September 7, 2022 // Diocese

Building Support Systems for Families in Need

The overturning of Roe V. Wade has brought greater attention to the fact that many families desperately need support, whether it’s because they are facing an unplanned pregnancy or hardships such as food insecurity, housing, financial crisis, or severe illness. What’s more, they need social support. Parents know all too well the stressors of everyday life when it comes to child rearing, and one thing they lack most is social support, whether it’s from family, friends, or another person they know they can trust and rely on. In an article published in UCA Health, it was found that “Social support … entails many things, including help with tasks or material assistance, but also emotional support, including acceptance, listening, and making someone feel cared for and valued.”

As children of God, Christians are called upon to help those less fortunate, and those that need help the most right now are the smallest and most vulnerable within the local community. They need help to have the best start in life, and it begins in the womb. Stress is a major factor during pregnancy, whether it’s planned or unplanned. 

Research has shown that stress “ … [can lead] to adverse pregnancy outcomes such as low birth weight, preterm delivery, or miscarriage.” 

Provided by Paige Wilkins
Healthier Moms and Babies provides programming such as counseling and education to low-income and minority families in the Fort Wayne-area.

How can individuals help to reduce the stress and burdens of pregnant mothers and give their babies the best start to life? The U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) instituted the “Walking With Moms in Need” campaign two years ago to promote resources so that Catholics know how to support these families, and can point them in the right direction during times of need.

Healthier Moms and Babies of Fort Wayne, whose mission is to reduce the infant mortality rate, provides a wide variety of programs to assist low-income and minority families, which are the most vulnerable to infant mortality and maternal death. They provide education and in-home counseling for mothers and fathers while also building a support circle for them. Paige Wilkins, Director of the organization, shared that many women come to them with unplanned pregnancies and are facing many hardships in their life and experiencing a lack of confidence in their abilities to be a mother. 

“We really try to take care of their initial needs to get them stable while building that healthy relationship. Once we get the moms to feel empowered and know they can count on us for support, they can kind of start building their confidence and then take the education that we provide them and make some life-impacting changes.” 

The CDC announced in 2020 that the average mortality rate in the United States was 5.4 deaths per 1,000 live births, with Indiana sitting in the top tier at 6.5. According to Wilkins, this can be combated through more education. “The education that we provide really says something about what our families are learning, and it’s very evident because our preterm rate of the population we’re serving, which is the community’s most at-risk pregnant women … Allen county’s preterm rate is about 12 percent and ours is 7 percent. So we’re half of what the county is.”

Provided by Josh Frey
Safe Families for Children provides care for parents who find themselves in a crisis situation and need to place their children temporarily with a host family while they work through their difficulties to bring their children back to a safe, loving home.

Other than lack of education, food insecurity is another concern at the top of the list of risk factors families face, especially those with young children. WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) is a federal program administered at the state level that provides nutritional foods for pregnant and nursing women, infants, and children up to 5 years old. This free program aims to help families obtain the sustenance they need to thrive. Not only does it provide food, but also educational programs such as nutritional counseling, breastfeeding support, loaning breast pumps, a support group, and a 24-hour support line. WIC workers can even help breastfeeding moms to obtain breast pumps they can keep. 

“Many people think that they don’t qualify for this assistance, but that’s not true. Some think that others need it more than them. I want them to know that’s not how our program works. If you think you don’t qualify, you actually might,” said Tiann Aughinbaugh, WIC Director for Allen, Noble, and DeKalb counties.

Another organization that spans nationally is Safe Families for Children. Their mission is to prevent child abuse and neglect. “We get referrals from a mix of places like parents just finding us on their own and sometimes DCS caseworkers who want to provide some support to a family without bringing kids into foster care. Our goal is to always reunite the children with their biological family,” said Josh Frey, Director of the Fort Wayne chapter. 

The program focuses on helping families in crisis. It is structured differently than any other program. Its aim is to build a support system for families who may not have any close family or friends they can turn to in times of need, such as when a parent experiences a financial crisis or a long-term illness/recovery period. Safe Families literally does what its name says: provides a safe, temporary home for these children. “The parents we help love their kids and they’re honestly just really scared that they might lose their kids. And I think that’s a nightmare scenario for any parent. Our family coaches will kind of work with them, help them navigate their options, and build a plan that will help them reach the point of reunification as quickly as possible.” said Frey.

All host families who take children in on a short-term basis are volunteers trained to deal with a variety of situations. The “placing families,” the parents in need, are able to keep an open line of communication with their child or children while they take care of the situation at hand in order to bring them home to a safe and loving environment. All families who come to the program place their kids with a carefully vetted host family voluntarily.

So many families are unfamiliar with the abundance of resources out there to help them in their time of need. Building encouraging relationships with others prevents adverse outcomes and connects them to resources that can put them on the right path for them and their families. Relationships are the foundation to success. This is the goal of the USCCB’s Walking With Moms in Need campaign.

The Healthier Moms and Babies program is in need of volunteers for their campaign to distribute free diapers. They can be reached at 260-469-4076. The Safe Families program is also in need of partners to provide more resources for families in need of assistance. They can be reached through their website:

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