Congratulations to our newest Court Appointed Special Advocates to be sworn in as officers of the court. These volunteers participated in 40 hours of extensive training and are now advocating for the best interests of abused and neglected children in our community.
The new year is bringing change to our Board of Directors, saying farewell to our Board Chair Joyce Waller, and saying hello to new leadership and several new Board Members.
We have recently added several new board members including Bonnie Dunn, Kim Griffeth, and Jeff Miller. To read more about our Board of Directors, visit http://www.childrenfirst-inc.org/board-of-directors.html.
ARCH Groundbreaking Ceremony : Tuesday, December 16 : 3:00 PM : 250 North Ave, Athens
The Athens Resource Center for the Homeless, affectionately known as ARCH, will soon begin construction! For years, ARCH has been planning their campus and envisioning a new way to serve the community. And the hours of work and planning are ready to come to life! ARCH is ready to start construction in the former Navy Supply Corps School. Athens-Clarke consistently ranks among the poorest counties in Georgia, including a high percentage of citizens living under the poverty line. Operations like this bring hope for stability and growth for everyone in our community!
With their partners (Athens Area Homeless Shelter, Advantage Behavioral Health Systems, Athens Nurses Clinic, Lifespan Montessori, and AIDS Athens), ARCH will be prepared to provide service in a new way. The vision is to have 24 apartments for homeless families. The campus will also include a childcare center that will serve low-income and homeless families.
Through local partnerships, ARCH will be able to offer medical and dental care, mental health and substance abuse counseling, a place to shower and launder clothing, and a safe location to train for employment. Being without a home is usually symptom of a larger problem in the community. The goal is restore the community one step at a time.
The mission is to provide these men and women a place to find their own economic and personal stability. This will come to fruition in three ways: Access, Empowerment, and Compassion. First, access to these facilities will be provided and begin to return stability into their life. Then, they will be empowered to reach their goals. Through this whole process, they will be treated with compassion and care deserved by every member of this community.
The groundbreaking for ARCH will be on Tuesday, December 16. The invitation to this historic event is expanded to everyone in the community. Come join the ARCH partners at 3:00 PM at 250 North Ave, Athens, the former Navy Supply Corps school, to celebrate and commemorate this historic day!
Orientation: Thursday, October 2nd : 6:00 PM : 693 N Pope St, Athens, 30601
Volunteer Fair: Tuesday, September 23rd : 12:00 - 5:00 PM : Tate Student Center : Baxter Street, Athens, 30602
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Athens-Oconee County is looking to train new volunteers to help the abused and neglected children in our immediate community. CASA volunteers are in the courts fighting for a better future for children in the foster care system.
CASA was founded in 1977 by Judge Soukup from Seattle, Washington. Judge Soukup did not feel comfortable making a drastic decision about a child’s future without clear knowledge about the child’s situation. He conceived the idea of adult volunteers speaking on behalf of the child after going into homes and learning where a child would best grow and develop.
Being a CASA is hard, rewarding work. After completing 40 hours in the classroom, CASA volunteers are assigned to a child’s case. Volunteers are asked to see the case from beginning to end, a process that may take up to a year or more. CASAs also need to be present in the courts, with advanced notice, to present their research and advice. CASA volunteers can be expected to spend 10 hours a month on a child's case.
If this sounds like something you would be interested, come talk to us. We’ll be hosting a non-commitment orientation on Thursday, October 2nd at 6:00 PM. Come to the Children First Cottage (693 N Pope St, Athens) and talk with the staff and current CASAs about what they are doing and how you can be involved. Everyone is welcomed and invited come learn about Court Appointed Special Advocates and how to serve in the community.
Unable to make it to the orientation? CASA will also be recruiting and open for questions at the HandsOn Northeast Georgia Volunteer Fair on Tuesday, September 23rd. The fair will be held at the University of Georgia’s Tate Student Center Grand Ballroom from 12 - 5PM. Free parking will be provided at the Tate Student Center Deck.
Recently, there have been some staff changes at Children First. Two members of our staff are leaving, Virginia Strunk and Shelby Turner, and Katherine May and Rob Turner will be taking over their places.
After graduating from the University of Georgia with a Masters in Social Work, Virginia Strunk worked with the Division of Family and Children Services. There, she learned a lot of tools and tricks to later incorporate into Family Time. Virginia has had a long tenure with our Family Time program, including an internship for a year while still in school. She was an innovator and truly was the driving force in making what Family Time is today. Using her knowledge and first hand experience with families in DFCS, she created a stronger program for parents that better served their needs. Using the new facilities of Children First, she created new, personalized curriculums that strengthened families in need.
Family Time has also affected Virginia personally. Seeing first hand the need in the community, she and her husband decided to become foster parents and adopted a brother and sister sibling group. Now, her family is expanding again as Virginia is pregnant with a daughter expected in February. Although this chapter closes in her life, Virginia is looking forward to what the future holds and cherishes the memories and lessons learned at Family Time.
Taking control of Family Time Visitation is Katherine May. Katherine grew up in Athens and graduated from the University of Georgia in 2005 with her Masters of Social Work. Katherine has been working with children and families in the child welfare system for 10 years now. Her passion is helping strengthen families to ensure children are in safe, stable environments. She enjoys traveling and even lived in London for three years where she worked as a social worker and learned about diverse populations. Katherine also enjoys playing the piano and spending time with friends and family.
We give a huge thank you again to Virginia and Shelby. We wish you the best of luck with all your future endeavors. And to Katherine and Rob, we want to welcome you to the Children First family!
The public's exposure to foster care is often the heartbreaking and brutal stories of abuse portrayed in the media, so it's easy to forget that over 1/2 of children in foster care are successfully reunified with their parents. National Reunification Month is a time to celebrate the accomplishments of these families, who often overcome an array of challenges to heal and grow. It is also a time to inspire other parents involved in the child welfare system, showing them that they can confront and resolve the issues that led to their childrens' removal. Every child deserves a safe home, and every child deserves the chance for that safe home to be with their family of origin.
Children First has seen many families reunite through our work with the Athens-Oconee CASA program and the Family Time Visitation Center. The first goal for both of these programs is always to reunify a family if at all possible. Both programs work hard to find the tools and resources the parents need to be successful.
This month's Rise Magazine has some inspiring stories about reunification - the hard work and patience of parents putting their families back together. Please take a moment and read James's Story.
Region 5, which includes many counties served by Children First, has been selected as a Pilot Program for the Privatization of Foster Care.
You may have seen some of the recent news about moves to privatize some Department of Family & Children Services (DFCS) services in Georgia. Back in February, Senate Bill 350 was introduced which would require DFCS to contract out primary functions such as adoption, family preservation, independent living, foster care, and case management. The bill received wide support in the Senate and the House as well as the initial support of Governor Deal. See our previous blog post HERE for more information on the bill.
However, many child advocates, service providers, and other stakeholders expressed deep concerns about the bill. Many concerns lay with the rapid implementation proposed in the bill, which would have full implementation of the Privatization by July 2015. Child Advocates and community members lobbied congress and the governor to convene a group of stakeholders to study privatization in our state. Governor Deal agreed, creating the Child Welfare Reform Council to study the efficacy of DFCS and the pros and cons of privatization. Advocates also recommended conducting pilot programs to study the effects of privatization in select regions. This recommendation was also followed and pilot programs will be launched in Region 3 (Floyd, Polk, Haralson, Paulding, Bartow, Paulding, Douglas, and Cherokee Counties) and Region 5 (Jackson, Barrow, Walton, Newton, Jasper, Morgan, Greene, Oglethorpe, Madison, Elbert, Jackson, CLARKE, and OCONEE counties).
As Children First serves many of the counties in Region 5, Privatization will have a direct effect on our programs and the children and families we serve. Along with over 100 advocates, foster parents, DFCS staff, stakeholders andcommunity members, we attended a Public Meeting on the Privatization of Foster Care at Athens-Clarke County DFCS on Tuesday, May 27th to find out more about the pilot program, it's scope, and it's goals. It was so encouraging to see so many people from the community concerned about the future of abused and neglected children in our community!
For those of us working in the field of child welfare, children and youth in foster care are often front and center in our minds daily. However, for many in our community, the challenges, joys, hopes, tragedies, and everyday lives of these children are far off the radar. Due to confidentiality, stigma, and - often - the best interest of the child, community members interact with children in foster care every day without ever knowing it. National Foster Care Month is a time to bring the lives of these children to the community's attention.
One issue facing children and youth in foster care is a lack of "normalcy". They are unable to participate in everyday childhood activities that many of us take for granted. For example, a child in foster care is often unable to participate in a "sleep over". Teens in foster care cannot ride in a car with friends to the prom. It is often difficult for them to get a driver's license or have an after-school job due to transportation and supervision requirements.
In July of last year, Florida enacted a law fondly known as "Let Kids Be Kids" to combat this problem. Since it has been in effect, it has shown to substantially improve the lives of children and youth as a result of their increased involvement in a wider range of age-appropriate experiences. It has also provided foster parents with the decision making authority to create a normal home life for children in their care. For more information on the law, visit http://blog.casaforchildren.org/blog/foster-care/children-foster-care-parentingand-proposed/
What issues regarding "normalcy" do you see affecting children in foster care? How do you think we, as a community, can better advocate for these children and families?
The Athens People’s Choice Awards went done with the sweet sounds of live a Capella music and the tapping feet of some fantastic dancers. Three performance ensembles took the stage to compete for the coveted People’s Choice Award.
The night was separated into two acts. Act One was to get the audience familiar with styles and grooves of the groups. After a short break, the groups came back to really hammer home their style and passion.
The first to perform was the UGA Ballroom Performance group. They captured the audience’s hearts through the elegant styles of dance of generations past. Their choreographed moves ranged in style from the foxtrot to swing.
To change it up a bit, the ladies of Noteworthy came out and created music with only their voices. Noteworthy is the only female a Capella group at UGA. The ladies grooved to the sweet sounds of artists like Fleetood Mac and Carrie Underwood. Soloists included Jillian Safko, Julie Holmes, and Sadé Ferrier.
After the performances, it was time to reveal the winner. The votes were casted by online donations and audience members. Though the race was close, the one group that stood out above the rest was...
Prelude Dance Company!
Congratulations to Prelude Dance Company, winner of the Athens People's Choice Awards!
A huge thank you to our sponsors (Five Points Eye Care, Classic City Orthodontics, and Young Actors Studio), participants, audience, and everyone that had a hand in helping make this event a successful evening!
On Wednesday, February 19, 2014, the Georgia Senate passed SB 350 with a vote of 31 – 18. SB 350 is an overhaul of child welfare services for at risk children in Georgia. Its model is similar to the privatized care for children in Florida. Sen. Renee Unterman (R – 45) sponsored the privatization bill in response to the case of Emani Moss. Moss, a 10-year-old girl, was found starved to death, her body disposed in a garbage can. Both her parents are currently in court with a case that may lead to the death penalty.
The belief is privatized child welfare services will keep more people accountable, be cheaper, and create a stronger community basis. We do not have any concrete data as of yet to support any such claims within Georgia. However, we can look to the south and see what has happened in Florida between 1996 and the present.
Florida had already though about privatizing welfare services in the mid 1990s. As a proof of concept, 5 pilot programs were created across the state; only one was successful. Two programs fell out due to funding, one lost its contract due to failure to meet requirements, and the fourth simply could not raise community support. The only area where this privatized program worked was in Sarasota County, a very affluent area of Florida. Their success was attributed to high income, low child rates, and high community involvement. Even today, this original program is operational.