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Effingham Magazine

Supporting Vulnerable Children in the Foster Care System

Supporting Vulnerable Children in the Foster Care System
by Whitney Gillard, CEO of G&Co

As the school year approaches and families prepare their children for scholastic excellence, right next door are children in foster care preparing for changes and perhaps—yet again—another unstable season in education.

My name is Whitney Lam Gilliard, former ward of the state and current CEO of Gilliard and Company (G&Co). Gilliard and Company is a local 501(c)(3) Foster Care Focused Foundation that supports youth aging out of foster care through housing. Our mission is simple: Meeting the Needs of Foster Care.

When I grew up in the foster care system, school days were excruciating. My education suffered due to the lack of stability and my grades didn’t take into account the toll of the foster care system.

My hope is that this article will help our community better love the children facing foster care. Children in foster care attend the same summer camps, eat in the same cafeteria, go to the same school, and share the same education system as your child. But the rates of educational excellence falter so drastically for these children. There are ways we can help.

Be Understanding

Peering into a day in the life of what it means to be in foster care is step one to understanding how you can make a difference.

Starting this school year, there will be children within the system who are introduced to a new school. That means while your child may have grown up knowing the comfort and safety of their elementary, middle, and high school, our nation’s most vulnerable youth are yet again encountering a new hallway with new faces and a new schedule. The rate of children entering Georgia’s foster care system is accelerating by 90%( The Children’s Bureau). Yet only 5,400 homes are available to more than double the amount of children in need of foster families. So children in foster care are moved at an alarming rate from group homes to foster homes, to residentials, and more.

Don’t Judge

Youth in foster care do worse in school because they don't have the support they need to succeed. It’s important to know that part of the effects of moving around so much is the lack of credit transfers that occurs within each move. This means that not only does the child have to get acclimated to new families and environments monthly or yearly, they also have to continuously take courses over again. I had to take the same algebra class three times at my various placements. Every county was different. But every placement only allowed me to stay for 6 months.

Within every move, momentum and drive is lost. Along with these moves comes the complex emotional and traumatic toll. So when you see a foster child struggling, offer them the opportunity to study with your children and provide their caretakers with the same resources your child may have (ie: learning center, tutoring centers).

Don’t be a Stranger

As teachers and education staff are mandatory reporters to prevent child abuse and neglect, I want to stress the importance of what happens when a child is under the survellance of DFCS. Most reportings are assumptions and speculations, most are without tangible evidence and out of emotional preference of care for the child and/or comparison of care (ie: I would never let my child do XYZ).

After working for more than three years as a Family Support Partner for The Multi Alliance Agency for Children, I have learned that the best way to prevent child abuse and neglect is through providing resources and getting to know the families.

Being poor is not a crime; having a lot of children is not a crime; not dressing as nicely as your child is not a crime; not having as much food in the fridge as you may have is not a crime; having a lesser home than yours is not a crime. When concerned neighbors get involved in these types of situations, the children removed from the homes may not be better off in the system. Every child deserves to be with his or her family if they are safe.

Children enter foster care for many reasons. By understanding the family, you may find that the families face financial or medical challenges, or many challenges other than abuse.

However leaning in to help a family is not a pass to ignore the imminent threat of harm. If you ever feel that a child is in danger, please call 911 or report it to GA’s CPS hotline: 404-870-6565. Never turn a blind eye to a child whose safety may be at risk.

What Happens Now?

I hope that you will remain steadfast for our nation’s children, to learn more about who they are as individuals and not the stigma that surrounds them. I hope that you will welcome foster families and caregivers to your home and see where they may need help and resources before judging how they can do better. I hope that through your children and family’s understanding of the adversities facing our youth in foster care, our community is a hopeful place for this demographic of youth to thrive. It is only together we can stop the detrimental effects of life in and after foster care.