Sunday's story about the new Safe Families program, which shelters children whose parents are temporarily unable to care for them, drew criticism from Richard Wexler and his National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.
Wexler opposes the frequency with which Minnesota and other states place children in foster care due to allegations of parental abuse or neglect. While Safe Families is voluntary -- parents in crisis willingly place their kids with the program's families -- Wexler called it "sugar-coated foster care." The parents who give their children to Safe Families often are impoverished and have no other choice, he said.
Among other things, Wexler is concerned about the psychological trauma that children suffer when removed from their parents, even on a voluntary basis. Children can also become detached from parents once removed, making it harder for them to reunite successfully.
Bethany Christian Services, which operates the local Safe Families program, would be better off investing in services that keep families stable and together through crisis, Wexler argued. "(Safe Families) is entirely at odds with real family preservation, in which the actual concrete help a family needs to avoid having to give up their children at all is brought into the home."
I pressed Wexler on whether he would ever see Safe Families as appropriate. After all, the program is available for numerous circumstances. Parents have sought out Safe Families because they were jailed, or confined to hospitals for cancer care or psychiatric treatment, or because they were leaving abusive spouses and needed time to find their own housing and employment.
Wexler repeated his view: it would only be appropriate after Bethany first worked on alternatives to help families stay together through crisis situations. Maybe the organization could help search for extended relatives willing to help families, or finance rent subsidies so families could stay together, he said.