Photo Credit: Larry Petroff
Athens-Clarke County Mayor Nancy Denson declared May Foster Care Month in Athens last Thursday, part of a series of awareness events about the need for homes in the area. (See The Calendar or homein5.net for listings.) The events are sponsored by Home in 5, a partnership between public and private foster care services to increase foster care awareness and support for Department of Family and Children Services in Athens.
More than 260 children need foster homes in Athens, but fewer than 20 homes are available. The number of children has risen from 120 in January last year, a rise that has never occurred at this rate, Tim Johnson, executive director of Family Connection/Community in Schools, said at a press conference at City Hall May 7.
The rise is the result of 10 years of cuts to DFCS funding, Johnson said, but it is also a sign of progress for the department. A 24/7 toll-free phone number has made filing reports of suspected child abuse easier, as opposed to earlier years where calls had to be made during business hours. The addition of the phone number resulted in an increased number of calls that led to verified cases of child abuse.
Because more children need to be placed in foster homes, the increased number has exacerbated an already stretched supply. “We have a crisis in Clarke County and communities around us where we have a shortage of foster homes,” said Dawn Criss, the director of DFCS in Clarke County.
A statewide shortage does exist, but the situation in Athens is worse than many other communities, Johnson said, so children often have to be sent to other communities to be placed in a foster home. The more quickly children are placed in a safe home, the more likely they are to recover after a traumatic event, Criss said. Relocating a child to another community adds to the trauma, she said.
“We need homes in our community, and we need them now,” Criss said.
Foster home parent Brody Bearden said he hopes that eventually Athens will have a surplus of foster care families. “The need is great. I would love to see that statistic reversed,” Bearden said.