Safe Families and Foster Care: Which is Best?

“Why aren’t you doing Safe Families instead of foster care?”   This is a question that is often posed to me as a Christian foster parent.  I am always open to questions, and happy to share my reasoning.  Something I do not like about this question though, is that the wording seems to imply that it is better to be a Safe Family than a foster family.  It brings to mind Russell Moore’s statement that, “The people of God, it seems to me, are perpetually pulled toward replacing a ‘both/and’ ethic with an ‘either/or.’”  This has been on my mind a lot lately, so I wanted to express my thoughts on the matter.

To clarify, Safe Families and foster care are two very different and separate institutions, with some areas of definite overlap.     

Safe Families is an amazing, church-based “movement”, that serves whole families, and has a high success rate at keeping these families together.  Safe Families does an excellent job involving multiple people and resources to help families through crises.  Safe Families is a voluntary placement organization, which means that the parents place their children in another home by their own choice.  Safe Families is self described as “before” care, meaning they are trying to be a preventative measure before “bad things” happen to a child, essentially preventing the need for the involvement of foster care/the government.            

Foster care is a government institution.  Foster care is designed to protect children who have experienced abuse or neglect, or whose parents are otherwise unable to care for them (e.g. hospitalization, incarceration).  So, while Safe Families might be described as “before” the bad happens, foster care is for “after” the bad happens.  Foster care placements are most often not voluntary.  They are often the result of the law intervening in families where the law is being broken.  Sometimes foster care results in reunification of the family, other times it results in the parental rights being terminated, whether voluntary or involuntary.  Foster care also often employs resources and programs to try to help reunify the family.

While both organizations have a goal of protecting children, they differ from each other in many ways.  I weep that we need either of them, but the heart-wrenching truth is, we need BOTH of them, and we need the Christian community to be involved in BOTH of them.  It would be devastating if every Christian foster parent left the foster care system and moved to Safe Families, just as it would be devastating if the reverse was to happen.  Children need to be cared for both before and after trauma.  Is the foster care system broken?  Absolutely.  As is Safe Families.  As am I.  As are you.  We live in a broken world, and, when I see children harmed in the fallout of this, I cry and pray, “How long, oh Lord, how long?”  

In answer to the initial question, my husband and I believe that we are called by God to be foster parents.  We desire to be a safe “after” haven for children who have experienced tragedy.  We desire to help these children reunite with their families when that is possible.  We are open to potentially adopting some of these children when reunification is not possible or safe.  We also love Safe Families and everything they represent.  We have friends who have placed their children in Safe Families, and we have seen many families stay together because of the beautiful mission of this organization.   We may very well be led to join Safe Families someday.  But, for today, we are foster parents, to the glory of God.