"Safe Families" Help Others Get Back on Track

When CBS News Anchor Katie Couric first met Lawrie and Isabel last year,they told their heartbreaking story through drawings. They showed pictures of a life on the streets of Chicago, riding trains all night long after their parents lost their job, their home, and struggled with health issues.

One year later Couric went back to Chicago to see the girls, now 11 and 6 years old. Things are good, thanks to Toby and Cassie Eng, who first opened their home and their hearts to the girls two and a half years ago.

"It's really fun to see their personalities come out more and more," Cassie Eng said.

The Engs are part of "Safe Families,"a growing network of volunteer families in 25 cities who are taking in kids, temporarily, while their parents get back on their feet. Parents can visit or spend the night with their children anytime. The program gives them the freedom they need to get their lives back in order.

"Some of them are on the front door of foster care," said Safe Families founder Dave Anderson. "If we weren't there, they might have gone into the system."

Since we first told you about this program last year, the number of children in these temporary homes has nearly tripled, from 1,000 to 3,000.

Lawrie said life's been "fun" living with the Eng family. "It's been fun thinking that I have two sets of parents," she said. But she still misses her mom and dad.

Today, Lawrie expresses those feelings through her poetry. One's called, "Everything."

"Everything started here, everything belonged here," she read aloud. "Everything that I've ever remembered, but now it's all gone, where did everything go? Because that everything that I ever remembered, it just washed away with the rain."

Lawrie said "everything" was with her parents in the beginning, and now it's all "gone."

CBS Reports: Children of the Recession

Being separated from your family is traumatic, but Malik, a boy we met last year, believed it would be for the best. Now, Malik is back with his family. His mother LaTonya is now planning to go back to school to help provide for her children - something she says she can do because of Safe Families.

"Every last one of the families has been helpful to me and my children," said LaTonya Carter.

Malik said Safe Families helps his mom by working on a budget for food and rent.

That approach is embraced by churches throughout the country, especially in places like Santa Ana, Calif., where budget cuts have left families in crisis with not much of a safety net.

Nineteen-year-old Mary Roehl was living on the streets for months with her infant son, Ariel. She's now about to give him to Dawn and Steve Leavitt for the time being.

"I'll miss his smile and his laugh," Roehl said. "That's what I think I'll miss the most."

Roehl's now enrolled in a job training program, and needs to concentrate on that full time.

"I wish I wasn't in the position I'm in right now to have to do this," she said. "But I know it is the best thing for him."

"It's all for him," Dawn Leavitt told Roehl. "You've got to take care of yourself so you could take care of him."

Her husband Steve agrees. "It's all about mending the family and getting to a good spot so they can be with their child again."

That, in essence, is the mantra of Safe Families.

Organizations Helping At-Risk Kids
Olive Crest, Homes and Services for Abused Children
Lydia Home Association
Bethany, Christian Services
Strengthening Families, Illinois