By Guest Columnist KIM ANDERSON, CEO of Families First
Virtually every measure of individual success begins with a loving and supportive family. Yet on any given day, approximately 13,000 children in Georgia’s foster care system have lost the family connections essential for them to succeed in life.
The national and state trends are grim: 60 percent of children placed into foster care are there because of neglect, 10 percent because of physical abuse and 8 percent are victims of sexual abuse.
The average length of time a child in Georgia spends in foster care is two years; one in four youth aging out of foster care becomes homeless in two years, while one in four males become incarcerated; and less than 3 percent of youth who age out of foster care earn college degrees compared to 28 percent of the general population.
Statistics like these support the importance for family permanency.
Family permanence can be defined as an enduring family relationship that is: safe and meant to last a lifetime; offers the legal rights and social status of full family membership; provides for physical, emotional, social, cognitive and spiritual well-being; and assures lifelong connections to extended family, siblings and other significant adults, and to family history and traditions, race and ethnic heritage, culture, religion, and language.
Fortunately, Georgia understands more than ever the importance of permanency.
A report released last month by court monitors assessed the state’s progress in fulfilling the provisions of the “Kenny A.” Consent Decree. That decree was crafted to address the complaint that Fulton and DeKalb counties failed to provide adequate funding to hire enough child advocate attorneys to effectively and zealously represent deprived children.
The findings concluded that the Department of Human Resources (DHR) Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) improved in finding permanent homes for children, and that more children were achieving safe, lifelong connections with adults than at any time since it’s last report in 2006.
This is good news for Georgia, and the issue of permanency is something near and dear to my heart.
Fourteen years ago my husband and I made a decision that forever changed our family. It was Father’s Day, 1995 when one of the greatest joys of a lifetime came into our lives. Years earlier, we had realized that part of our life’s mission was to adopt a child.
A boy in the custody of Fulton County DFCS needed a safe, nurturing and loving home. His situation was like many of the other children entering foster care. He was a bright child, full of potential and possibility. But because of his mother’s choices that led to a losing battle with life’s challenges, he was the unfortunate heir to a host of health, developmental and sociological difficulties that he has since zealously fought and overcome.
On that very special Father’s Day, we never imagined the joy and happiness this young boy would bring into our lives.
Although the goal is to reunite the child in custody with the birth parent(s) and/or relative(s), this is not always possible for whatever reason—incarceration, substance abuse, mental illness. Therefore, other alternatives to achieve permanency such as adoption are considered.
In our case, adoption was our family’s calling and choice. And although, ideally, our son would have been reunited with his birth family, circumstances in his birth mother’s life did not make this feasible.
We are forever grateful that a situation that began with such tragedy and uncertainty has evolved into an extraordinary blessing to our family, along with unconditional love, support, and a sense of permanency for our son.
Raise Me Up is a bold, multimedia campaign designed to raise awareness, create dialogue within our communities, and inspire citizens to take action on behalf of children and youth in Georgia’s foster care system. The campaign’s message is simple: you don’t have to raise foster children to raise them up, you just have to raise your hand and say you’ll help.
Upon the launch in September, you can access the Raise Me Up web site (www.raisemeup.org) for information and opportunities to get involved in your community.
For thousands of Georgia children and youth, foster care is a necessity. But as statistics show, foster care should never be used as a permanent fix.
There are many things each one of us can do to reduce the number of children in care and improve the lives of vulnerable children and families.
Becoming an adoptive or foster parent is certainly an option, but it’s not the only way to impact a child’s life. You can mentor a foster child. You can tutor a foster child. You can provide financial assistance to a foster child. You can advocate for foster children. You can make a difference by helping to provide a sense of permanency to these most vulnerable children and youth.