At a time in life when someone feels isolated, overwhelmed and alone from their normal life, having a friend to talk to or lend a helping hand can be critical. For a single parent or a family that is struggling to get from one day to the next, having someone to reach out to can make all the difference in the world.
One such group that has successfully filled that void throughout the country is looking to expand its operations in Wright County – Safe Families for Children (SFFC).
Amy Peterson, SFFC Community Coordinator in Anoka, Sherburne and Wright counties, said the international organization continues to grow – with chapters in 42 states. A little more than two years ago, SFFC was located in just five counties as part of its Minnesota chapter. By the end of 2021, it will have programs covering 17 counties – expanding its reach to help more people who aren’t in the child welfare system, but are in need of assistance.
“We are an organization that is all volunteer driven,” Peterson said. “We step into the gap where Social Services could step in. No harm or neglect has been identified with a child, but those families are struggling.
“We can step in and offer that support network and community based on what that family needs,” Peterson said. “Sometimes, it’s just simply a single parent who is just overwhelmed and they need family friend to walk alongside them with parenting skills. We help with mental wellness support – sometimes when you’re dealing only with a small child all day there are times you just want to talk to another adult and they don’t have that social network.”
The people that SFFC assists come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are single parents that have become estranged from their families or peer group and feel overwhelmed with the responsibilities of making ends meet with a small child and little in the way of a support system. Some parents are recovering from addiction, but don’t have somewhere for their child to go if they’re going through an outpatient program. If a parent is in an inpatient recovery program, SFFC can provide a host home, where children are loved and cared for while the family deals with its struggle.
What separates SFFC from a lot of organizations is that it takes a big-picture approach to assisting a family – the children as well as the parents.
“The main thing that makes us unique is that Safe Families for Children isn’t simply about keeping the kids safe, it’s also about working with parents to help transform the lives of those parents,” Peterson said. “We ask our parents to get some skin in the game. We do goal-setting to try to mend broken relationships if those parents want to and it is possible. It is really parent-driven in taking the steps to reach those goals.”
Most of the SFFC workload comes from referrals. The group has worked closely with Wright County Health & Human Services, other private community mental wellness programs and even with law enforcement when it is clear that a family is need of help.
Wright County HHS Licensing and Therapeutic Supervisor Christine Treichler said her office has been impressed with the good work SFFC does in the communities it has served throughout the country and felt Wright County would be a good fit for their services as a growth county with a population skewing younger.
“We are really on board with them and the work they do,” Treichler said. “We have worked with them since 2018. Prior to that, the majority of their work was with the metro counties and both Wright and Sherburne counties have been able to pull them in our direction with the idea that it will hopefully get services to families sooner instead of working with the child welfare system. It’s a great opportunity to pull in community members that want to volunteer and help families in need.”
SFFC is looking for community support both in the terms of those volunteering their time and those offering donations. Less than 10 percent of SFFC’s funding comes from the state. Most of its funding comes from donations. Those looking to donate or apply to become volunteer can find that opportunity at www.safe-families.org or by calling the SFFC referral line at (651) 762-2777.
Peterson said she has spoken to almost every community service and faith-based organization in the county and is hoping that there are more people willing to volunteer for the program because there is a need.
“The typical client is the parent or grandparent who is feeling social isolation,” Peterson said. “That social isolation feeds into so many other things. A lot of our mission is to help people overcome the overwhelming. If people feel overwhelmed, they start a downward spiral. We used to tout that we helped families in crisis, but I don’t like the word ‘crisis.’ We want to help people before they get to that point.”
Peterson said that many times it can be a kind word or the willingness to listen that can make the biggest difference in the lives of some at an emotional crossroads. It can often be the little things that can provide the helpful nudge in the right direction to help end isolation and get both parent and child on the right track to starting a new, fulfilling chapter in their lives.
“We want to help people write a better story in their lives,” Peterson said. “If they can find someone to help them on that journey, that’s what they need and hopefully Safe Families for Children can bring about that change and better the lives of children and parents.”