News & Events

Oct. 20, 2014: No easy fix for Georgia’s foster care crisis

 

The Gainesville Times featured The Children’s Home in an article about the future of foster care in Georgia:

 

Broken Bonds: Where do we go from here?

The Gainesville Times
Oct. 19, 2014

Crisis has no easy fix beyond finding more homes.

 

One answer to the foster care crisis in Hall County is clear: More foster homes are needed for the approximately 180 children in care each month.

 

Other solutions to an overburdened system are less clear.

 

Before it was halted earlier this month, Georgia was preparing for a pilot program to privatize foster care in two regions of the state, Division of Family and Children Services’ Region 3 and Region 5. Region 3 includes Floyd and Bartow counties, the worst and second worst, respectively, for a lack of space available for foster children.

 

Region 5 centers around Clarke County, the seventh worst in that same category, all according to September 2014 data from DFCS. The rankings do not consider group housing.

 

The pilot program, in simple terms, was for the state to contract private agencies in the two districts to manage foster care services under the supervision of DFCS.

 

According to transcripts from the Georgia Department of Administrative Services, contracts were expected to begin Oct. 6. However, on Sept. 30, a notice of cancellation was issued by Bernard Joy, associate category manager for the Georgia Department of Administrative Services.

 

The state had “limited responses to the proposal,” and it was determined that “pricing exceeded budgeted amounts,” according to the cancellation notice.

“After we heard from some providers, they told us that they felt like the timeline and the scope of the request didn’t allow for a successful project. So what we’re doing is working with the Child Welfare Reform Council to make sure that we can move forward and get the outcomes we need,”said Ashley Fielding, director of the Office of Legislative Affairs and Communications for the Department of Human Services.

The Child Welfare Reform Council, with its members named in April of this year, includes legislators, child welfare advocates and education officials. Georgia Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, said in September that a goal of the group is to reduce the DFCS caseworker average load to 15, with one supervisor for every five workers.

DFCS foster care caseworkers shoulder an average of 25 cases in Hall County, while those working investigations often take on 35 cases, according to September 2014 DFCS data. The state budget allowed for an additional 175 caseworkers statewide as of July 1, with some already starting in Hall County.

Other states, including Florida, which has a public-private partnership for foster care, have provided a case study for members of the council and other child welfare stakeholders.

“I think they’ve looked at Florida. I think they’ve also looked at some other states that have had issues with placement, foster care and the private homes situation,” Willard said. “They’re looking to get a better understanding of how these operations can function with the department.”

While the state hopes to rebid the project again, the need for more foster homes in Northeast and Northwest Georgia remains a serious concern.

“We will engage our existing providers in those areas to figure out a way to address our current capacity, specifically the beds we have available in those areas, and see if we can recruit more parents in the meantime,” Fielding said.

Specifically, the Fanning Institute will take charge on a “public-private foster care collaborative” in Region 5, meaning further partnership between public and foster care providers to find more homes. For Region 3, DFCS is collaborating with the faith community, with religious leaders working to develop foster parents.

 

How it would have worked

Providers bidding for the privatization project needed at least seven years of experience and to provide audit information, according to documents listed on the proposal Web portal.

Bidders were to be scored and evaluated on requirements before an intent to award the bid was issued.

But the plan to privatize foster care and adoption scares some.

Jean Logan, who served on the Community Based Care Advisory Committee during Florida’s nationally watched switch to privatization, said she is “not hopeful” about the plans Georgia has laid out thus far.

“I think it’s the wrong solution to the wrong problem,” she said. “It doesn’t address the problem areas that create difficulties in the system.”

She said she thinks the plan would instead burden private agencies with issues the government can’t seem to fix, such as timeliness of interventions, advanced technology, better communication and specifically, the way cases are investigated and how case plans are developed.

“That’s the heart of the problem,” she said.

It was one she felt was addressed, eventually, during Florida’s long and lumbered battle toward a better child welfare system.

She said she thinks a move toward privatization can be good for Georgia, if they go about it the right way.

“I think what we need to see is a move to privatization, but on a more thoughtful path,” she said. “But that still won’t fix some of the basic problems. It’s underfunded from start to finish. (The government) wants to keep the costs as low as possible.”

Logan expressed some of her concerns at a pre-bid conference May 30 in Atlanta.

“So to make sure that I understand this, the successful bidder has to be up and running Oct. 6, even though they don’t know going in what percentage of the kids they are going to be serving have behavioral health, and they are going to have nine months to prove that they be successful? It doesn’t look like a successful design to me,” Logan said.

Joy responded, saying, “We do not anticipate that on the day we award the contract that someone is going to be able to march right in, like Venus on the half shell, fully developed, riding up on the waves.”

 

‘More nimble’ vs. ‘one size fits all’

Bill Hancock, president of FaithBridge Foster Care, said he thinks the solution includes privatization.

“I do think a public-private partnership can work,” he said. “I think it has to work.”

He sees many flaws in the public system.

“A public agency tends to be very top-down by design,” he said. “It tends to create more of a one-size-fits-all policy environment, where a private, community-based organization is more likely to be able to adapt their service models to the local needs of family and children.”

He thinks the first step should be to provide more opportunities for smaller agencies, as they can more quickly respond to trends.

“Large bureaucracies, the larger they get, the more energy and effort goes into maintaining the organization, where community-based organizations are more nimble. They can adapt to the community changes more readily,” he said.

He thinks the plans laid out by the state are a good first step, but he wants to see more from the legislature.

“I think that the move is a good move,” he said. “But I think that the step toward a privatization in organization is very different from community-based care. Privatization is about the state contracting for services. What I’m advocating for, that’s part of it, where you do outsource and contract with private agencies, but the next step is to equip and inform and resource communities to actually find their own solution to their family crises in their own community.”

 

More homes needed most

While DFCS first attempts to place children in the homes it has recruited, sometimes there isn’t space. A handful of agencies, such as FaithBridge and the United Methodist Children’s Home, recruit families to keep children close to their biological parents.

“Usually we get a call from Hall County DFCS just needing a placement. They usually will seek out their homes first, but a lot of times they don’t have the available homes,” said Sondra Rogers, supervisor of United Methodist’s Gainesville office that serves 13 counties.

With 13 families in Gainesville and 18 children served through the Gainesville office, Rogers said the importance of keeping children closer to their parents reduces the strain on everyone.

“Mom and Dad are able to see the child in the same county, and it makes that transition a whole lot easier for everybody involved,” Rogers said.

While it does have Methodist in the name, Rogers said parents are asked to respect the religious observances of the child prior to placement. Other faith-based agencies have the same practice.

For cases of physical and sexual abuse, therapeutic foster care is essential, an area that is lacking to Georgia DFCS interim director Bobby Cagle.

“A lot of the children, especially the children that are higher needs, are in private agencies receiving the care,” said Sally Buchanan, CEO of Creative Community Services.

For 32 years, Creative Community Services has worked in therapeutic foster care, developing homes that will provide heavy attention to the child. For this reason, families without kids or with children who have left the nest are vital.

“When you’re recruiting for those particular kids … a lot of homes we’re trying to look for are families that don’t have small children. We don’t want to do that because the kids need such individualized attention,” Buchanan said.

With four homes in Hall County, Buchanan said family consultants work with eight children, a sliver of what a DFCS caseworker handles. Homes usually have one child unless a second can also be matched.

Though DFCS said it hopes to reopen the privatization process after discussions with the Child Welfare Reform Council, attention to costs and other logistics will be key, Buchanan said.

“When you ask someone to take over a whole region, you’re really talking about a lot of money when you’re talking about what the actual cost is to provide that care,” she said. “You pay your foster parents because you want them to be available at all times for the child.”

 

Read more: http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/section/6/article/105359.

Oct. 8, 2014: Area universities partner to preserve Children’s Home history

Julie Mote gently paged through a photo album of black and white images showing children gardening, laughing with arms around each other, or riding the bus. Each photo was clearly labeled in neat handwriting with names, events, and dates. Smiling, she pointed out an image to a friend standing next to her. When asked why she keeps all the old albums, she quietly answered, “I don’t know.”

 

“Yes you do,” said her daughter Clara, who had accompanied her to the annual Children’s Home alumni gathering held Oct. 4 in Decatur. “The photos are special. These people are your family.”

 

Julie grew up at The United Methodist Children’s Home, along with the dozens of other individuals at the event. The Children’s Home was established in 1871 to care for children orphaned during the Civil War, and it evolved over the years to help children and families as their needs grow and change. The campus had its own water system, school, farm and church, and at maximum capacity housed 150 children by the late 1960s.

 

A partnership among Emory University, Kennesaw State University, and the Children’s Home will preserve the memories of participating alumni through an archive project. Kennesaw State students interviewed individuals at the Oct. 4 event, and the recordings will be given to Emory University’s Pitts Theology Library. The library also will house photographs and other historical artifacts from the Children’s Home.

 

“These stories need to be preserved,” said Dr. Julia Brock, Kennesaw State University public history professor. “They add texture to our understanding of the history of child welfare and advocacy in the South. The Children’s Home is an historic institution; oral histories shed light on important changes at the Home in the 20th and 21st centuries.”

 

Liz Brown came to the Children’s Home in 1961 at age seven. After overcoming the fear of leaving her dysfunctional home and being placed into an environment with complete strangers, she found relief to find safety, friends, and three meals a day.

 

“It was nice to experience being a kid,” said Brown, who shared her story for the archive project. “My first seven years were spent playing the parent and protecting my siblings, as they did for me. I gained many new brothers and sisters at the Children’s Home. We have a common bond that no one can ever completely understand. I get great satisfaction from seeing all my brothers and sisters each year.”

 

Their bond is based on memories that are too painful for some to revisit.

 

“Time doesn’t necessarily make our memories rosy,” said Debora Burger, who lived at the home in the mid 1960s and early 1970s. “Some alumni don’t come to our annual gatherings. This wasn’t where we wanted to be, but the kids growing up with us were our family. We supported each other, and we celebrated each other’s milestones. It was bittersweet. And some of us remain the closest of friends.”

 

With some alumni now in their mid 80s, this is a critical time to preserve their history before it is lost to time. If you or someone you know is a Children’s Home alumni and wants to participate in this project, contact Dr. Julia Brock at jbrock39@kennesaw.edu.

 

Oct. 7, 2014: 11 Alive’s “Atlanta & Company” features The Children’s Home

Volunteer Coordinator Sharon Brewer appeared live on 11 Alive TV’s “Atlanta & Company After Noon” on Oct. 7 to promote the upcoming Oct. 10-11 flea market and the work of the Children’s Home.

 

Join us at the flea market to find a large variety of items from clothing to appliances to antique jewelry.  All funds raised will benefit the Children’s Home work to help children and families in need. The flea market takes place on Oct. 10-11 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Children’s Home, 500 S. Columbia Drive, Decatur, GA 30030. Food and beverages also will be available for purchase, and reusable Children’s Home shopping bags sold for just $1.

 

Atl & Company host Rashan Ali talks with Sharon Brewer of the Children's Home.

Atlanta & Company host Rashan Ali talks with Sharon Brewer of the Children’s Home.

Watch the Atlanta & Company segment on the Children’s Home.

Sept. 22, 2014: First annual Fam Fest a success!

The United Methodist Children’s Home held its first annual Fam Fest at Six Flags on Saturday, Sept. 20. More than 500 guests, including many of the children and families served by the Children’s Home, enjoyed a day of fun at the park including private access to the Dare Devil roller coaster for one hour, a lunch program led by WXIA 11 Alive anchor DeMarco Morgan, and entrance to a private pavilion with food and beverages.

 

42 sponsors made the event possible, including presenting sponsor Jackson Healthcare, Georgia Power, Weaver Capital Management LLC, Wells Fargo, WXIA TV Gannett Foundation, Inc., and others. The event raised more than $80,000 for the Children’s Home work to help children and families in need.

 

Here are some highlights of the day. We hope to see everyone (and more) for next year’s event!

 

The United Methodist Children's Home held its first annual Fam Fest at Six Flags on Saturday, Sept. 20. More than 500 attendees celebrated a day of fun.

The United Methodist Children’s Home held its first annual Fam Fest at Six Flags on Saturday, Sept. 20. More than 500 attendees celebrated a day of fun.

Five-year-old Taleeia races around the bumper car track.

Five-year-old Taleeia races around the bumper car track.

The Harwood family watches friends prepare to descend on a nearby roller coaster.

The Harwood family watches friends prepare to descend on a nearby roller coaster.

Fam Fest guests enjoy the Dare Devil roller coaster. Children's Home guests enjoyed private access to the roller coaster for an hour.

Children’s Home guests enjoyed private access to the Dare Devil roller coaster for an hour.

Five-year-old Cadence Thomas runs to the next ride.

Five-year-old Cadence Thomas runs to the next ride.

Yolanda White and her sons in line for the Dare Devil roller coaster.

Yolanda White and her sons in line at Six Flags.

Fam Fest guests prepare to ascend the Dare Devil roller coaster.

Fam Fest guests prepare to ascend the Dare Devil roller coaster.

WXIA 11 Alive anchor DeMarco Morgan led the Fam Fest lunch program, which included a catered meal, fellowship and bands.

WXIA 11 Alive anchor DeMarco Morgan led the Fam Fest lunch program, which included a catered meal, fellowship and bands.

More than 500 people attended the first annual Children's Home Fam Fest.

More than 500 people attended the first annual Children’s Home Fam Fest.

Young guests enjoy the candy bar in the Children's Home private pavilion. Fam Fest was made possible thanks to the generosity of 42 sponsors, who donated $110,250. The proceeds from Fam Fest will directly benefit the Children's Home work to help children and families in need.

Young guests enjoy the candy bar in the Children’s Home private pavilion. Fam Fest was made possible thanks to the generosity of 42 sponsors, who donated $110,250. The proceeds from Fam Fest will directly benefit the Children’s Home work to help children and families in need.

Aug. 26, 2014: Rebuilding a Life

Latrena Martin drove from Texas to Atlanta with her three children and the promise of a new start. She had accepted a full-time job and had an apartment lined up. But upon her arrival to the city, the job offer was unexpectedly rescinded, and her apartment was not ready. The family stayed in a hotel, but then money ran out and the apartment fell through too. Within two weeks of her arrival to Atlanta, her family was in the scary situation of sleeping in their car in a parking lot.

 

“People think that homelessness can’t happen to them,” said Noelle Owen, director of family preservation services at The United Methodist Children’s Home. “But imagine the devastating consequences of several bad things happening in a row: a family member has serious health issues, you lose a job, or your spouse dies and you haven’t planned financially. Homelessness could happen to any of us.”

 

Latrena had applied to the Children’s Home Family Housing Program, and thankfully there was an almost immediate housing availability. She was able to move in within days.

 

The Home provides a safe, comfortable home for families at risk of homelessness, giving them key support so they have a stronger chance to succeed on their own. Staff advocate for the family, as well as provide emotional, budget and employment counseling. Families typically stay at the Children’s Home for six to 18 months, until they achieve mutually agreed upon goals such as obtaining a professional license, and have developed a long-term plan for self-sufficiency.

 

“Our first night at the Children’s Home, I felt so relieved. A huge burden had been lifted,” said Ms. Martin.

 

With a secure place to live, she could focus on furthering her education – she enrolled in cosmetology school – on paying her bills, and on her children. For someone like Latrena, who had never been in a situation of needing assistance, it also was a sobering experience. But she knew she was at the home because she needed help to get to the next level.

 

And she did.

 

“It wasn’t easy,” said Ms. Martin. “There were times of struggle, but I kept pushing forward. Those of us in the program helped each other out, for example when daycare wasn’t available and I needed to go to a job interview.”

 

In July 2014, Latrena gave notice to her case worker at the Children’s Home that she would be leaving. She had received her cosmetology license, accepted a new full-time job and secured an apartment.

 

“I didn’t want to be given an exit date, I wanted to do it on my own,” she said, smiling.

 

How did she feel the first night at her new home? “Ecstatic,” she said.

 

 

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