvement carefully because we were mindful of the negative impact this might have on them. We initially specified that we were available to host just one child at a time, aged 3 and under. Our thinking was that we wanted to be careful what behaviors/language we exposed our young, impressionable children to.

      Because we do have young children in our family, we are still selective about what hostings we take on, though we've hosted up to age 10 now.

      We didn't guess at the outset how much our children would be asked to give (their parents' time, sharing their toys, patience, free time, even their beds and clothes on some occasions.) However, I have no regrets on their accounts.

      Entitlement is rampant among the rising generation in America and I can't think of a better antidote for it than using what you have to serve and love people in difficult circumstances. But again, this seems to come so much easier to my children than to me. They just don't have the same hangups adults struggle with. Their authenticity in accepting people right where they are inspires me.

      Anyone curious about something I can answer? I didn't mention this in the intro, but I had actually read a blog about someone else's experience with Safe Families, which planted the seed for my own involvement a few years prior to hearing about it in person. So I'm happy to talk about it! :)

    • Anyone curious about something I can answer?

      I think what you and your family have done is amazing. Truly a gift to those families who need a loving safe space for their children. How long do the children typically stay with you? And what’s their reaction when they find out that your family homeschools?

    • Great questions. I'll start with the first, regarding length of stay.

      When a hosting need comes up, I get either an email (or a personal phone call if the coordinator thinks it's an especially good fit). It details the ages/genders of the kids and an estimate about the timeline.

      It may be a request for day respite, which I've helped with before. It may just be an overnight stay, which I've also done. Sometimes it's a 2-6 week time frame, and occasionally it's more. Here are four recent needs in our local community.

      - 1 day/week care for a terminally ill baby whose mom needed respite.

      - ~2 month care for a pregnant teen who was on the wait list for a local facility that specializes in helping girls in her situation but was currently full.

      - 3 children who needed care for ~6 weeks while their mom exited a domestic violence situation and found a job and an apartment.

      - 2 children who needed care for 3 days while their parent had in-patient surgery

      I consider our family's situation and schedule (planned trips, etc.) before committing.

      For the first situation above, I thought of a friend who might be interested and she was! After the background checks she brought that sweet girl in her home once a week until the medical needs grew too complex just this last week.

      For the second situation, I asked for more details but found the need was filled by someone else. Hooray! For the third and fourth situations, they weren't feasible for us to help at the time, and there's zero pressure from Safe Families to do so. They trust that people will step up as they can, and it's wonderful to watch it happen.

    • Entitlement is rampant among the rising generation in America and I can't think of a better antidote for it than using what you have to serve and love people in difficult circumstances.

      I don't know if you talk about this in your home schooling groups, but I couldn't help reading various analyses of why Dutch children rank so high in UNICEF's happiness index (1st) and American children so low (26th). In the essays and book reviews about it the thing that always seemed to come up was entitlement. The Dutch seem to believe it's one of the top reasons children grow unhappy.

    • Ok, turning this conversation into action:

      We just received another ask to host a pregnant teenager. As we consider accepting her into our home in the near future, my heart says, "yes" but I realize there is some risk involved here, especially given our 4 daughters ages 10 and under. I want to make sure I'm considering this carefully so I don't jump in and then end up in a situation where we can't continue to host her.

      How would you make this decision? What are some concerns I should consider before committing?

      Some that come to mind:

      - Possible theft. We don't have any indication of past history here, but we'll obviously want to put valuables where they wouldn't offer unnecessary temptation.

      - Language. We'll meet her ahead of time and make sure she will agree to our house rules in this regard.

    • What are some concerns I should consider before committing?

      Some years ago I knew a teenage girl who became pregnant in a family with a strong religious tradition. She was afraid to tell her family and embarrassed at the thought of participating at her church and high school.

      I don't know the circumstances of the girl you're considering, it sounds like her background is rougher than the girl I knew. In my case, she needed a safe home with a family that loved and supported her through the birth of her baby and through adoption. There was no worry about theft or language. But giving her care and moral support was a big thing because her world was shattered and having a baby at 16 is quite an emotional journey.

      I would think that if you committed and then it didn't work out and you had to ask her to leave, it would be hard for everyone, so good on you for thinking it through in advance.

    • Thinking of my young grandchild, I think safety would be my biggest concern. I can’t imagine how turned upside down that young woman’s life has become. Acting out without thinking, out of fear, anger or pain is a possibility.

      If it’s a longer term placement than a few days, I would think that the young woman might need you to be emotionally available for her. Maybe a combination of a counselor and mentor is the role she desperately needs of you. You clearly have a compassionate heart, so perhaps the only question is if the time demands are going to be significantly greater compared to a younger aged child.

      I think it’s profoundly beautiful that you’re trying to do this.

      Are there any other concerns that have surfaced since your post?

    • Thanks for this.

      I did request to meet her first so I could get a better feel for her emotional state, though I realize your concern about lashing out in anger could still be a possibility.

      She seems bruised but not broken to me. Like she had been bounced around this past year and been mistreated, but she is ready to settle in and just rest for a bit. She’s trying to finish up her last year of high school and wants to keep her daughter.

      All that to say... she’s moving in today.

    • I'm really glad to hear that you're letting her stay. Girls can end up pregnant for so many reasons and there's so much risk for them when it happens. If your family can be a safe, non-judgemental home for her in a time of crisis, her chances in life are so much better.

    • I loved meeting her yesterday on Facetime. 😍 I went to bed all aglow thinking how lucky she is to have your family to move in with. And it got me thinking, shouldn't we be following your amazing example and doing same? 😲

    • Well, things took a pretty different turn less than two weeks after she moved in. Her little one arrived 5 weeks early! She’s doing well and hopefully will be discharged later this week. 🥰