Child advocates and caseworkers from the Hall County Division of Family and Children Services are months into a proactive initiative for local foster families called “Hall is Home.”
“It’s got a period at the end … because our kids need to come home,” said Hall County foster care administrator Lindsey Bray about the initiative’s name.
With 255 Hall County children in foster care, the department is making a push for more foster homes and more support services for children in the system. The number has grown considerably since 2013, Juvenile Court Judge Lindsay Burton said, when the average number of kids in care was near 130.
“Unfortunately, the number of kids in foster care, I feel like, every month I say we’ve hit a new all-time high,” the judge said.
In addition to foster homes, the department is looking for assistance in transportation and child care as well as support for the families and children in foster care. Bray said six homes have already been identified, and a number of teachers have reached out to offer tutoring.
The big targets for the initiative, Bray said, are the health care professionals, the mental health community and members of the school system.
“If a child comes in with a mental health special need, it’s not going to be scary for someone who works in a mental health field,” Bray said. “They’ll already be trained and have a background to work with those children.”
Commenting on the number employed locally by Northeast Georgia Health System, Burton said the hospital provides a wealth of potential families, mentors for teenagers or people interested in helping in some capacity.
“When you hit that large of a group, there’s no way we’re not going to find those people,” she said.
Keeping kids in Hall County allows caseworkers to more readily see the children on their caseloads, Bray said. According to the initiative, the average caseworker spends between 15 and 20 hours driving per week to see children.
“If we can cut down a lot of the driving time for the caseworkers, there’s going to be more time available in the office for us to be able to make those phone calls that people are constantly complaining about not being returned,” Bray said.
Bray said the initiative will also attempt to make the classes for prospective foster care parents more accessible, offering more sessions and flexibility.
“The fact that Hall County is willing and able to make the process easier, I’m really hoping that it will overcome a lot of the stigma that comes with being a DFCS foster parent,” Burton said.