With all the ways Help One Child has aided at-risk youth over the years, staff and board members could have easily spent several hours of the nonprofit’s 20th-anniversary banquet touting their accomplishments. Instead, they used the spring event to launch another ambitious program.
The Los Altos-based Help One Child announced that it would be the San Francisco Peninsula hub of Safe Families for Children, a national movement designed to deflect children from foster care. An alternative to child welfare custody, the program provides a safety net for families in crisis that have nowhere else to turn by offering their children a temporary place to live.
“It’s a very natural extension of what we already do,” said Susan Herman, Help One Child’s executive director. “We are already recruiting families to open their homes to at-risk youth. We are already supporting those families who have adopted or opened their home to these children.”
Serving Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, Help One Child assists at-risk children in and out of the foster-care system by recruiting, training and supporting those willing to house or otherwise help them. When the faith-based organization asked people attending the banquet to champion Safe Families for Children at their churches, Herman said they did so enthusiastically. The next step was to work with the churches and the counties to create referral networks.
“If you’re a single mom who has lost your job and there’s no room at a shelter for you and your children, you can come to Help One Child as a sponsor of the Safe Families for Children program for help,” she said. “We will find a family supported by their church that will open their home for no compensation and care for those children until the parent or parents are able to complete their endeavor, whatever it might be. Maybe somebody has to go to alcohol or drug rehab, or maybe there’s some short-term criminal sentence that needs to be completed.”
The program offers what Herman called “nonresidential placement” as well.
“Sometimes a family needs extended help – taking their child to school early in the morning or making them dinner – and those kinds of connections have been made,” she said.
Over the summer, Help One Child connected volunteers with 11-year-old Alex.
“His father just needed some extra help that normally a family member would provide, but he was alone – the mom was no longer in the picture,” Herman said. “We must have had 15 people offer to have (Alex) into their homes for dinner. Two people offered to bring him to youth group activities at their church during the week while his dad was working. Someone sent him to camp and we took him to our camp. His summer was filled with people inviting him to join their activities. Every time we saw him, he told us how grateful he was.”
Help One Child recently ramped up its Supper Club program. The staff organizes volunteers to cook meals for youth living in nine group homes and two receiving homes (for emergency placement) throughout the two counties.