August 27, 2011; Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune | Sam, a ten-year old boy from the city, is introduced to life on the farm. It is a welcome respite for his mother, an abuse victim residing in a domestic violence shelter. While looking for a job and permanent housing, she found a temporary shelter and security for her Sam and his two siblings through a volunteer network that helps keep children out of foster care.

Safe Families, part of the Chicago-based Lydia Home Association, has trained and currently supports 27 families throughout Minnesota who open up their homes to children. With crisis nursery beds filled and other options limited, it bridges a gap when families face medical or financial problems, domestic disputes or other issues. The program will be celebrating its first year in Minnesota this September.

“In years past, you would have Grandma or Grandpa or neighbors to help in times of need,” Maridel Sandberg, Safe Families program director, told the Star-Tribune. “Now, isolation is a huge issue.”

Safe Families’ goal is to help keep children out of the foster care system and preserve families. Social workers and child-protection leaders appreciate its services to assist responsible parents seeking short-term shelter for their children. Parents and children are encouraged to communicate with each other daily, keeping the transition as seamless as possible.

Volunteers must go through a background check, home inspection and complete an online training course. They know these children will eventually leave. Sam’s volunteer host hopes that he will look back with memories of happy times on the farm.

As governments continue to slash children’s programs and services throughout the country, Safe Families exemplifies a successful collaboration between volunteer networks, social service agencies and government bureaucracies. And children, caught up in a bad situation, receive a caring touch when they need it the most.—Nancy Knoche