A national program that lets struggling parents place kids with temporary host families launched a chapter in Homer on Monday. Safe Families for Children aims to prevent parental abuse and neglect by giving parents a support system. Alivia Erikson is the head of the local chapter, which is hosted by Church on the Rock Homer.
“We have such a supportive community but there are still individuals who are new to town or don't have those relationships that they can turn to and the goal is to give people that community,” she said.
Emergencies can leave families that lack social support with few options. Someone who might use this service could be a "single parent who doesn't have safe relationships or many other people in town and they have a medical emergency and they need their children to stay with somebody safe," Erickson said.
Struggling families can now call a 24-hour hotline to see if someone else can take over parenting responsibilities. Time kids stay with a host family can range from as short as just one night and as long as a few months. Another volunteer, called a family coach checks in with everyone periodically. And unlike in foster care, parents maintain their legal rights.
“As soon as the parents are ready for their kids to come back into their care, then the kids go right back to the parents, no questions asked,” Erickson said.
In Alaska, Safe Families partners with the social service organization Beacon Hill which helps sustain and train volunteers. Local churches also play a part by sponsoring the program and by recruiting and supporting host families. Erikson works with the Church on the Rock Homer. But she says you don’t have to be religious or a church goer to get involved.
As of now, the Homer chapter has five families ready to host. They’ve each been through training and extensive background checks. Erikson said it’s clear that people in the community are interested in their services.
“Since we started we get a call almost every month or every other month, even though people know we weren't launched yet, asking about different potential situations that maybe Safe Families could help with in the future,” she said. “So there definitely is a need.”
Erikson said Safe Families for Children isn’t right for everyone. For instance, the nonprofit can’t take kids if there are allegations of parental abuse. But Erickson hopes people feel comfortable enough to call the hotline to see if they can get help. The number is 907-277-0925 and the chapter also has Facebook page.