Georgia’s Gold Dome. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Opinion: Ways to help fix U.S., Ga. foster care

The past several years have seen the foster care system in crisis in Georgia and the U.S., due much in part to the opioid epidemic and the placement of more kids in foster care in recent years. Here are some ways to fix foster care.

1. Kinship care

Kinship foster care is an out-of-home arrangement for full-time care by relatives, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and sometimes even older siblings. Kinship care allows families to stay together, and studies indicate it helps improve mental health, stability, and behavior.

2. Education and advocacy

Perhaps the biggest impact one can make with those children placed in foster care is to become an advocate of change. Contact lawmakers and politicians, through means of emails, letters, phone calls, and other means of communication, and bring attention to the needs of children in care.

3. Rules, policies, and paperwork

Far too many social workers and foster parents spend a great deal of time on paperwork. There needs to be less paperwork, less “red tape” and more action on behalf of the child.

4. Therapy

Children in foster care, in many cases, do not receive adequate services in regard to mental health and developmental issues and will not likely do so in the near future, due to lack of government funding and resources. Professional therapy and counseling is essential for the well-being of the child.

5. Become a foster parent

With roughly 500,000 children in foster care in the U.S. alone, the need is strong for good foster homes and foster parents. By becoming a foster family, you can provide stability, safety, and hope for a child in foster care.

6. Bring resources around schools

Children in foster care face a great many challenges in the school system. More reform needs to be placed upon children in foster care while in school.

7. Helping those who age out

Each year, around 20,000 foster children age out of the system and attempt to begin life on their own. For many, foster care is a temporary service before returning home to a parent, moving in with a biological family member, or even beginning a new life in an adopted home.

8. Mentoring

Mentoring will allow current and former foster children not only a listening ear as they discuss challenges, but wisdom and guidance during times of struggle.

9. Post-reunification support

The end goal of foster care is reunification, when the child is reunified with birth parents and/or biological family. Birth parents and biological family members must receive ongoing support from child welfare agencies in order to prevent re-entry.

10. Co-parenting

When a foster parent shares the nurturing of a foster child alongside the birth parents and caseworker, reunification tends to happen at a quicker and more successful rate. Co-parenting sees the foster parent working alongside the biological parents of the child.

11. Child sex trafficking

Commercial acts of sex are being forced upon children as young as 10 years of age. More advocates are needed to bring an end to a form of modern-day slavery for children.

12. Help for foster parents

Foster parents often do not have all the resources or time they need to best help the children they are caring for. More training, understanding, support, and time to heal from grief, loss, and burnout is needed for foster parents.

13. Faith-based help

Faith-based groups can provide a safe, consistent, warm, and inviting atmosphere for children and birth family members to meet during visitation sessions.

14. CASA programs

CASAs, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, are volunteers who work with children in foster care as they advocate for their best interests in courtrooms and communities. By becoming a CASA, one can directly help a child in foster care.

15. Relief for caseworkers

Caseworkers are under-resourced, underpaid, overworked, and overwhelmed. Our caseworkers need to be given more time, more funding, more resources, and more understanding from the public, courts and foster parents.

Dr. John DeGarmo is founder of The Foster Care Institute in Monticello, and a foster parent.

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