Rozzetta King traces the picture frames holding her children frozen in time, a collection of graduations, births and school pictures.
Lawyers, doctors, teachers — she’s raised them all.
“I hope that one day, when my time comes, I can look up and see all my kids standing there, whether I gave birth to them or just raised them,” King said. “And I know that my health is failing me fast, but I’m not going to just let loose, let go. I’ve got too much to live for right now.”
After five children of her own, stepchildren and opening her home as a matriarch of the neighborhood, she brought home another bundle of joy from the hospital 21 years ago: her granddaughter. Three more grandchildren came later.
King took custody of those children after the Division of Family and Children Services became involved, and the grandmother eventually finalized their home with her in Probate Court.
“Since that day, I’ve had all of them, because I refused to let DFCS put them in the foster care system,” King said. “The foster care system’s already overcrowded, and I figured if I can love for them and care for them I would.”
Statewide, 10,960 children younger than 18 are in DFCS care, with roughly 25 percent finding homes with relatives. Of the children living with relatives, grandparents make up a plurality of 43 percent.
“The belief in practice is a child is going to be better off connected to the people and places that he or she knows, and relatives often provide that,” said Susan Boatwright in the DFCS office of communications.
Keeping children in the community, DFCS officials said, means children have a better chance to go home with their parents again, if those parents are seeking to regain custody. Even if the child is not returning to the parents, a placement with nearby family can be less traumatic.
“Our search is limited by what the parents are willing to share with us,” Hall County foster care supervisor Heather Manning said. “Hopefully the parents are going to be cooperative and give us good contact people to reach out to, but that unfortunately doesn’t always happen.”
Acting as a mother for 47 years, King said each year is harder than the last.
“It would be hard for me to give them up, but I know that if I can’t continue to take care of their problems, I’m going to have to let somebody else do it,” she said.
The children come first always, King said. Dreams and her needs fall to the wayside as she tries to support four children: an 11-year-old, two 13-year-olds and a 21-year-old.
“Granny’s been raising kids since she was 18 years old, and I’m trying to get you to a point that you can one day take care of yourself and understand how hard things have been,” King said of her children.
What keeps King going is the fourth Wednesday of every month when she meets at Legacy Link for group therapy. If she misses a meeting, she knows she hasn’t been able to speak her peace and find relief.
“If I want to cry, I can cry,” King said. “If I want to talk, I talk, and someone’s willing to listen to me.”
Her biggest ally as a senior citizen on a fixed income raising children has been Julia Jessee, the Legacy Link kinship care programs director and frequent text messaging buddy. Jessee and other Legacy Link members have helped connect King to resources like a food bank to make the dollars stretch.
“I’m able to talk out my frustrations and my doubts and my fears of wanting to give up,” King said.
DFCS offers subsidies to guardians: $355 per month for children up to 5 years old and up to $471 per month for children 13-18. In Hall County, the guardians of 32 children who were previously in DFCS’ care receive this subsidy.
Hall has a vacancy for the kinship care navigator, who would be responsible for connecting relative caretakers with resources. DFCS officials said they are hoping to get the green light soon to bring in applicants.
Living in Gainesville as one of the oldest residents of the Atlanta Street apartments, King watched the city transform itself through the civil rights era. She recalled watching fights in the streets after a black football player broke his leg when white students piled on top of him.
As the city has progressed, King said she wants to keep her children on the straight and narrow.
“My grandkids have seen three murders over there in the past three years, and it’s hard to tell a child that’s not the way to live when they’re seeing it right in front of them,” King said of deaths in the Atlanta Street neighborhood. “But I hold on to my Bible and hold on to that little space I call home.”
As the oldest child Jhaiquashia looks to become a doctor, King stares at the portrait of her 21-year-old pride and joy smiling in an evening dress.
“I want my grandkids to be able to hold their heads up high and say, ‘We made it,’” King said. “And never forget where you come from.”