Director: DFCS working to better serve diverse Gwinnett communities

Serving a county as large and diverse as Gwinnett is a challenge on its way to being met, said Georgia Division of Children and Family Services Director Tom Rawlings Wednesday in Lawrenceville.

Gwinnett is the second most populous and most diverse in the state, with significant immigrant populations primarily speaking languages other than English. “Frontline” workers — social workers and other staff that interact directly with the community — must understand those languages and cultures, Rawlings said.

READ | Gwinnett company faces $125K OSHA fine for chemical, safety violations

DFCS is getting help on building that infrastructure in Gwinnett, Rawlings said, partially thanks to $300,000 in the state budget that will be used to hire more people from diverse backgrounds so services can be provided in non-English-speaking communities more efficiently.

“There is an ongoing effort to diversify our staff and their skills to meet the ongoing needs of our community,” said Travis Moses, director of DFCS’s Gwinnett County office.

A more diverse staff can build trust in growing immigrant communities. One example is the annual health fair Gwinnett County DFCS office holds, Moses said. The fair provides free health screenings including physicals and dental exams. More than 500 people attended the 2019 health fair, with kids both in DFCS care and those simply in need of health exams showing up.

“Those relationships are necessary so they will open their doors to our services, but also so that they will let us know what their needs are,” Rawlings said.

Rawlings was in Gwinnett to promote the department’s State of Hope program. Launched in 2018, it aims to fund and otherwise support initiatives benefit ting children and families in order to prevent the need for DFCS intervention. Proposals are accepted from non-profits, local governments, businesses, other groups and even individuals. Sixty proposals were submitted in 2018 and five were funded. The agency expects to fund 10 out of the more than 120 submitted in 2019, said Dahlia Bell Brown, the agency’s deputy division director of strategy, innovation and engagement. Those that aren’t funded still get access to a network of resources, which DFCS calls an “ecosystem,” that allow them to share resources or learn how to apply for outside funding.

The initiative currently targets issues related to education, caregiving, understanding trauma and helping people become economically self-sufficient. Other issues DFCS recognizes in Gwinnett County — homelessness, substance abuse and mental health — could be addressed by future State of Hope programs, Brown said.