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Center to foster kids
House will allow families to gather
hansard house exterior
The Hansard house will soon be renovated to offer a place for children in the foster and juvenile justice systems a place to visit their families. - photo by Jim Dean
Five children gathered at the library Wednesday, but they didn’t go to study or to read. They went to spend rare time with family.

These brothers and sisters live in three different homes through foster care.

Since they have no other designated safe meeting place, public buildings like the library are the only option, said Chris Starkey, who fosters two of the siblings.

But soon, a kid-friendly house will open in Cumming that will give foster children a safe and fun place for visitations.

Supporting Adoption and Foster Families Together is working to lease an unoccupied house the county owns off Veterans Memorial Boulevard.

The nonprofit group hopes to renovate and open the Hansard House by March, said Ashley Anderson, executive director.

Work on the site began last week after county commissioners gave the group the OK proceed.

Last month, Anderson and Juvenile Court Judge Russell Jackson received approval for a no-cost lease, which County Attorney Ken Jarrard said is in the works.

Anderson described the facility as “something that our county doesn’t have and really needed.”

Arranging visitation times and meeting places can be difficult without one central location, said Starkey, who has been a foster parent and group member since September.

“You’re in a public facility, so there’s only so much you’re allowed to do,” he said. “When you’ll be in this house, you’ll have the ability to have a more relaxed atmosphere for the family to actually be able to relax and bond and get back together because that’s the goal for foster care.”

Jackson told commissioners last month that the current visitation system doesn’t work well for foster families or children.

Relatives often meet in either public places, like the library, or the Division of Family and Children Services office, which is limited to normal business hours.

Plus many times, Jackson said, children associate the office with the “traumatic event” of their family being separated.

“It’s not secure. It’s too public. You can’t have meaningful contact and visitation. And it’s not safe,” he said. “We got to thinking that there had to be a better way to do this.”

At the new center, visitation aides will still supervise most families, as they currently do. But with the controlled location and proper security, safety can be less of a concern.

The basement and backyard will serve as play areas, and meeting rooms will be available for families.

The adoption and foster group can also hold state-required parenting classes, support group meetings and other parenting or educational gatherings in the house.

At the Dec. 8 meeting, the county commission expressed concern about the house’s long-term prospects.

Chairman Charles Laughinghouse noted the property was bought with the possibility of using the site for a new sheriff’s headquarters and jail, and that a lengthy lease would not work.

Still, those involved say even short-term use of the house would be beneficial.

Several local groups — Family Connection, Leadership Forsyth and Court Appointed Special Advocate, among others — have pledged their support to the effort.

Anderson has estimated the cost to get the house up and running at about $25,000, with much fundraising likely required.