Fostering more than 11 children, Ashley and Brian Anderson felt like they were “on an island alone.”
“We felt like there was no support for foster and adoptive families,” Ashley Anderson said.
The Andersons hope to help Hall County foster families with Tuesday’s opening of the Family Life Center in Gainesville. The Supporting Adoption and Foster Families Together center’s arrival comes at a time when the foster care system is considered in crisis by Juvenile Court Judge Lindsay Burton.
“As we start to recruit more foster families, I have hope that we will be able to continue to do that because of the support that SAFFT is giving to our local foster families,” Burton said.
An average of 200 kids every month are in the foster care system from Hall County. As of September, only 20-25 of these Hall County kids stay in the area due in part to the lack of foster homes, according to the Division of Family and Children Services.
The Andersons met with Gainesville city officials more than a year ago regarding the facility now housed on Prior Street. The center provides foster and adoption support, supervised visitations and support for victims of domestic violence.
Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan lauded the group’s mission to “fix a broken child before it’s a broken adult.”
“It was a no-brainer. Y’all needed to come to Gainesville,” Dunagan said
SAFFT’s center in Dawson County, part of the Northeastern Judicial Circuit, was not as convenient for Hall County residents, Ashley Anderson said.
Burton said her most joyful days come during adoptions and reunifications, when parents are able to bring their children home. Too often the parents in her courtroom were in the foster care system themselves and did not have the resources and models to be a successful parent, she said.
“In the last six months, I’ve done more adoptions than I’ve done reunifications, and that’s sad,” Burton said. “That’s not how it should be.”
Referencing past visitations happening in the Hall County Detention Center parking lot, Superior Court Judge Andrew Fuller said citizens in the courtroom may now enter a safe, neutral environment with professionals supervising.
“When I now am presiding, Judge (Bonnie) Oliver is presiding over a high-conflict situation that also is a high-risk situation for young children, we now can have a great deal of comfort knowing that we’re going to be able to promote … that a parent and child relationship is among the most important relationships within our society,” Fuller said.