Hope is my brand and who I am at my core. I fundamentally believe in the very definition of hope: an expectation for something to happen. For nearly three decades, I’ve worked to improve child welfare and social services policy across the country, including as Director of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. So I know just how important it is that children, families, and those working to support them never lose hope.
May is National Foster Care Awareness Month and I’m reflecting on the system in Georgia where I worked to plant seeds of hope for children and families across the state. The foster care system is incredibly complex and multifaceted and requires a great deal of attention and resources to provide the best possible outcomes for children and families. The challenges that face the system can seem overwhelming and often insurmountable, but there are three key areas where everyone can come together to make improvements and deliver hope.
Bridging the talent gap. Those working in the foster care system are often understaffed, overworked and undertrained. New staff may lack the historical knowledge needed to ensure operational excellence. The state needs partners who understand the intricacies of the system and who add value and resources, so that case workers will be better supported. Experienced coordinators are critical. Amerigroup’s Georgia Families 360 program offers a licensed clinical care coordinator for every child who partners with local foster and adoptive parents, providers and DFCS to coordinate services so that case workers can focus on their caseloads. Creating a kinship navigator position would also help to connect foster parents to resources, guiding them to the programs and information they need to be successful.
Delivering quality and consistency. Access to care and services should not be dependent on geographic location. Consistent standards and quality outcomes must exist statewide, from Fulton County to Grady County and everywhere in between. Amerigroup developed a strong and promising step in the right direction, establishing an early intervention triage team that assesses all children within 30 days of their entry to care to a strong clinical understanding and proactive coordination of services regardless of geographic location. Amerigroup also deploys mobile units that go out into harder-to-reach communities to ensure a uniform assessment approach across all counties.
Authentic engagement with the counties. It all comes down to community engagement. How can we serve a community if we do not know them? In my time as director of DFCS, I travelled across all 159 counties in the state, meeting families, providers, and stakeholders, learning their struggles and what they needed from my team. Hands-on engagement not only builds trust, but also creates a channel of communication that leads to a better allocation of resources. It opens the door to deeper understanding of the social drivers of health that play a huge part in the lives of foster and adoptive children and their families. Understanding and addressing these drivers gets to the root causes of the challenges our children face and cannot be overlooked. Amerigroup is focused on this kind of holistic approach. Care Coordinators are assigned to the same counties so relationships can be built and sustained. The Education and Training Team is constantly in the communities, sharing resources, educational information and engaging with stakeholders. Employment Specialists with Amerigroup work to strengthen partnerships in the community to create a pipeline for kids exiting foster care to enter the workforce prepared and equipped.
We can all learn and grow for the better – and Amerigroup is no different. But they know the system, its challenges, and solutions. They are committed to ongoing advocacy for foster children and their families, and their dedication is focused on ensuring that every individual in Georgia has equal access to the necessary care, support and services that are essential to lead happy, healthy lives, impacting families for generations to come.
Some say hope cannot be measured, but if we can prevent a child from entering the system because of early and effective interventions – that’s hope; when a foster child successfully graduates high school – that’s hope; when appropriate care takes a child from three medications to one – that’s hope. The system isn’t perfect, but by supporting our talent, applying consistent best practices, and listening to the community, we can bring new hope to Georgia families.
Ginger Pryor is a former Director of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (2014-2019).