By Amanda Rasinski
In collaboration with four neighboring counties, Morrison County was granted nearly $68,000 of innovation funding through Sourcewell’s initiative to support communities. The funds will go towards Safe Families For Children, a non-profit program that provides support to families through a community of trained volunteers, in an effort to prevent children from entering the child welfare or foster care system.
The Safe Families for Children website describes their work as a “movement fueled by compassion to keep children safe and families intact. Through host families, family friends, and family coaches, we temporarily host children and provide a network of support to families in crisis while they get back on their feet.”
Social Services Director Brad Vold said that in the past the county has used innovation funding for a jail re-entry program and an adult mental health invoice, so this time they wanted to focus on families.
“We continue to evolve and look at different views on what we can do to support our communities using innovation funding from Sourcewell,” he said.
Although Safe Families for Children will run their own operation, Vold said the goal would be for Public Health/Social Services to provide the organization as an option for families in need to create a support network.
“It certainly is paramount to us to have support for families,” he said.
The funding will provide start-up costs for a year, Vold said, to get an office in the five county area, hire staff and network out to the community and recruit volunteers. In early stages, the county will help Safe Families for Children coordinate community meetings to start their outreach.
The five counties (with Morrison) Safe Families will help include: Cass, Crow Wing, Todd and Wadena. The organization is one that has programming that fits under new Families First legislation that the county is implementing.
“So we’re trying to develop programs that are evidence based or that are well supported based on criteria that the federal government uses and safe families is one program building towards that,” Vold said
A challenge in working with families is building community support networks that can dedicate extended time to a family, so Safe Families will alleviate that as well, he said.
Lisa Welter, the state director for Safe Families, said the organization is working to grow county by county, and has 120 chapters in 40 states, as well as offices abroad.
“We have the ability to work with families who are having hard times and our role alongside the county is to catch families as far upstream as possible to prevent them from entering the child welfare system,” Welter said.
Nearly 100% of the parents or caregivers who reach out to Safe Families do not have extended family support, she said, and that’s one thing they try to provide through community connection to volunteers and other families to build a network of support.
“The goal is to be community driven,” she said. “It’s really beautiful to see how we can keep families in tact and do it through the local community.”
Volunteers can provide an array of services, but one area is to provide a temporary home to a child with a family in need of relief, Welter said. All volunteers are thoroughly background checked and trained before providing services to families.
The homes for children is an alternative to the child welfare or foster care system, a place where many kids can go if their parents lack support.
Safe Families is working to bring the “old days’ notion of neighbors knowing and looking out for each other and their families, Welter said. Supportive networks play a substantial role in keeping families together.
Sometimes families are dealing with homelessness, a single mom needs supplies or resources for her kids, a parent has a medical incident or an overwhelmed caregiver is seeking relief for an afternoon and needs someone to take their child to the park so they can rest, Welter said. Connecting families to resources and supports as well as possibly lifelong family networks is essential to Safe Families’ mission.
“We do family coaching. We are really inviting parents, offering extended family relationships for parents that are calling us,” she said.
Another goal, Welter said, is to establish healthy connections and help on a two generation approach, with parent and child.
“We can customize our approach with every single parent that calls and customize what that support is,” she said. “We want to help them feel like we’re just regular people trying to help regular people.”
Both Vold and Welter said it will likely be upwards of nine months before the office is open for referrals, at which time more details on service access will be available.
Safe Families is currently in the hiring process for staff and recruiting for volunteers. Welter said volunteers with various experiences are welcome and staff will help find the best fit for each person. Anyone interested can visit safe-families.org/involvement or contact min firstname.lastname@example.org.