“There are 50 children in the DFCS system in Charlton County,” says Barbie Dinkins, with the Called to Care Charlton/Brantley program , “and there are only ten homes to place them.”
Charlton County is in Region 11, which mostly consists of South Georgia counties, and each one is struggling to find homes for these children. Those who cannot be placed in homes near them are placed in other counties, and sometimes separated from siblings. While caseloads are dropping, the amount of homes willing to foster has not changed in years. But that doesn’t mean it can’t change.
Blaine Murray, of Folkston, is the Vice President of the Adopt and Foster Parent Association of Georgia for Region 11. If foster parents have questions or concerns, he is the go-to person. His wife, Sabrina, serves on the nominating committee, and they both serve on the board.
“There is a big need,” Sabrina comments. “For a big county, and a loving and supportive county, there’s no reason not to have enough homes.”
Sabrina, who worked 11 years with the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), knows the process on a professional level. During this time, she worked on adoptions, foster care, child protective services, adult protective services and resource development, which helped recruit, train and retain resource families. She saw the need first hand and knew this was what she needed to do. When she got home, she spoke to Blaine who expressed he felt the same.
“When I decided this is what I wanted to do and he said he did too, I said, ‘lets go!’”
When they first began the process, they just built a new house, finishing in May. By the beginning of June, they got their first call. In ten years, the couple has had around 20 kids come through their home. Some were not even from Charlton. In this number, the two have adopted seven children. Overnight they went from only the two of them to “two car loads” Sabrina affectionately joked.
This is not a new problem. There are families in Charlton who have taken in babies, children, and teenagers for many years. Some have even been adopted.
“Our house has always been a revolving door,” says Kim Aldridge, who, along with her sister Susan Germani, was adopted by Delene and the late Lindy James, of Folkston.
When Mr. and Mrs. James realized they would not be able to have children of their own, Delene started noticing advertisements for adopting and fostering, so she spoke to her husband.
“I said, ‘Honey, why don’t we do this?’” His only request – a son.
“Little did he know I would be his only son,” jokes Kim.
The Jameses made it a point to do their very best in treating any child who stayed in their home the same as their girls. Lindy would take the boys fishing, while Delene would take the girls shopping. They both gave each child their love.
“My children knew they had a home and knew they were loved. I wanted these kids to feel the same,” recalls Delene, “and most of the time, we enjoyed it”.
“They treated them just like us,” remembers Susan.
Certain children who come through the doors of these unfamiliar homes have been through unimaginable events in their lives. They enter these homes broken, scared, and lacking love and support. Others have come from families who, while loving, just couldn’t take proper care of them and wanted to give them their best chance of a better life. Some only stay for a short time while their biological families get on their feet.
Delene says she learned to be prepared for anything. “You never know what they’ve been through,” she said. “If you’re going to foster, you have to have a love for children.”
The Murrays feel the same.
“You can’t do it for the money. You have to have that part in your heart that wants to make a difference,” Blaine states.
When foster families get “the call”, they have the right to refuse a child, they are not obligated to take them. If they agree, once the child is placed in the home, there are crew leaders who are readily available to help make the transition easier and to help not only the child, but the new parents as well. Other foster families are also a great resource.
“You have to be prepared to let them go,” says Delene, who shared there was more than one she was hurt to see leave.
Both families agree learning to love these children, but having to let go, is one of the hardest parts of the process. They understand this is the reason so many decide not to foster, but reiterate the importance of those who offer their support.
“It takes a very talented and loving person to open their hearts and homes,” says Kim.
Susan agrees, stating, “All you need is love. It doesn’t take a rich person”.
If you would like to have more information on the process of becoming a foster or adoptive parent, contact the foster care and adoption recruitment intake line at 877-210-KIDS (5437) or visit www.dfcs.georgia.gov.
If fostering is not for you, there are other ways to help. The Charlton/Brantley Called to Care Program, a local ministry, focuses on showing the love of Jesus by bringing the needs of hurting children and families in the community to attention. This may include foster children or children in transition to live with a grandparent or other relative. Called to Care makes citizens aware of these needs by posting a request on Facebook, giving users a real-time opportunity to spring into action.
Since January 2019, Called to Care, along with donations from local businesses, churches, and private citizens, has been able to provided three cribs and mattresses, purchase sheets, pillows, pack-n-plays, and car seats. They have provided clothes for 17 foster or relative placement children, and were able to purchase back-to-school clothing for 13 children with the help of local donations. They have secured bunk beds for two families, provided groceries to multiple families, and were able to help supply the local Department of Family and Children Services with Journey Bags. Journey Bags are a child’s care package consisting of a pillow, a blanket, pajamas, and other personal items for them to use when going into a foster care.
To become a part of this group, go to facebook.com/CalledtoCareCharltonBrantleyCounties, like the page, and begin following the posts. On this page, you will find information on items needed such as cribs, beds, clothes, car seats, and more. If you do not have the means to give, simply sharing the post can make a difference. Cash donations are also another way the group is able to provide tangible needs to vulnerable children.
“We are striving to get local churches and the community involved to help fill the enormous needs. Folkston United Methodist Church has been a key partner in our endeavors,” stated Barbie Dinkins.
Dinkins is the director for Called to Care in both Charlton and Brantley Counties. She is available to speak at functions, meetings, or even church services. For more information on Called to Care, to request her to speak, or to get involved, email her at email@example.com or call (912) 282-2064. You can also speak with her in person on October 26, as Debbe Arwood and Joy Campbell will host a Zumbathon at the Charlton County High School auditorium to raise money for the program.
“It takes a village to make sure these children break the cycle” says Sabrina, “it’s not always easy”.