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Wellroot Family Services launched two new programs in Hall County. Here’s how they’re supporting child and family welfare
Wellroot
Sar’Taj Bush, foster care program manager leading Wellroot Family Services' Gainesville branch. The nonprofit has recently implemented two new programs geared at providing in-home support services to at-risk families. (Times file photo)

At 150 years old, Wellroot Family Service’s vision is still crystal clear: creating a world where, restored from trauma through Jesus Christ, every child is reared in a loving, compassionate and nurturing environment.

Founded as the United Methodist Children’s Home in 1871, the faith-centered child welfare organization provides support, healing and growth for children, families and young adults connected to Georgia’s foster care system.

According to Wellroot’s CEO Allison Ashe, more than half the children in foster care — 63% nationwide — aren’t there due to abuse, but issues of neglect stemming from poverty, parents holding multiple jobs to make ends meet and/or lack of adult supervision.

“Many times, people think a child is experiencing the foster care system due to abuse, but that isn’t always the case,” Ashe said. 

As federal agencies have steered away from group homes and toward foster and in-home care, Ashe said Wellroot has also worked to ensure children are “well rooted and grounded” in loving families.

“We know from research and anecdotally that kids thrive better at home, whenever possible,” Ashe said. 

To make this possibility more attainable for at-risk families, the organization has implemented a series of new programs, two of which launched in Gainesville this fall.

Healthy Families America provides in-home, family-focused support to single mothers age 25 and younger who are either uninsured or receiving Medicaid, while Functional Family Therapy focuses on short-term, family-based therapeutic interventions for youth and their families.

In Healthy Families America, a family support specialist walks alongside the family for the first three years of the child’s life, guiding new moms through the public health and school systems, scheduling pediatric appointments, developmental milestones, WIC and other resources tailored to their needs, including parenting classes and, if they are unemployed, vocational training programs. 

The evidence-based model is the result of more than three decades of research, according to Ashe, and has received a stamp of approval from the Prevention Services Clearinghouse (established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services via the Families First Prevention Services Act) with the highest “well-supported” rating issued by the entity.

According to Ashe, 15 Hall County mothers are currently enrolled in the program, with eight more in the process of joining.

Through Functional Family Therapy, households experiencing child behavioral or family issues are matched with a therapist who, by partnering with them over the course of three to six months or however long a duration the family needs, helps establish goals for positive change and strengthen family dynamics.

The program targets families with 11- to 18-year-olds who are at risk of out-of-home placement or struggling with issues stemming from verbal and physical aggression, mental and behavioral health, substance abuse, negative peer associations, theft and destruction of property, school suspension, family conflict and discord and foster care disruption.

“Crises and behavioral issues impact the entire family,” Ashe said. “FFT looks at the entire family system, not just the individual child, to help them assess and change negative behaviors , build trust and improve their relationships. Our goal is to keep these kids out of the child welfare and criminal justice systems.”

Locally, Wellroot works closely with Hall County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Lindsay Burton to refer families to the program. Families are also able to refer themselves to the program, according to Ashe, and can access a referral form online at www.wellroot.org/our-programs/fft.

Additional information and eligibility requirements for both programs can be found at www.wellroot.org/our-programs.

The organization holds several fundraisers throughout the year, including ‘Giving Tuesday’, which is set for Nov. 30. Donors can check the Wellroot website and social media for ways to give. 

The organization also has an ongoing wishlist that accepts donations year-round. Donors are encouraged to contact cultivate@wellroot.org to coordinate drop-offs.

“As one of the state’s first private foster-care agencies, Wellroot has a long, rich history of caring for children in need of safe loving homes,” Ashe said. “Today we know that the child welfare landscape is vastly different than even 10 years ago, as 63% of children in foster care are there due to issues of neglect. Wellroot is dedicated to changing such statistics.”

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