I will never forget the day I was driving down Main Street in my town, just blocks from home, when I saw what looked like every police and emergency vehicle in the county packed around an old house with a rundown shed in back. Even as I drove by, I got this sick feeling in my gut…like my spirit knew something unbearably awful had happened. It was confirmed later when news stations reported that a 6-year-old boy’s body had been found in the shed behind the house. Employees of a nearby business reported seeing police officers coming out of the shed throwing up because the scene was so sickening.

Our entire town was devastated, and in the days and weeks that followed, everyone wanted to know, how could this have happened? The obvious answer was that the roommate of the boy’s grandfather was a convicted sex offender (who is now serving a life sentence without parole). The less obvious answer was that the boy was fatherless. His mother, a single mom, let him spend the night with his grandfather, probably so she could have a break.

As devastating as this is, what is even more alarming is that it is not an isolated incident. Stories like this are happening daily all over this country. In the 2010 National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (published by the Office of Planning Research and Evaluation of the Administration for Children and Families), results showed that children in single parent families experienced the highest rate of abuse and neglect. In homes where a single mother is cohabiting with a partner who is not the child’s biological father, the child was ten times more likely (than in a traditional two-parent home) to experience abuse. And while child abuse and neglect overall were “significantly” down, in single-parent households they had increased since 1996.

I can assure you these statistics are accurate…possibly even conservative. A little over a year ago I sat in a circle of teenage moms at a retreat and listened to story after story of how they had been raped, abused, exposed to pornography, abandoned, and so many other unthinkable things. In every case, the girl’s biological father was absent from the home. Another single mom shared a story with me where she and both of her sisters were sexually abused during their childhood from uncles, boyfriends, or others they had been left with while their mother was away working long hours.

Before I go any further, I have to say that my intention is not to make single moms feel any more guilt or fear than they already do. We have all been in a bind or found ourselves in situations where we had to leave our kids with someone we didn’t fully know or trust because we simply had no other choice. I know what it’s like to have no family around to help, no money to pay a babysitter and no other viable options when your job (and only household income) is on the line.

We all know that we’re in a vulnerable position—and so are our kids. They are more vulnerable to bullying, depression, experimentation with drugs and alcohol, and to abuse. As they get older, they are also more likely to seek validation from the opposite sex. If you’re like me, then I know your greatest desire as a single mom is to have a safe place to take your children; somewhere people will not just tolerate them, but love them, protect them and invest in them as if they were their own. I know you want this place to be your church community because you know the best hope you and your kids have is to stay close to Jesus. Some of you are blessed to be in churches that embrace you, understand your needs, and come alongside you and your kids. But I also know many of you have been hurt by the lack of awareness or care churches have shown when you’ve asked for help. If it’s any consolation, know that it hurts God’s heart too.