In wake of current events – racism, police brutality and civil unrest – the national director of a child welfare agency with ties in Atlanta has set out to train foster parents to talk about some uncomfortable, tough, but necessary conversations. Bethany Christian Services, a nonprofit foster and adoption center with 36 branches in the U.S., will address caregivers in a live webinar.
Kimberly Offutt, Atlanta local and national foster care adoption director for Bethany, is directing the conversation, along with a panel of experts. She said, as a black mother who has adopted four children from the foster care system, she is uniquely passionate about this issue.
“We have to enter this discussion, we have a diverse population of families that are fostering and adopting children of other nationalities and cultures,” Offutt told “Morning Edition” host Lisa Rayam.
“It’s important to enter this space with our families, but to also equip them to have these discussions about racism and equity and diversity with their children.”
Families can sign up for the webinar on Bethany’s website and submit their questions beforehand. But there’s also questions as to why this is only happening now – and if policy should be enacted to mandate all foster and adoptive parents go through similar diversity and inclusion training.
“We’ve already decided that this is going to be a series,” Offutt said.
“Even as a black parent, raising black children, I still benefit from diversity training; I still benefit from entering into these conversations about racism, police brutality and civil unrest.”
This comes as Georgia agencies that deal with foster care and family reunification are concerned that the coronavirus pandemic is already putting a strain on the state’s child welfare system.
As schools close and Georgia social workers have cut back on in-person visits, there are now fewer touchpoints with children considered at risk of abuse or neglect.
Bethany officials have told WABE they are still bracing for an influx of children into the system becoming gridlocked.
Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services told WABE that in order to mitigate risks associated with the spread of COVID-19, social workers are following new guidelines that “prioritize the use of virtual platforms when appropriate.”
While the state told WABE that child abuse and neglect referrals have declined so far this year, calls from mandated reporters like teachers and childcare personnel represent a significant source to report hotlines. Most Georgia public schools have been closed since mid-March.
To report suspected child abuse or neglect, call DFCS Child Protective Services (24 hours a day, seven days a week) at 1-855-GACHILD (1-855-4453).