In the meantime, the Safe Families support team delivered groceries to the family, and friends brought them pizza, masks, and vitamin C supplements. Lisa and Dan had both felt physically run-down and kept thinking they were getting sick, but they never did.
“It is not one isolated family helping another isolated family,” said Lisa. “It is the entire church wrapping around families in need and creating a sense of community and support for both the hosted and the hosters.”
Ten days into their stay, when the teens could come out of isolation, they all had a big celebratory breakfast together with pancakes, eggs, bacon, and fruit salad. Then the kids all went outside and played soccer and basketball together, and that night they had a big bonfire. Lisa said the teens were “outstanding people and fun to be with.” While around the fire, Lisa texted a picture to the teens’ mom, still hospitalized, who sent her first text back to Lisa, asking for prayer for her health. Sitting there around the fire, Lisa asked if they could all pray for the mom right then.
“I made it clear, ‘It’s OK if you don’t want to,’” she said. “They all did. Every single one of them offered a word to lift her up in prayer.”
The teens’ mom was in serious condition when she went into the hospital, but she turned a corner and after three weeks went home. When CPS confirmed that she seemed well enough to take the children, Lisa and her daughters drove the teens to their mom’s apartment. The Wellses brought her Gerbera daisies. The mom and teens each wrote a thank-you card. They talked about spending time together later in the summer. The Wellses are now what Safe Families calls a “family friend,” so if the family needs groceries or other support, they can reach out to Safe Families and the Wellses can help.
NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY—both centers of the national coronaviurs outbreak—do not allow Safe Families to help when kids need emergency hosting.
“There’s no category for us in New York state law,” said Laura Galt, who heads Safe Families in New York City, where currently volunteers can serve as “family friends” but can’t do overnight hosting. New York only allows hosting via licensed foster care agencies, with everything going through the same process as a foster case. That defeats the purpose of Safe Families as an in-between prevention model.
Since the pandemic lockdown in mid-March, Safe Families of New York City has had 11 requests for hosting, even though the organization has no referral mechanism and its website says that it does not offer hosting in the state. Most of the requests came from mothers about to give birth who needed someone to watch their children. I asked Galt whether she had found out what happened to the New York moms who had asked for help: “I don’t want to know,” she said.
Usually Safe Families NYC refers moms in those situations to a crisis nursery, but the nursery wasn’t taking new children because of the pandemic. One mom already connected to Safe Families needed an elective surgery, but she has five children and was delaying the surgery until someone could host her children.
There’s good news: The New York Foundling is one of the city’s largest foster care providers. CEO Bill Baccaglini said the group still has available foster homes even in the pandemic, and none of the organization’s foster parents requested children’s removal because of COVID-19. He also noted that New York’s admissions for foster care have been trending down, which he attributes to a focus on preventive services, like New York Foundling and Safe Families.
“We haven’t seen this few kids in foster care in New York City since the early ’70s,” said Baccaglini. But he added: “We’re very nervous about, at the other end of this, what happens to abuse and neglect reports. … What does the system look like a few months after the pandemic?”