A board of community stakeholders was appointed to lead the program, called Foundations, by Cherokee Juvenile Court Judge John Sumner, and includes judges, attorneys, court staff, courthouse volunteers, law enforcement and state agency representatives, said Canton attorney William Carlan, who is on the board.
“Judge Sumner has been a Juvenile Court judge for the past 10 years. He’s seen many teenagers reaching age 18 with no skills or direction for their lives,” Carlan said. “He wants to ensure that we’ve given these under-served children the best opportunity to be successful. Many of these kids will be receiving this information for the first time due to unstable family environment.”
Cherokee County Division of Family and Children Services Director Charity Kemp said the program was created to provide education and additional resources to help teenagers in foster care become more independent.
Foundations held a kick-off event June 1 at Cagle’s Dairy in Hickory Flat, and Carlan said teenagers, foster parents, group home organizers, court representatives, attorneys and other board members came together to address the purpose of the program.
“Quite frankly, if we do not provide this community service, the number of young adults who will suffer from homelessness, unemployment and, in many cases, criminal issues, will continue to exist at its current rate or worse,” Carlan said. “The goal is to reduce these numbers by providing better independent living skills to these children.”
Carlan said there are 59 teenagers in Cherokee County foster care, and 15 of them will turn 18 this year.
“These kids often get the least attention from the state agencies that keep them,” Carlan said. “Many exist in a holding pattern until they reach 18 because they are too old to adopt or the don’t have family that is close to stepping up to care for them. It is a remarkably sad situation — one many of us do not like to believe exists in our own backyard.”
Carlan said the board will meet at least quarterly, and smaller groups will meet to work organize programming and classes that will be offered to the teens.
“Part of the community service push is for the kids to see that they can help the community and show the community that these children have value,” Carlan said. “Sadly, we only ever hear about the problem kids. There are some great kids who need some encouragement to be completely outstanding.”
Carlan said both teenagers and the community will benefit from the program.
“With so many special- needs kids flooding the court system, resources are used up quickly. The hope is that this program will help fill the gap that is left when individualized attention cannot be given to each child to help the child make well-informed decisions,” Carlan said.