Everyone needs a little help every once in a while. And that's what drives Christine Burow and her husband, Bill, to take in children who are not their own.
“There's not anybody that has gone through life that doesn't know someone who's had a tough time or fallen on their face,” Christine said. “Most of them are so lucky enough to have friends or family that can help them achieve their goals and get back up on their feet. But what if you don't? What if you don't have all those resources? We are their outlet, we are their help."
She has been that help to 26 kids and counting through a nationwide charity called Safe Families for Children. The 501(c)(3) is a public-private partnership that allows parents to voluntarily surrender their children for days, weeks, or months, to a family who will care for them for free.
Unlike the foster care system, the state does not take custody of the kids: families do. When the parents are back on their feet, the children can return to their loving moms and dads.
Right now, the Burow family, which includes their son, Owen, is home to one-and-a-half-year-old Amelia. She's an impossibly darling toddler who sings, counts and shows you her toes. She calls Bill “daddy,” which melts the grown man’s heart.
“Who’s cute?” He asks Amelia. “Me!” she yells and then beams with delight.
Amelia’s mom is young and single. She is working every shift she can get, so when she's ready, Amelia can come home to a stable situation. She has regular visits with her little one, and Christine is a mentor to her, helping her select work and housing. That is a big part of the Safe Families for Children program.
It does get expensive, and it is not always convenient.
“There's nothing convenient about at 11:00 at night someone showing up and handing you a child and them having to get comfortable before you can even tuck them into bed," Christine said.
She does have a network of moms who share children’s clothing, which allows her to post her needs on Facebook and be able to afford to provide for a child, who may show up at her door with nothing.
“Within 20 minutes, I have five or six responses and within a few days I will have clothes for that child which is significant," she explained.
What is also significant are the success stories that come out of this “it takes a village” approach to helping over-stressed parents in crisis.
Tameeka Taylor is one of the success stories. Her son, Damarius, lived with Christine and Bill for about three months. Her other three kids lived with other safe families. Tameeka is an observably great mother. About a year ago, she escaped a domestic violence situation and became homeless. She was living between shelters and her truck for a year. Her address changed three times. She remembers the feeling of despair well.
She said her challenges were being homeless and just trying to find where her next meal was going to be for her kids.
With Safe Families, she got exactly what she needed: time.
“They came in just like a second family to me and my kids, they showed them so much love. They made sure to kill all of that skepticism and just overpowered it with love and support. And they haven't stopped, they've been there,” Tameeka said.
The bonds that formed during that three-month period are still evident today. Within three months, Tameeka had a job, a home and all four kids came back to live with her. It was a miracle she didn’t see coming.
“So much support that it allowed me to be able to work. I did find work within a couple of weeks of the kids being gone. I was able to work. They would even help get me an Uber so I can get to and from work some days.”
Her eyes swell up with tears, remembering what that meant, at the time.
"It could have been so much worse," she said, choking back tears. “They have the help I was needing.”
Her goal in sharing the story is to let other parents who are in over their heads know it is okay to ask for help, and that help exists.
“Reach out to Safe Families, they can definitely help you. I love those families. It felt like magic. It felt really, really good, I'm so happy. Looking back over what I went through and where I am now. I couldn't imagine it, I couldn't imagine it this good. I didn't see it coming but it came,” Tameeka said.
It sure did. Right on time.
For more information, visit Safe Families for Children of Tampa Bay.
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