by Susan Browning Schulz
“You are loved … always.” This beautiful, hand-painted sign is the first thing you see when you walk through the doors of The Children’s Haven in Canton. While interviewing the executive director, Deidre Hollands, I learned this message is behind everything done for the children The Children’s Haven (THC) serves — those plunged into the foster care system.
“The children and families that come before us do so at the worst possible moments in their lives. As we strive to protect children and find safe and permanent homes, we need the assistance of concerned members of the community,” said John B. Sumner, chief Juvenile Court judge.
The mission at TCH is simple: to promote the health and happiness of children impacted by abuse and neglect. The staff and volunteers are fully committed to building successful children by providing comprehensive abuse prevention and treatment programs in four ways.
TCH is working with Prevent Child Abuse Georgia to develop innovative prevention programs using research-based models that prevent primary abuse, like home visitation for newborns and a 1-800-CHILDREN helpline for anyone concerned about a child.
The supervised WellStar Family Visitation Center offers a home-like environment for children to visit with parents, siblings and extended family while they are separated by child welfare involvement. The area includes a kitchen, a living room and playroom filled with toys for kids of all ages. The viewing area is inconspicuous, behind one-way glass, and equipped with adequate video monitors to keep all involved safe, yet comfortable and at ease.
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) provide focused child advocacy so that no child lingers in the foster care system without the security of a safe, nurturing and permanent family. Advocates work with parents to access services they need to stabilize their lives and improve their parenting skills so that their family can be reunited. When reunification is not appropriate, advocates quickly help to find relatives or adoptive parents who can provide a permanent and stable home.
Children need compassion and guidance to prevent the trauma of abuse and out-of-home placement from defining their lives through later destructive choices. Supportive enrichment opportunities improve a child’s social, emotional and educational functioning.
“It was hard to make the decision to become a CASA advocate,” said Olga E. Phillips, a CASA since 2009. “My main fear, as is the fear of all of us who volunteer, was to become so emotionally involved with the children I would be serving that I would want to adopt them all and fail at being practical on my recommendations to the court. As it turns out, no matter how much I would want to take these children home with me, they all want their own parents.”
• A four-month-old boy went into foster care after his mother was arrested on drug charges. His father expressed an interest in gaining custody, but Family Services needed to be sure he was a fit parent. The father was referred to TCH and started visiting his son under the watchful eye of staff members at the WellStar Family Visitation Center. The father demonstrated his ability to appropriately care for his son. Father and son were brought together.
• A teen girl was acting out and running away. It took the advocate months of visits before enough trust was built for the girl to feel safe enough share what was really happening: sexual abuse by the grandmother’s boyfriend. She was removed from that horrible environment, and has been adopted into a loving family, is thriving in high school, is and captain of the cheerleading squad.
Phillips sums it up best: “If you were wondering if taking a few hours out of your week to advocate for a child in foster care can really make a difference, now you know. Yes, it does. You can change a child’s life. Is there a better job than that?”
If you are interested in volunteering or training to be a CASA, contact The Children’s Haven at 770-345-3274 or email@example.com. Donations needed include: pajamas, socks and underwear (check the website for monthly drives), as well as monetary donations. Another fun way to support TCH is to run in their Superhero 5K at 8 a.m. May 12 at Etowah River Park. Runners can register at Active.com. For more information, visit: