CUMMING, Ga. — The Supporting Adoptions & Foster Families Together facility in Cumming may not be adequate for the nonprofit’s future needs and demand.
In 2011, 55 families were served through supervised court-mandated visitations and last year, that number jumped to 75 families, Forsyth County Juvenile Judge J. Russell Jackson said.
Forsyth County lets the SAFFT group operate out of its facility, 608 Veterans Memorial Boulevard.
At its facility, a parent can visit with their child for about two hours and receive parenting coaching, so that one day they can be reunited.
“Our goal is to restore that family,” Jackson said. “Hopefully repair and restore those bonds and ultimately restore those families.”
SAFFT board hopes to continue to grow their services with a recent opportunity for a Safe Haven $400,000 federal grant, over three years, but this requires additional space. SAFFT is also seeking financial assistance from the county.
““We are out of space at that location, we need more space and if we are going to implement a new federal Safe Haven's grant, the current facility does not meet the requirements of that grant,” Jackson said.
A new facility could increase the number of visitations up to three times their current amount, said Ashley Anderson, SAFFT’s co-founder and executive director.
County staff last year was asked by Forsyth County Board of Commissioners to help find another suitable location. An ideal 10,000 square-feet facility has been identified in the 200 block of Castleberry Road, adjacent to the Cumming Fairgrounds and Tyson Foods plant.
The rent is $1,500 a month, the operating costs of running SAFFT. So on March 12, Jackson and Anderson asked the board of commissioners to help cover $36,000 for two year-lease in rent starting in June. However, SAFFT would be able to reimburse about $12,000 to the county through the federal grant.
“We need to get the rent covered,” Andeson said, adding that air-conditioning costs are estimated at $1,000 per month alone.
The board of commissioners asked their attorney Ken Jarrard to research a lease agreement and bring it back to the board.
Other options include purchasing the Castleberry location at $695,000. To renovate their current location on Veteran’s Memorial would cost $70,000, but parking would still be a concern.
“We will become a model site for the nation,” Anderson said.
Anderson said there is no charge for their visitation services when juvenile court appointed cases, but through cases appointed by superior court, there are fees. However, if a new facility is acquired, there would be no cost because they would be covered by the grant.
“This is a vital service we provide to superior court, juvenile court and the Division of Family and Children Services,” Anderson said. “Without safe visitations, the courts don’t know what is going on.”
Another part of the service SAFFT provides includes a place where custody exchanges can occur when parents are divorced or separated.
“This grant will allow us to offer safe visitations and custody exchanges, so the children don’t experience any more domestic violence,” Anderson said.
The courts define domestic violence in front of a child as a form of child abuse.
At the facility in Cumming, a small room equipped with a two-way mirror, where a counselor surveys and monitor visitations. They are limited to only one family in the room at a time.
Anderson hopes to increase staff capacity at the new location and be able to have several families visit at a time.
Part of the requirement for the federal grant includes having two separate entrances at the facility, one for the child and the other for the parent. Its current facility lacks this feature and also lacks the adequate parking requirements.
Jackson said the courts usually appoint the services because of poor parenting. SAFFT, he said, provides the monitored visits, but also observes the deficits and coaches the parents firsthand.
The ultimate goal with juvenile court is to unite the children with their parents. Through superior court cases, the goal is to provide a safe environment for the parent and child to meet.
The new facility would also allow SAFFT a fundraising mechanism by renting out the new facility’s parking lot during Cumming Fairgrounds events.
SAFFT hopes to move in June, but the landlord is already allowing them to fundraise during the Taste of Forsyth taking place Saturday, March 30.
“In order to keep families together, you need to keep families connected,” Jackson said. “You need meaningful contact and a nice environment for the children and the families.”