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The Crucial Need for Mental Health Supports in Georgia’s Foster Care System

By Bhavini Solanki, Director, Georgia Families 360°

teen girls

Georgia’s foster care system plays a vital role in providing care and stability for children and adolescents who have experienced trauma. However, ensuring the overall well-being of these youth requires accessible and quality mental health services for them and their families.

As the director of Georgia Families 360° (GF360), a managed care program serving over 32,000 children, and behavioral health clinician myself, I understand the significance of prioritizing mental health support for families involved in the child welfare system. GF360 offers a range of resources and supports, including behavioral health, physical health, and services to address a family’s social drivers of health.

The Mental Health Crisis Facing Children in Foster Care

Children in foster care often come from backgrounds marked by abuse, neglect, and trauma, leading to a higher risk of mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, PTSD, and behavioral issues. Without adequate mental health support, these challenges can persist and negatively impact their overall well-being.

Early Intervention and Prevention are Critical

Early intervention and prevention are critical in mitigating the long-term effects of trauma and promoting healthy development. By identifying and addressing mental health concerns early on, we can implement appropriate interventions that improve emotional resilience, coping mechanisms, and successful integration into adulthood.

GF360’s Triage Team provides immediate and intensive care coordination, assessments, and screenings for each member upon entering care. We have also partnered with GoMo Health to offer early screening for autism for children up to age five and provide resources, support, and education for families, aiding them in reaching their fullest potential.

Enhanced Mental Health Supports Increases Stability and Improved Placement Outcomes

Comprehensive mental health support increases stability and improves placement outcomes for children. Equipping foster parents, adoptive parents, and caregivers with the necessary tools and resources enables them to meet the unique needs of each child. This leads to improved placement stability, reduced disruption rates in homes and schools, and increased opportunities for adoption or reunification with biological families.

GF360 has established stepdown home partnerships with organizations like Chris 180 and Murphy Harpst, where adults serve as live-in care providers to create a safe and stable environment for youth transitioning from inpatient facilities back to the community.

Empower Caregivers

Supporting mental health in foster care extends to caregivers who play a pivotal role in providing day-to-day care and support. By equipping them with training, resources, support, and access to mental health professionals, we enhance their ability to address the emotional needs of the children in their care. Knowledgeable caregivers can create a safe and supportive environment that promotes positive emotional well-being and helps children overcome trauma.

GF360’s Education and Training team regularly holds online events for parents and caregivers, and our Steering Committee includes foster and adoptive parents who provide valuable guidance in aligning the program with the needs of those we serve. We have also launched Esteem, an app-based program designed to provide caregivers with tools and resources to support children with ADHD.

Partner with the Community

Building effective mental health support for children in foster care requires collaboration among government agencies, child welfare organizations, mental health professionals, educators, and the wider community. By forging strong partnerships and sharing resources and expertise, Georgia can establish a robust support network that addresses the unique mental health needs of children in foster care, removes barriers to access, and ensures a successful continuum of care from placement to adulthood.

GF360 regularly convenes multiple committees with members experienced in various aspects of the foster care system to obtain first-hand feedback on how our policies and procedures impact our members. By addressing the mental health needs of this vulnerable population, we can provide them with the tools, support, and hope they need to heal, thrive, and achieve their fullest potential.

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