When a child in foster care in Glynn County longed to be involved in an extracurricular activity, Hope 1312 bolted into action. Members provided the means for the child to follow her yearning.
When a family’s poor living conditions drew the attention of children’s services and other authorities, Hope 1312 never hesitated. It found the family better housing.
But hold the applause. It’s what Hope 1312 volunteers do, acknowledges Ally Christianson, founding director of the faith-based, grassroots organization in the Golden Isles.
Georgia could use more organizations like it and definitely more families willing to welcome foster children into their homes and lives, says Tom Rawlings, head of the state Division of Family and Children Services in Atlanta.
As of July 21, the agency had custody of 14,605 children in Georgia’s 159 counties. Of that number, 13,576 were under 18; 1,029 were 18 and older.
“The question is not finding the right number of (foster) families,” Rawlings said during a recent interview. “The question is finding families where we need them.
“In Glynn County, we certainly have a need for more foster families.”
The same is true of McIntosh and Camden, where there is a pressing need for foster families in both counties.
“If we have to remove (children) from the home, we want to keep them as close to their communities as possible,” Rawlings said.
It’s an objective that accommodates visitation with parents, if appropriate, and keeps already stressed children close to their schools and friends.
“We also need foster families who are willing to take teenagers and larger sibling groups,” Rawlings said. “We know when we keep siblings together, they do a lot better.”
In cases where adults surrender or lose parental rights, the children can be adopted. Those who aren’t remain in foster care.
Rawlings is relieved to report adoptions are on the rise.
“We had 1,400 adoptions this past year,” he said. “That’s nearly double (the number) in the year prior.”
There was a rocky period when the number of children removed from homes or parents deemed unfit, if only temporarily, outnumbered available foster parents. The state had little recourse but to quarter them in DFCS offices.
“We have very few situations anymore where a child has to be in an office for any length of time,” Rawlings said. “We’re working hard to bring in community partners so we don’t have to separate children and families. We’re also doing more to place children with relatives or extended families.”
Citizens determine the reach of the agency’s shield of protection for children. Their eyes, ears and concern can prevent continued neglect, abuse or worse.
“Our biggest first line of defense, what I call our radar system, is our responsible caring adults,” Rawlings said, naming teachers particularly. “We have to rely on those individuals to let us know if they see a bruise.
“If you know of a child, see a child in a bad situation, talk to that child and make sure they’re OK. Encourage them to talk to that counselor in school. We need the public to be more vigilant about children.”
Rawlings has nothing but high praise for outreach programs like Hope 1312, which provide assistance to foster children and foster parents, and lift the morale of DFCS staff.
Hope 1312 does even more than that. It also is proactive.
“They help families facing homelessness or eviction,” he said.
Keeping at-risk “loving families” together is a priority of Hope 1312, says group leader Christianson. These are families with caring parents whose children may be inches away from state guardianship due to impoverished living conditions or other dire circumstances.
“This system allows us to respond to actual needs,” Christianson said.
That has included finding better living quarters for loving families in unsuitable housing, she said.
Sometimes the assistance required might be a little less involved.
“We had a family that needed brakes on the car to get their child to Jacksonville for medical care,” she said.
Hope 1312 volunteers took care of it.
The organization’s committed volunteers do what they can to help, including providing a clothes closet and meals, as well as a summer camp for youth in foster care.
“Ultimately it is this community that is responsible for these children, loving and caring for them,” Christianson said.
Hope 1312 owes its success to nine partner churches: The Chapel Ministries; St. Simons Community Church; Rhema Community Church; Lighthouse Brunswick; St. Simons United Methodist; First United Methodist; First Baptist Brunswick; Wesley United Methodist Church at Frederica; First Baptist St. Simons.
To find out how to become a foster parent, go to: fostergeorgia.com