By GENE ESPY
Karin McGill, Program Director for The Cottage in Rock Spring, spoke to the Summerville-Trion Optimist Club last Friday about the facility which houses children from ages 13 to 21.
“We are a residential placement for teenagers in foster care,” Mrs. McGill said. “Traditionally called a group home.”
They have children that are in DFCS custody for the four-county area of Walker, Dade, Catoosa and Chattooga. They currently have children from all over the State of Georgia.
The Cottage was started in 2004 and is a subsidiary of the Family Crisis Center, which started in the 1990s.
“DFCS called quite a lot trying to find placement for teenagers in foster care, because people didn’t want teenagers, much less someone else’s teenagers,” she continued.
There wasn’t anywhere for placement for the teenagers in 2004 so the Cottage opened its doors. Since that time, it is estimated they have served around 4,000 children.
“We have 16 kids, ages right now from 11 to 21,” Mrs. McGill said.
She said that usually they don’t serve children less than 13 unless they are the sibling of someone already in the home.
“We are insane, we have boys and girls in the same facility, but many of them are siblings,” she said. “We get a lot of couples, too.”
In the United States almost 200,000 teenagers are in foster care. In Georgia there are about 17,000 kids in foster care. Of that amount, 23 percent or 4,500 are teens.
“They are the hardest demographic to place,” she explained.
Of the kids in foster care, 56 percent are in groups.
“Of the ones that are placed with us, they average staying with us from six months to a year,” Mrs. McGill said. “We have one that came at 11 and left at 19. We raised him.”
Statistically, a little over half when the kids leave foster care, they leave foster care in a situation called (APPLA) Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement.
“So, what it usually looks like is their friend’s house, their abuser, their second cousin who couldn’t be their foster parent because they have a felony record,” she said. “That statistically is what happens to teens.”
She said they are looking at better serving the kids that are leaving foster care.
They are really looking at kids that are 16 to 21 because they can find themselves back into foster care at 18 and The Cottage is reaching out to the different communities trying to find affordable housing for these kids and programs for them to get hooked up.
“Right now, we have three Chattooga County kids,” Mrs. McGill said. “We do serve four counties in Walker County.”
She said that the state was looking at it differently to look and say they are starting to realize that they are serving these kids twice because they are serving them when they were a kid and then they serve when they are parents because of the generation of the recidivism.
“It is pretty common,” she added.
Responding to a question, she said that right now the Cottage costs about $600,000 a year to run. About 80 percent of that is state funded – per diem based on how many kids are in the facility.
“We have about 20 percent fundraising,” she said.
They have a thrift store in Rossville located at 819 Mission Ridge Road.
“We also accept donations, have a golf tournament and we are looking at adding fundraisers,” Mrs. McGill said.
She said that 11 percent of foster children in the State of Georgia graduate from high school.
“Because they come to us or they go to these foster homes and they have issues,” she continued. “I have a 17-year-old right now that has four credits with 26 needed to be a senior and she is 17. When she turns 18 she will have to make a decision: do I want to stay in high school when I am 21 and be the oldest freshman in the school. She is going to quit school.”
She said the Cottage was trying to guarantee that person’s placement.
The Cottage’s Mission states: “Our mission is to provide residential shelter for boys and girls of Walker, Dade, Catoosa and Chattooga counties who are in DFCS custody. The Cottage can accept up to 16 children between the ages of 13 to 21 years old, regardless of race, sex, nationality, or ethnic origin. Reasons for placement may include neglect or abandonment, sexual abuse, physical abuse, lack of supervision, truancy and/or runaway problems, parental illness, lack of appropriate living arrangements, parental incarceration or drug addiction of the caretaker(s).
She said there is a waiting list for teens to get into the program.
The following information is part of the Cottage’s brochure:
“Our residents attend public schools in the community and/or staff strives to maintain open communication with the school administrators to ensure that all educational needs of each child are being met. We also encourage our high school seniors to enroll in college courses at Northwestern Technical College to get a “jump-start” on their secondary education.
In community activities, our youth enjoy visiting local parks, arcades, swimming pools and recreational centers for various activities. We encourage our residents to participate in extracurricular activities through the school system and local recreational organizations.
We accept applications for volunteers to assist in a variety of areas such as arts and crafts projects, tutoring, mentoring, etc. Each volunteer must complete a criminal background check and sign a statement of confidentiality. All volunteers must be at least 21 years old.”