By Charity Carmody, Board President, Beacon Hill
By ensuring parents retain full legal and parental rights, this program allows families to reach out for help without fear.
We believe a large percentage of child abuse is preventable. There is something we can do. According to both national and state statistics, reports of neglect are far more prevalent than physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Neglect makes up 60 percent or more of all reports of harm. Neglect often occurs when parents are in crisis due to homelessness, unemployment, addiction, and most prevalent – social isolation.
By and large, social isolation is the primary cause of child maltreatment. Most of us have someone to call if we need help or are at a breaking point. Unfortunately, many families do not have that support and will resort to placing their children with people they do not know well, leaving them alone, or simply not tending to their needs the way they should. At Beacon Hill, we propose to prevent child abuse by creating a safety net for families in crisis before abuse begins.
Beacon Hill, a current recipient of an Alaska Children’s Trust community-based child abuse and neglect prevention grant, launched this safety net in the form of Safe Families for Children Alaska in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley. Nationally, Safe Families for Children operates in over 75 locations and is in many other countries. Our first volunteers began hosting children in crisis in January of 2016. Since then, Safe Families for Children Alaska has hosted 13 children. These children did not have to go into foster care as a result of being placed with Safe Families.
Safe Families for Children is community-based and volunteer driven. Upon a parent’s call to our helpline the family goes through an intake process to determine if Safe Families is right for their situation. If Safe Families is an appropriate service, the family is matched with a fully trained and certified “host family” in their community.
Prior to being approved to serve, host families undergo all of the state-mandated background checks, training, and receive a home assessment. The decision to place is entirely voluntary on the part of the child’s family.
A trademark of Safe Families is that the parents retain full legal and parental rights throughout the entire placement process. This voluntary nature is key for the success of Safe Families for Children. It first and foremost decreases the likelihood of perpetuated abuse, often seen in the foster care system. Also, by eliminating the parents’ fear of losing their children, it gives the parents a chance to build a trust relationship with the host family, which often grows into a lasting friendship.
As opposed to foster care, Safe Families is intended to prevent abuse or neglect. By dividing a family in crisis, more harm than help can often result. The families supported by the Safe Families program have no current involvement with the Office of Children’s Services (OCS), nor have their problems risen to the level that would require OCS involvement.
Since these families retain full legal parental rights at all times, Safe Families cannot be viewed through the same lens as foster care. At its most basic level, Safe Families creates the type of relationships that naturally exist in families and communities. Safe Families provides these same relationships for individuals and families who lack the strong, stable communities most of us take for granted.
Finally there is a way for families to ask for help and not feel shame. Finally we can give a family a safety net created by their neighbors and not the government. Finally Alaska has a way to prevent child abuse by helping the parents as well as the children.
It’s time to change the way we structure our communities and keep our children safe. To get involved, go to www.beaconhillak.com.
Charity Carmody is the president of Beacon Hill. A local business owner, she first became a foster parent in 1997.