LANSING, Mich. — The state Senate passed a package of bills on Thursday that would allow parents to place children with a safe family for a short period of time while the parents are away, said Sen. Mike Shirkey, co-sponsor of two of the bills.
“Safe Families is a proven, effective program in which families provide free help to parents who are in severe need of someone to care for their children,” said Shirkey, R-Clarklake. “These bills will help ensure these arrangements can continue.”
The legislation would enable parents to work with a nonprofit family service agency to find a host family that they could leave their children with, for free, for up to 180 days.
Safe Families is a nationwide, nonprofit program begun in 2002 that uses a volunteer network of host families to connect parents in crisis with families willing to open their homes to help children and families in need.
Unlike the national child welfare system, which is designed to get involved only after something has already happened to a family, the Safe Families program allows a parent who knows in advance that they will be away from home for a period of time to place their child in the home of someone they can trust.
The program started operating in west Michigan in 2011. It has since spread throughout the state, including Allegan, Benzie, Charlevoix, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Kalamazoo, Kent, Leelanau, Ottawa, and Wayne counties. Safe Families has several hundred volunteers throughout Michigan that come from many different faith communities.
Under the legislation, a family interested in hosting for the Safe Families program must undergo training provided by the family service agency involved in the placement. The legislation requires the training to be based on a national model for preparing, developing, training, and supporting resource families for the temporary care of minor children.
In addition, the training must include identifying child maltreatment, understanding grief and loss, behavior management strategies, environmental safety, universal precautions and unique, child-specific, needs-based training.
Shirkey said the bills would put a number of checks in place to ensure safety.
“Before becoming a host family, the family service agency must ensure that the Michigan State Police have performed a criminal history check and criminal records check through the FBI on every person living in the potential host home aged 18 or older,” Shirkey said. “The family service agency also must check the state of Michigan’s Internet Criminal History Access Tool for each of the individuals over 18 living in a potential host home.
“On top of that, there are home inspections, reference requirements, financial and safety assessments, periodic inspections and other safeguards in place. Safety is a top priority.”
Shirkey said the bills were introduced in response to concerns over undue government interference in the program.
“As is the case with so many successful private enterprises, some bureaucrats in Lansing seem bent on trying to license these types of arrangements,” Shirkey said. “That would be a mistake that could have a disastrous effect on the program.”
SBs 489, 490, 797 and 798 now head to the state House for further consideration.