Tom Csora was ministering to at-risk youth in Chicago when a teen was caught stealing money from his church basketball team. When confronted, the young man explained that his grandma, who had been his primary caregiver, died and left him in the care of his mentally ill aunt. Since his grandma was no longer around to deliver the aunt’s medication, her illness was left untreated, and she would hit her nephew with a baseball bat. The teen decided he would be safer on the streets. Csora tried to help the young man, but was frustrated with the broken system and lack of available resources for families in crisis. It was then that he learned about Safe Families for Children, a faith-based organization “ministering God’s love to families in need.”
In 2007, Csora, a native Ohioan, began working for the Chicago-based Safe Families. In 2013, his mother-in-law, who lived in Cleveland, developed brain cancer, and he and his wife decided to move closer to care for her. He also saw this as an opportunity to expand Safe Families and spearheaded the new chapter in Cleveland. Csora, who is the regional director for both the Cleveland and Pittsburgh chapters, now lives in Lakewood with his wife and four children.
How does Safe Families work? Imagine your family is in crisis. You are a single mother of two children, a 5-year-old and a newborn. You are suffering from postpartum depression and cannot take care of yourself, let alone your children. You recognize that you need help. Who do you turn to?
Many of us have resources for such situations. We call relatives or friends, and they will come to our aid. But for some, particularly those living in poverty or social isolation, there is no one to call in times of crisis. Because of this, the children may suffer from abuse or neglect and are sometimes taken from their home and placed in foster care.
Founded in Chicago in 2003, the mission of Safe Families is to surround families in crisis with a caring community, keeping children safe and out of foster care. Chapters are now in 70 cities across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and beyond. Examples of “crisis” situations include incarceration, substance abuse, mental health treatment, unemployment and hospitalization. Parents in these situations can call Safe Families for help. Local families, who have been thoroughly screened and trained, become hosts for these children. Unlike foster care, the program is completely voluntary, similar to asking a neighbor to watch your children. The families work together for the good of the child, with the goal of reunification. The parents in need contact Safe Families and request care for a certain period of time. For example, a single mother may need two weeks of care for her children while waiting for a child-care voucher. A host family will care for the children for that period of time.
The Cleveland chapter of Safe Families currently has 40 host families who are ready to provide homes for children in need. The organization works with local churches to offer a community of support, which includes making meals for the host family, providing respite or donating money. In its first year of operation (2016-17), the Cleveland branch served 15 families in need and reunified 33 children, providing a total of 353 days of care. Csora says, “All of this is truly amazing when you consider that almost every night last year there was a child in a safe home being nurtured while their parents got the help they needed.”
Csora and his team are reaching out to churches to make Safe Families part of their ministries. They are growing slowly and intentionally in order to provide the best care for families in crisis. They are hoping to double their volunteer and church base in 2018.
- Become a host family: Provide a safe and loving home for children during times of crisis.
- Be a family friend: Provide support for host families by offering respite, home-cooked meals and babysitting services.
- Serve as a family coach: Support the host family and help families in crisis get back on their feet.
- Become a resource friend: Donate goods and services to host families, such as gently used equipment, children’s clothes, day care services, etc.
- Make your church a Safe Families church: Encourage your church to make Safe Families one of their ministries.