I’m Dr. Janet Cockrum, director of Safe Families for Children (SFFC) in East Tennessee, a CSPC missions partner. God led me to start a local chapter of this national ministry 13 years ago. Think about something for a moment: Who would you call in a crisis? Most of us can probably think of someone pretty quickly; generally friends or family willing to be reliable, safe sources of support. But what about when families have no one to call in a crisis to keep their kids safe? That’s where SFFC steps in- we become the support for families with children. The Knox County DA recently reported there were 7800 calls to the county’s child abuse hotline in just one year! These are calls for help to prevent child abuse and neglect. Homelessness, unemployment, addiction, illness, and mental health are some of the main factors that put children at risk. Broken families and generational poverty often result, leaving young moms vulnerable to losing their kids as they struggle with isolation and limited resources. SFFC is here to keep kids safe before there’s a call to the hotline. SFFC works to connect young moms in crisis to community resources, especially the resource of church families who will open their homes to host children and give the mom the time she needs to work through her situation. We’re NOT a foster care or adoption service- no one gets paid to host a child. In fact, we work to keep kids out of state custody and strengthen families- the goal is always to reunite parents and kids as soon as possible. The parents maintain full custody of their kids and can request their return at any time. Our return rate is 95 percent. Over 13 years, SFFC has hosted almost 2,000 children in East Tennessee, providing over 15,000 nights of respite and help for families. With the help of our church partners, we’re providing a circle of support – bringing new hope and encouragement to struggling moms.
For six years, SFFC has been allowed to go into a local residential drug rehab program. We lead a devotional Bible study and develop relationships with the young pregnant and new mothers who live there. They have lives of brokenness, pain, and longings- and we’re thankful they’re so open to studying the Bible and being vulnerable with us about their lives. I’ve seen God working through one mom in particular lately- she came to our study every week but seemed like an empty shell; she didn’t talk or engage with us. Then one night, she shocked me by asking to talk with me about a need she was facing. That opened the door to conversations over the next few weeks about how to help her. Eventually she shared her story of being sex trafficked when she was just 13- she told me all the horrible things abusers did to her. She was shot up with heroin, beginning a journey of brokenness and addiction. My heart broke as I heard her story. I knew I hadn’t loved her well, but now I instantly felt compassion and love for her. I was reminded that every mom we serve has a story- I need to be a safe place for them to share those, then see how God is leading me to engage. This young woman has become one of the moms with whom I’m walking through life now. This week we bought comfortable shoes for her 12-hour factory job. We went through a drive-through for a smoothie to celebrate her new job and the steps she’s taking toward a better life for herself and her baby girl. SFFC blesses families who need help through crises, but it also deeply blesses and impacts the families and staff who open their hearts and homes to these families. One of the biggest joys of my job is seeing God use families to serve and love those who feel isolated and need to know they’re not alone. A lot of SFFC volunteers develop long term relationships with the children and the parent they helped. Reducing social isolation is a key factor in strengthening families and keeping kids safe.
Our biggest prayer need is that God brings more mentors for the women we serve. And when I say ‘mentor’, I just mean a friend. Most of the women we work with come from broken families, so having someone to lean on is very important. You’re a role model by the ways you listen, love, and show up when you say you’re going to show up. Mentoring could also look like someone who loves on the moms’ kids, takes them to McDonald’s, and hangs out at the park with them. It’s befriending these women and walking through life. So that’s a huge need you can pray for. But there are others. We’re always looking for people who might want to come in and lead a short lesson for the devotional Bible study we do. And of course, we always need more host families. You’d be a good fit if you’re a person of compassion who doesn’t mind working with broken people. We particularly need families who will take children who are a little bit older. One example of how you might be able to serve: I just got a call the other day from a mom who’s having hip surgery. She needs someone to watch her 2-year-old and her 12-year-old while she has the surgery and recovers. People who are empty nesters would be a great fit for situations like that -they’d host these kids for a few days to two weeks, probably. Thanks for praying the Lord brings volunteers to meet these needs, and for even prayerfully considering if that volunteer might be you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to if you’d like to talk about participating in any of these ways. If you want to join our team – we have a place for you!