(Excerpt from Bill Hancock’s testimony before the Georgia Senate Foster Care Initiative Working Group. Watch on YouTube.)
By Bill Hancock
Thank you for the opportunity to part of this conversation today.
In a public – private partnership government focuses on protecting children. Public agencies are free to focus on the fundamentals of child investigation, legislative oversight, private provider contract management, regulatory compliance and data information and management.
Providers in partnership with local community leaders have the responsibility and incentives to understand the needs of children and families in their local area and to develop robust continuums of child and family service strategies like home visitation, family preservation, foster care, specialized care and other services based on the determined needs of the children in their communities.
In the history of child welfare there’s never been sufficient foster family capacity. Simply put, the system requires more ready and willing families for children that need them. Casting vision and raising awareness locally in partnership with community organizations, in our case, the local church, helps to recruit more foster families and increases the number of families.
Foster families and children need support and stability. In the FaithBridge community of care foster families are surrounded with individually matched and trained volunteers who provide a variety of support based on the needs of the children in their care. In addition, highly qualified professionals with a case load of less than 20 children serve as a bridge between the foster family and the dozens of transactional relationships that are initiated when a child welfare case is opened. Having this type of support provides necessary stability and minimizes the number of families who suffer burnout and quit within the first year. This is what we call “One and Done.”
This highly supportive environment produces impressive outcomes. We’ve seen improved quality in this type of partnership. Community–based care is about local involvement, local solutions (and) local engagement. Over the last seven years in a multi–county pilot program we have recruited 250 foster families and served 500 children in the metro Atlanta area.
We have demonstrated how families identified, served and supported locally can yield impressive results. At FaithBridge, adoptions of foster children are finalized in approximately 500 days which is nearly half the time that it takes right now across the state. Likewise, in nearly 100 percent of those cases children were adopted by their foster family or another FaithBridge resource, eliminating the issue of foster children waiting for adoption.
At FaithBridge children are reunited with their families in less than six months versus the nine months across the state, saving government dollars and reducing the trauma of separation children experience when away from their families. At FaithBridge we have zero cases of maltreatment while children are in care for over 500 cases.
How can we achieve these results? It’s really all about relationships locally, engaging many people in the communities where children live. When children are surrounded by caring and watchful adults in their communities of care children are safer and they heal. Foster families and their volunteer community groups become a persistent presence in the lives of the children they serve and in their natural families as well. Children will go home. Many of the volunteers and foster families in the relationships because they’re a community and they are their neighbors, follow them. Not only are foster children regularly included in family celebrations and holidays but they form life long bonds.
Some quick examples in closing: One foster family provided a birth mom with a prepaid cell phone, commenting that if you reach that tipping point again, give us a call, we’re here to help, we’re part of your community. When the mom lost her job and the boyfriend wanted the kids out of the home, this family was the first call. She had learned to trust and she had learned to ask for help, which they were happy to provide and that relationship continues today.
Another foster family reserved a room in their home for a child who had been reunited with his young mother, very inexperienced. The family committed to be there and provided weekend respite and coaching for the biological mother for more than five years until she abandoned the child in their home. That eventually led to an adoption.
An entire church congregation stood one Sunday evening while a child was in their midst as the foster child had asked to be baptized in the church the family attended. With the child’s birth father in attendance, who had become friends with the foster family and their community, the pastor asked if those in the congregation who were family members would stand and support this nine-year-old. First stood the foster family, then the birth parent. Many people in the congregation recognized this was the foster family they had been supporting. As they began to acknowledge the family’s presence the rest of the congregation began to stand in support as well. This was a local mega-church. It looked like a wave.
In another case the birth father of a foster child wanted to spend extra time with his child over and beyond the scheduled visits so the foster family invited him to church and to lunch afterwards. Eighty people in a Sunday school class who had gotten to know about his situation and his children began to reach out to him. Now even though the child has not returned home he has become a regular member of the local community, finding new networks of people and friends to call on when he needs help.
Today more than ever our children need us to step up, to lead, to find a passion and an accountable path forward to create community-based solutions. Through public-private partnerships children do win. They need an approach that puts families over finance, children above politics and communities above the power brokers. Our children need us. Thank you.
Bill Hancock is President at FaithBridge Foster Care in Alpharetta. Previously he was executive director at Mountain Top Boys’ Home in Sugar Valley, executive pastor at Evangel Temple Assembly of God in Columbus, and executive director at Carpenter’s Way Ranch in Cataula.