Unlikely families formed through Safe Families program in Chicago

A Chicago-born organization has been keeping children out of the foster care system for 20 years now.

Two unlikely families became one through the program in an unimaginable crisis. A loving family, pieced together, by an incredible challenge.

"Without Safe Families, I'm pretty sure that Theo would probably not even be with me right now because if he was in DCFS custody while I was incarcerated, I know that I would have been a complete and total nightmare," said Ginny Frank, a placing parent.

In and out of the criminal justice system for substance abuse, Frank thought hope was lost when she was weeks away from her due date and incarcerated. Then, someone introduced her to Safe Families for Children.

"When I was in McHenry County Jail, the social worker Marianne had recommended it to me," Frank said.

That's where the Maldonado's come in. For 10 years, they've been a host family. Just days before Theo was born, they agreed to take him in and met Frank at the hospital.

"I know that I can trust them. I have a good feeling about this. I know my son will be safe," Frank said.

Twenty years ago, Safe Families for Children was founded in Chicago. It provides a network of host families who take in children that are at risk of ending up in DCFS custody and foster care.

"A parent in crisis can be referred from a school, it could be a county jail for a short term jail sentence, it could be from a mental health facility," said Jessica Darnell, a Safe Families coach.

For the Maldonado's, the decision to join Safe Families was personal.

"We had just given birth to our son, he caught an infection in the hospital, and he passed away when he was a day old, so we decided we wanted to do something to honor his legacy," said Judy Maldonado, a host mother.

The Maldonado's have cared for five babies in the program. And although it's not typical, they adopted the first, now, their 9-year-old daughter.

"It's easy to love babies, right? It is hard to give them back. But when you know it works for the purpose it’s intended for, it’s so worth it," Judy Maldonado said.

In the last 20 years, Safe Families Greater Chicago chapter has served over 5,000 children. The Maldonado's looked after Theo for 10 months.

"If you can think of a time when someone gave you that unconditional, steadfast love, without any price or strings attached that's really what safe families is about," said Javier Maldonado, a host father.

"My family is so grateful that somebody else was selfless enough to step in and take care of Theo and give him so much love and support. To see him so happy and doing so well and to see me doing well," Frank said.

Safe Families has launched a campaign for their 20th anniversary called Hospitality Heals. If you're interested in giving, becoming a host family or volunteer, go to Safe-Families.org.

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