New volunteer network to be safety net for kids

Judge Greg Galler
Guest Columnist

“If I had only known, I would have done something.”

How many times has that thought entered your mind as you read or heard about some tragic story of a family being torn apart? Many times it is clear, after the fact, that a relatively simple act of kindness might have averted the entire tragedy. Some wonder why the government’s social services agencies were not involved. However, their ability to act is largely limited to cases where they have been notified that a child is about to fall into immediate peril.

However, something else is being done. There is a new volunteer network being started in Washington County known as Safe Families for Children.  The idea behind it is pretty simple – to help families before they have fallen so far that the government must step in.

It recognizes that there is something that virtually everyone could do to help a family in turmoil.  The help could be as simple as providing a ride to the pediatrician for a young mother and her newborn. Or, it could mean temporarily providing a loving home for children when their parents need time to get their lives straightened out.

I recently attended an informational meeting regarding Safe Families. Representatives of several Washington County social services agencies also attended. We learned that Safe Families began in Chicago in 2002. It currently operates in 25 states with over 11,000 volunteers. In the Twin Cities area it is supported by 30 churches of various denominations. The volunteers not only get personally involved but also tap into existing community efforts by utilizing food and clothing shelves, A.A. meetings, schools and daycares.

Nationwide, most of the referrals to Safe Families come from schools, social workers, hospitals, homeless shelters, and domestic violence centers.  Washington County Social Services plans to refer contact information to those families that they feel could be benefited.

All Safe Families volunteers that come into contact with children are carefully vetted with home visits, references contacted, and criminal background checks completed. Volunteers are then trained to make sure that they are equipped to help families.

Individuals have volunteered in nearly unlimited ways including being a resource for a family to talk to, providing baby-sitting on an occasional or regular basis, advising families how to register for school, providing tutoring, or helping fill out job applications. People with child-care related items that they no longer use have donated them to families who desperately need them.

Many have served as a “host family” taking children into their homes for days or even months until their parents can get back on their feet. Nationwide, Safe Families has made over 8,000 of such hosting arrangements.

The idea is that Safe Families is one piece in the larger child welfare puzzle. Additionally, it is done entirely on a volunteer basis with no public funding. At the meeting I attended a volunteer summarized Safe Families’ mission as being available to help “any child, at any time, for any reason.”

Judge Galler is chambered in Washington County.  Send general questions about the law or courts for Judge Galler to the editor of this newspaper at clint.riese@ecm-inc.com. Learn more about Judge Galler, or listen to a podcast of his columns, at www.judgegreggaller.com.

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