When parents struggle to take care of their children, what are their options?
You’ve probably heard of the foster care system, adoption and homeless shelters, but a relatively new program in Sioux Falls provides a different service.
KELOLAND News introduces you to Safe Families and explains how the Sioux Falls mayor is getting involved.
With three children, two pets and the role of mayor of Sioux Falls, Paul TenHaken and his wife Jill are busy to say the least in this game of life.
“You never feel ready. Sometimes you just have to jump and do it,” Paul said.
This couple is also volunteering their time.
“It’s a little bit hypocritical to say, ‘Sioux Falls we need you to help,’ without stepping up yourself,” Paul said.
The TenHakens are a host family through a program called Safe Families. Families like the TenHakens take in children whose parents are in a crisis.
“What we like about this program is it’s before kids get into the system, the foster care system, and they’re separated from their family. This is a way a parent can say, ‘I need a break. I need help. I don’t want to put my kid in the system yet, but I need someone to help out,'” Paul said.
“As a mom you know how hard it is. You might just need that reprieve,” Jill said.
Safe Families is a faith-based program that launched in Sioux Falls five years ago.
“Everyone is a volunteer with safe families. The host family is a volunteer, and the family that is getting the help is voluntarily placing their children in a host family’s home,” Safe Families Coordinator Tracy Folkerts said.
Folkerts says most hostings last 45 days or less, but a family can take care of a child for up to a year.
“We deal with a variety of crises. It could be homelessness, in-patient drug or alcohol treatment, short-term incarcerations and even emergency hospitalizations,” Folkerts said.
Children can vary in age from newborns to 18 years old. Over the past five years, the program has helped 250 kids in the Sioux Falls area.
“Our main goal is to keep families together. We’re helping families where abuse or neglect are not present. They don’t need their children to go into the foster care system during the crises. They just need a neighbor to step up,” Folkerts said.
The TenHakens specialize in babies who already have a host family, but that host family needs a break.
“At first I thought I had to change all the diapers, so I was bummed. Then they told me I didn’t have to do that, so I was happy,” 13-year-old Jade TenHaken said.
All jokes aside, the TenHakens says they’re seriously thankful for this experience and hope it inspires others to get involved.
“You don’t need to be perfect. Whether you think you’re a perfect mom or dad and you have a perfect family, that’s first of all not reality. Second of all, you can have your faults and still be a safe place for someone in need,” Jill said.
“We don’t need to rely on the government or government programs to help a brother or sister in need. There’s a role we can all play. I think we feel called to help, just like I would like to see all of the citizens of this community help someone else who has a need,” Paul said.
Because sometimes life ends up handing you cards you never expected.
To find out more information about Safe Families, including how to get involved, check out this website.