That is a given, and not only because this newspaper has demanded a solution without result like forever with the current editorial writer alone have pounded this particular pulpit for 25 years as have juvenile-court judges and many others. The topic is foster care, or the appalling lack thereof available everywhere, although apparently especially so in Greater Rome, a community otherwise noteworthy for a high level of caring regarding human problems.
According to figures from the recent Rome Judicial Circuit Justice for Children Summit, there are 285 Floyd County children now in the foster-care system but only 19 local foster-care homes (some may well be raising more than one child, of course). Thus, some Greater Rome children wind up getting placed as far away as Brunswick — that’s on the seacoast, about as far away from contact with relatives, friends and everything they’ve previously known as is possible for this community’s youngsters.
The most recent statewide numbers are that 13,965 children are in state-supervised (and somewhat paid-for) foster care in the state, with 2,370 of those waiting for adoptive families. Not all children have been “taken away” ... some have been “given up” for various reasons.
MORE FRIGHTENING still, it appears that Floyd County is the apparent state leader in percentage of children being put into foster care. According to statistics from Christopher Church, an analyst for the Administrative Office of the Courts of Georgia, Floyd has 73 foster children per 10,000 residents — that is more than triple the statewide rate of 23 per 10,000 — with about 70 percent put in non-relative foster care; 17 percent with a relative; 11 percent institutionalized.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean Greater Rome is the favored homeland for bad parents. Remember, statistics don’t necessarily tell the underlying truth. It could simply be the result of area public-safety and child-welfare personnel, along with the general public, being far more vigilant about such things.
This is a messy, complicated problem caused by many, many contributing factors and not just family troubles, alcohol/drug abuse and on and on and on. It is also heavily impacted by social changes and preferences that have seen many former “taken for granted” reactions to family stress situations decline. How many more foster children in need of homes would there be even today were it not that so many grandparents — themselves reacting to values once common when they were reared — did not take it upon themselves to raise the offspring.
ONCE UPON a time, other than for actual “orphans” or abandonments, there was no governmental intervention/housing in such situations. Remember Victorian-era novels with children begging/stealing on the streets? It is still a situation in which government anything should exist only as the last resort. Despite what Newt Gingrich once said, nobody really wants to see orphanages replace the welfare system and be used to warehouse children and really have them raised by the state.
Similarly, the inference assumed by some in Hillary Clinton’s promotion of the old African proverb that “it takes a village to raise a child” meant a governmental role is wrong. It means that extended family, neighbors, village have a common human obligation regarding protection of the human herd’s youngest and weakest. Some very few continue to attempt it nowadays — 19 in Floyd County and one assumes that is not counting Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, who funds several group foster homes in Greater Rome. Somehow one doubts he makes do with the $12 a day the state provides for “room and board” (seriously!) although that is atop a lot of free stuff (Medicaid, school lunches and similar).
Like Cathy, whose operations are perhaps a model of how this might be better done (full-time house parents and so forth), it takes a very good heart plus a lot more to become so engaged. The rewards, as with children of one’s own, are intangible and the potential problems very tangible and constant. And even the best of hearts, assuming they can work with the financial strain of helping others in a society with I-want-it-now priorities, will find attaining state approval no simple task.
THE HURDLES and training the state demands are understandable. After all, if a foster child comes to harm who gets the blame? The caretakers ... or the state for having approved of them even under such desperate circumstances as the present statistics indicate? Thus Georgia, as do most states, has intensive background checking that many would consider invasive, drug testing, required passage of a 12-week course in such parenting that has a heavy washout rate and lots more. An excellent Q&A on what is involved can be found at www.gcacofgeorgia.com/FAQ.aspx and will alone cull out the faint of dedication.
And, as another website explained (there are many of them for research by those interested):
“Because foster parenting is a day-to-day, long-term commitment and can have significant impact on your life and family, personal issues may have to be dealt with including your own childhood traumas, relationships with your parents, and any abuse issues you may have. In addition, you must be ready and able to assume full responsibility for a child that is not yours, offer love and support to that child, and then be willing to return that child to his birth parents or perhaps have the child moved from your home to another with little or no control over those movements. You must be willing to work with caseworkers and the court system closely, as well as birth parents, who may not be the kind of people you are used to associating with.”
In a sense, Floyd County may be lucky to have 19 such, although the more worrisome question is why others places in state, such as Brunswick, might actually have a surplus.
THE ONLY THING that does not change is that children are all born innocent. True “bad seeds” are exceedingly rare; “bad soil” has become too common. And good neighbors willing to help repair and fertilize a salted earth entirely too rare.
All of us have a human obligation to do what we can regarding this most fundamental of problems — as the child is bent, so grows the society — be it with time or money. Most of all, this issue needs the sense of urgency that it has never yet received.