CANTON — The director of Cherokee County Division of Family and Children Services is looking for more families to help take care of the 251 children in foster care from Cherokee County.
DFCS Director Charity Kemp took over the job of director in September of 2012. One of the most pressing issues she found in her first few months on the job is that Cherokee DFCS is in desperate need of foster parents in the county to “help the children be served in their own community,” she said.
“We have 251 children in the county in foster care currently, and we have about 64 foster homes,” Kemp said. “So that puts a lot of our children going out of the county when they’re placed in foster care, which interrupts their connections to the county, to their families, to their friends, to their school. They’re already experiencing trauma through the process, but it creates additional trauma for them.”
Kemp, who has worked for DFCS for about 15 years, said the agency is working to see that most children in Cherokee County foster care are reunited with their parents, and when children have to go out of the county it makes that more difficult since parents have less contact, she said.
“These aren’t just DFCS children, these are Cherokee County children,” Kemp said. “We all serve them better together.”
Kemp said she approaches the children in Cherokee County DFCS as members of the community, and said they are better served when the entire community helps out, from religious organizations to foster parents.
“Studies have shown that when children are typically raised in foster care most of them come out of the system with incarceration or homelessness, and really are not well-equipped with the independent skills they need to function,” Kemp said. “Because it takes that parental support.”
Kathleen Gulnick, a resource development case manager with Cherokee DFCS, said Cherokee DFCS has an orientation every month for people who are interested in fostering children.
“It’s just an informational meeting, you’re not signing your life (away) or buying a house,” Gulnick said. “You just come in for information. Then we would follow up from there with them.”
Gulnick said the process of becoming a foster parent can take between three to six months, depending on different variables, and a good way to start is by calling (877) 210-KIDS.
“The people that do this are truly dedicated and special,” Gulnick said. “It’s not for everybody but we’ve got some great foster parents.”
Kemp said she started her career as a teacher after graduating from Valdosta State University, but wanted to deal more with helping traumatized children and providing resources to families.
“The most rewarding thing is to see the success stories,” Kemp said.
“Through children achieving some sort of permanency like adoption, or a family achieving success in their family functioning so that the agency is able to step out of their lives.”
Kemp and Gulnick said they try to approach the court system as a partner in helping the children and their families.
“DFCS is a transparent agency, we’re here to serve children and families and we want to do the best that we can at that,” Kemp said.
“And we see the best results through partnership. We are truly taking on the collaborative approach with our partners in the community and being open to their feedback and keeping open communication.”
Kemp said since she’s been working for DFCS, the organization has changed to provide more support to families and there is more of a focus on childrens’ safety. Gulnick added that the service has become “more practical.”
“It’s a challenging system and we have areas we can improve in and strive to improve in those areas every day,” Kemp said.
Kemp said the organization hopes to take more of a proactive approach to helping families earlier, so they don’t get to the level of being a safety concern for children.
“We’re here to help you and not to mandate you to do things,” Kemp said about the new DFCS perspective. “But to provide support and resources for you.”