Martin Dickson
Safe Families

Some years ago I met a little girl called Zoe. When Zoe’s loving parents suffered a family crisis the situation began to have a significant impact on them all. Lacking the means and friendships to cope, Mum began to suffer with anxiety, Dad began to drink increasingly and Zoe’s wellbeing was compromised. Zoe was eventually placed in foster care.

In a meeting shortly after Zoe was placed in to care her social worker said something that would have a profound impact on me. “This happens time and time again” she said, “we didn’t need to be here. If only somebody could have been there for them, at the point of crisis, then none of this would have happened. We see this every single day.”

I was frustrated and upset to hear this, because I know there are people who could have been there for them; indeed, would have been delighted to be there for them if somebody had just made the connection.

Who are these everyday heroes in the waiting? They are the church!

I have spent 15 years working with churches who long to connect to families likes Zoe’s but until recently have struggled to do so. These churches have longed to offer hope and belonging to all, but their legitimate concerns around safeguarding and the necessary investment of time and money held them back. But no longer. With support from Safe Families over 1,000 churches across the UK and 4,500 ordinary church members have now supported 4,900 families and 11,500 children.

Jean's story
Jean is a great example of how the Safe Families model works for everybody. Jean is a 50-something matriarch with a keen wit and what might be described as a brash, no nonsense approach to life. In days gone by Jean's own family had hit a financial crisis and without the support they needed Jean had turned to petty criminality to make ends meet. Eventually she was caught and served a custodial sentence. Her life was totally transformed when she met Jesus and joined her local church.

Now, 15 years on, she was the archetypal rough diamond with a massive heart to help others avoid the mistakes she had made; bristling with potential, but held back by her sense that nobody would want her help. Jean signed up to hear more about Safe Families and then, with the backing of her church leader, she took her first tentative steps towards volunteering to support a local family.

Her friends in church watched with pride as Jean progressed through the various volunteer approval stages, and celebrated with her as she was approved. She began to support her first family a few weeks later and of course she did a fantastic job supporting a single mum who was struggling.

Jean's example ignited something special in the church. Mission suddenly seemed possible, perhaps even enjoyable and there was a sense that if Jean could do it, why couldn’t they?

Jean's small church has now supported 25 families and the impact has been profound, on the families and their children, on those who became volunteers, and on the church with a fresh passion for all manner of missional activities. 

How it works
Safe Families’ heart is to see the church in the UK making the very most of every opportunity to offer belonging, to see a church that understands and responds to the call to love the vulnerable, offer hospitality and build community. We start by building genuine relationships with churches. This deepening relationship is essential because the heart of the organisation is to first recognise the wonderful things churches are doing in their communities and then add value where they can. We then work with churches in a number of ways:

  • Providing resources and speakers who can highlight the problems caused by loneliness and isolation; making it real and personal to the church’s own community.
  • Directly working with churches and their leaders to encourage church members to recognise the skills and gifts they already have which can be used to meet the needs of those in their community.
  • Offering a safe and effective ‘Three ways to respond’ model through which the church and its members can make a genuine measurable impact with Safe Families' support by volunteering to support families, giving, praying, or a combination of all three.
  • Connecting churches to families who need support through Safe Families’ partnership relationships with Local Authorities.

If this sounds like something you or your church would like to be involved in or to find out more about Safe Families please visit our website at or call 0333 4141488.

Martin Dickson is Director Church Relationships at Safe Families and has strategic oversight of their work with over 1000 UK churches.


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