FaithBridge Foster Care, based out of Alpharetta, started seven years ago to provide an alternative to the state’s foster care system. It is a model for a new bill working its way through the state legislature.
“It is an epic moment for the state of Georgia for this policy change,” said Bill Hancock, founder and CEO of FaithBridge Foster Care.
Bill SB350 was introduced into the Georgia General Assembly at the beginning of last month and passed by the state Senate on Feb. 18. The bill is now under review by the Georgia House of Representatives.
The bill states the Georgia Department of Human Services would bid out child welfare services “through fixed price contracts to a limited number of lead agencies.”
The contractors would follow “uniformed criteria to ensure continuity of care from entry to exit for all children referred from the court systems,” the bill states. It would require monthly reports on the number of families served by the agency, the education results of the children in foster care and key health measurements.
The bill would require federal approval to ensure Georgia would still receive national child welfare funding. The bill could go into effect at the beginning of 2015, to be phased in over two years.
A decade ago, 95 percent of foster homes were state run, but now only 52 percent remain directly under a state agency. The other 48 percent are privately run, Hancock said.
“The policy is catching up to what communities have done for some time now,” Hancock said.
Why dismantle the existing structure?
According to FaithBridge Foster Care, there are more than 7,000 Georgian children in foster care and 276 in Cobb County alone.
Hancock said a “large bureaucracy” and a “one-size-fits-all” program is not designed to meet the unique needs of each area.
“When we look to government, at the state and federal level, there is a huge disparity in meeting local needs,” he said.
Instead, Hancock said a “community-based solution” provides a localized response, which might be different for a metro area in Georgia compared to one of the coastal towns.
According to FaithBridge Foster Care, there would be even greater transparency by these local contractors.
“The very nature of community-based care is local ownership,” Hancock said. “You know who to hold accountable.”
Under the new bill, the churches would not be contractors for the foster care program, but work through nonprofits such as FaithBridge.
This means no state funding would go directly to a church, Hancock said, which is good for religious institutions that do not want the government intruding within their sacred walls.
By removing the foster care side in the Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services, the department could focus 100 percent of investigating claims of child abuse and neglect.
In 2013, Cobb County investigated 1,271 cases of maltreatment of children, because of neglect, physical abuse, or caretakers abusing drugs or alcohol, according to fosteringcourtimprovement.org, which uses metrics submitted by child welfare agencies.
Of those investigations, there were 635 victims reported, with 208 children placed in foster care. That means 427 kids were not removed and possibly remain in unstable homes that need to be monitored by DFCS.
Nonprofit a bridge between parents, state department
FaithBridge is already partnering with 26 churches in 11 Georgia counties to coordinate existing resources to children in need.
Hancock said his organization is tapping into churches because these congregations already have an infrastructure of financial means and services provided to an area.
“Churches are at the center of a network of outreach … and the members are leaders in the community,” Hancock said.
At least one Cobb church is partnering with FaithBridge. Cedarcrest Church, off Cobb Parkway, near Highway 92 west of Lake Acworth, launched its first foster care ministry Sunday.
At the beginning of the Sunday service, a video discussed a family, “compelled by Christ’s compassion” to provide a home to an abandoned child.
“As a Christ-centered organization, FaithBridge embraces a vision that helps inspire and equip our members to support and rebuild families in our community,” said Pastor George Wright of Cedarcrest Church, which has 850 members.
One family is already leading by example. Kim Kilgoar and her husband, Jon, have lived in Paulding County for 12 years and have been attending Cedarcrest Church for four years.
In 2010, Kilgoar said the couple was called to be foster parents after learning about another couple’s involvement with FaithBridge.
The Kilgoars do not have any biological children and it was their first exposure to foster care.
“We had a big empty house, and we thought, why aren’t we doing this?” Kilgoar said.
In 2011, the Kilgoars took in two brothers, Aaron, who is now 8, and Evan, who is now 13.
Kilgoar said the most surprising hurdle was how to navigate the needed tutors, social workers, therapists and biological parent visits.
“That is the hardest part, to give them some normalcy during a turbulent time,” she said.
The consistency and structure paid off, Kilgoar said, because the boys now feel safe.
But, Kilgoar said, if it had not been for FaithBridge, their story may not have been a success.
“It can be scary to work directly with DFCS,” she said. “There were times I knew I was not being heard,” about what was best for the boys.
Almost one year ago, the Kilgoars adopted the boys, and they will celebrate the first anniversary as a family this month.
The Kilgoars now serve as an example to other church members.
“You can see that you don’t have to be a super human to do this,” Kilgoar said.
Want to get involved?
The public is invited to attend information meetings on foster care
WHAT: A 90-minute introduction to the Christian foster care ministry
WHERE: Cedarcrest Church of Acworth, 4600 Cobb Parkway. NW
WHEN: Sunday, March 16 at 12:30 p.m. and Wednesday evening, March 19 at 6:30 p.m.
Interested in becoming a foster parent? Attend the FaithBridge Foundations training.
WHAT: An intensive, multi-day event.
WHERE: The Student Building at Cedarcrest Church of Acworth, 4600 Cobb Pkwy. NW
WHEN: Friday, April 25 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, April 26 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, April 27 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.