Fighting for Metro Atlanta Children in Foster Care
By Renika Robinson
Two weeks ago, one of the students on my caseload ran away from home. I had checked in with her just days before. She had expressed frustration with returning to in-person classes while her sibling’s school would continue with remote learning. I took a mental note.
When the school’s social worker and her foster parents called to see if I would have any leads, thankfully I was able to let them know she was probably at her biological mother’s house. They were able to find her safe and sound. She’s now back at her foster home and adjusting to being back in the classroom.
For three years now, Communities In Schools of Atlanta has partnered with the Multi-Agency Alliance for Children (MAAC) to provide intensive, collaborative wraparound services for foster children in metro Atlanta. Led by Heather Rowles, MAAC prides itself on filling the gaps within the foster care system and promotes centering students’ needs. They truly care about the children they serve.
We’ve written in this space before about how transient life can be for students living on the edge of poverty. Disruptions are even more impactful for students in the foster care system. Students risk falling behind and experiencing multiple transfers in one school year. This doesn’t even consider the emotional and mental stress associated with not living with family or being separated from siblings and other loved ones.
As our organization’s first coordinator with MAAC, I meet weekly with our students and stakeholders, including the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, court staff, and school staff. We work together to put an education plan in place for the students. Our goal for students is to pursue one or more of these four pathways upon graduation: enrollment in college or a trade school, entrepreneurship, enlisting in the U.S. Armed Forces, or full-time employment. Success beyond high school is especially important for youth in state custody working to achieve permanence as they transition out of the system.
Working with the students on my caseload requires patience and trust.
One student I’m working with attends high school in Atlanta Public Schools. He came to me not trusting adults, women in particular. His relationship with his mother was toxic, one of the worst cases I’ve seen. For three weeks straight, I showed up and asked him what he needed and how I could help him get on track to graduate. During that time, I built a rapport with his foster parents to collaboratively motivate this young man. I put together a plan that he could agree to and work towards.
Through intense credit recovery, we were able to get him on track to graduate. And we continue to work with teachers and administrators to help staff understand his triggers. Now in his senior year, he was able to join the football team. As you can imagine, this has been an incredible mental health boost, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In my years of social work, I have learned that you must be unbiased and steady. Our job is to advocate for these children – working with the schools, guardians, courts, and the state to help push the students towards a successful future. More often than not, the school may not even be aware of the student’s home life.
We cannot afford to leave these students behind due to life circumstances out of their control. They deserve better. Communities In Schools of Atlanta in partnership with the Multi-Agency Alliance for Children are committed to solutions-based case management for these precious children.
Renika Robinson is an associate program manager at Communities In Schools of Atlanta. MAAC recently recognized her as a MAAC Rising Star.