A local nonprofit that supports children in foster care, their caregivers and family was recently awarded several large grants to provide aid to Forsyth, Hall and Floyd counties.
Brian Anderson, CEO of Supporting Adoption and Foster Families Together Inc. (SAFFT) announced the awards, for which Forsyth received the greatest amount — $99,000.
Hall County received $93,000, and $50,000 was awarded to SAFFT to launch a program in Floyd County.
“We’ve been working with a [Rome, Georgia] nonprofit, Restoration Rome, which raised 12 months [worth] of funding to pay for SAFFT’s services,” Anderson said. “We created a partnership to expand what was out there, and we were just waiting on the additional $50,000 to make it happen, so it’s a big deal.”
Anderson said 75 percent of the Forsyth and Hall grants are funded by the federal government, with the Forsyth County Juvenile Court, under Chief Judge J. Russell Jackson, and the Hall County Juvenile Court, under Chief Judge Lindsay Burton, respectively, matching the other 25 percent.
“There are several reasons why this is significant,” Anderson said. “First, it’s our eighth year receiving the contracts, which is important. The second is that by providing our services, it actually keeps the local counties from having to spend the money on these types of services.
“With this money, we’re able to provide free services to every parent and child affected by foster care and provide supervised visitation, drug screenings, transportation services, case management and support services for housing and employment.”
On average, Anderson said, children who are helped by SAFFT spend 90 fewer days —or three months less — in the foster care system.
“The average cost to have a child in foster care is $3,000 to $5,000 per month, so you can do the math and figure out if you keep a child out of foster care for a few months, it saves everyone money,” he said. “But more importantly, we focus on the moral and ethical impact of not keeping kids lingering in foster care.
“We provide information to the courts and DFCS to make it abundantly clear whether it’s safe for a child to return home, and our measurement for success is the safe, timely permanency of the child.”
Anderson said ensuring children have long-term, stable parents — whether it is their birth parents or adoptive parents — is the goal.
“It’s traumatic when child has to re-enter foster care,” he said, “so the faster and more accurate we can make it is [key].”
It is not just the children SAFFT helps.
Anderson said about 80 percent of parents test positive for drugs when they first come in, 80-90 percent are in poverty and most struggle with homelessness and unemployment, so focusing on them is also a crucial component of SAFFT’s work.
“Parents that come in with the worst circumstances are expected to fight with everything they’ve got to get their child back, but they don’t have the skills to do that,” Anderson said. “We provide them with the opportunity to learn skills and give them every opportunity to be successful so everyone feels comfortable when eight to 10 months go by and they want their kid back.”
Statewide, the median length for children in foster care is 12-14 months, Anderson said.
In Forsyth, that number is a little less — about 10 months.
Forsyth received the maximum grant amount possible, which was about the same as last year’s award.
Hall received about 20 percent more than last year, which was around $74,000, because SAFFT “hit [its] performance targets and has a lot more kids to help.”
The Floyd County program is in its pilot year, and further funding will be evaluated at a later date.