They are a small part of a growing subset of youth in Georgia who are suffering, not only from lost family connections, but from a drastically reduced budget to provide the services that they require to prepare them for adulthood.
In response to this issue, the Honorable John B. Sumner, presiding judge of the county’s Juvenile Court, organized a board of community stakeholders dedicated to bolstering the success rate of these teenagers. He christened the program “Foundations.”
The name is a nod to the parable of building a house on the rock instead of the sand. The goal of the board is to provide resources to these teenagers so they may develop strong and sturdy foundations of character.
These board members come from professions that see the effects of young adults without proper training and direction. This board includes judges, attorneys, law enforcement officers, county employees, and state agencies. All of these members are unpaid volunteers who came together with the help of other community members and religious organizations to promote better opportunities for teenage children in foster care.
The statistics on this issue are compelling. When a child in foster care reaches the age of 18, the child is suddenly responsible for every aspect of her life, often, without any support system. Four out of every 10 children will be homeless; 52 percent will be unemployed; 75 percent of females and 33 percent of males will be dependent on government assistance to meet their basic needs.
Because they may not become productive members of society, the community will continue to pay for their needs into adulthood.
Last month, the Foundations program’s team building event saw a number of children increase their team building and interpersonal skills. Back in the pasture, 40 teens are learning how to work together and solve problems.
Under the direction of John Hicks from the Canton YMCA, and the Honorable Frank Mills, these strangers worked together to complete strange yet thought-provoking tasks. Each project is designed to strengthen their confidence, resolve, and self-worth.
After spending the morning solving puzzles and challenges together in the field, the teens enjoyed the hospitality of the Goshen Valley Boys Ranch and the grilling expertise of Judge M. Anthony Baker. The children enjoyed fellowshipping with each other and made meaningful connections with the community leaders who volunteered their time to assist with the day’s program.
Another aspect of the Foundations program is to foster a sense of community connection and support. Each of the teenagers is expected to complete work improving and serving the community. Being a productive member of society means giving of your time to help those less fortunate and make the community a better place for all.
By showing their worth to the community, these children hope to reverse the stigma that comes from being in foster care. They want the community to know they are willing to pay back and pay forward the investment that the community makes in them. The teens will be engaging the community in these community care projects this winter.
The third goal of the Foundations program is focused on providing the kinds of practical resources that these children require. Programs designed to teach these children how to fill out an application for an apartment, how a security deposit works, how to prepare a resume, how to fill out tax returns and how to dress for a job interview. Remember, these children do not have a family support system to provide answers to these questions; they need guidance.
This Foundations program is the only one of its kind in Georgia. Judge Sumner and Judge Baker are blazing a trail that leads to a higher percentage of teenagers in foster care leading healthy, successful, and productive lives. These children were denied needed family support, so it is up to this community to ensure that they are not left sinking into the sand.
William Carlan is an associate attorney with the law firm of Thompson, Meier & King, P.C. located in historic downtown Canton. Mr. Carlan is a proud graduate of Cherokee High School and a board member for the Foundations program.