Natalie Towns is the Director of the Prevention and Community Support (PCS) section of the Georgia Divisions of Family and Children Services.
PCS works in partnership with community-based organizations by providing funding opportunities to support the provision of services that reduce the incidence of child abuse and neglect. PCS also collaborates with statewide organizations to advance initiatives aimed at improving the overall health and well-being of Georgia’s children and families.
In this Q&A, Natalie explains the Family First Act's role in Georgia's plan to build brighter futures for children and youth.
How does the Family First Act fit into the bigger picture of child abuse prevention in Georgia and the upcoming state Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Plan?
Natalie: The Family First Act is a piece of the larger prevention continuum. The goal of the Act is to provide services to keep children in their homes with their families safely, and to prevent unnecessary placement of children into foster care.
This is tertiary prevention, or prevention efforts aimed at preventing the reoccurrence of abuse or neglect or reducing the effects of abuse or neglect after it has already occurred. This, of course, has always been a goal of the Division, in addition to more upstream prevention efforts.
Georgia’s new child abuse and neglect prevention plan, A Vision for Child & Family Well-being in Georgia, includes strategies to strengthen and support families to prevent child abuse and neglect. It also includes strategies that represent a comprehensive approach to improving child well-being, representing services throughout the entire continuum of prevention services.
How is Georgia balancing preventing child neglect with helping families after serious abuse or neglect has occurred?
Natalie: Neglect is the most common type of child maltreatment. In Georgia, neglect accounts for 80% of children who have experienced child maltreatment. Nationwide, neglect has been present in more than 60% of children who entered foster care.
Individual, family and environmental factors, such as parental stress, social isolation, poverty, inadequate access to safe and affordable housing, and a lack of jobs with livable wages can increase the risk of neglect.
However, by promoting the protective factors framework, organizations and agencies in our state are not only working to prevent neglect, but also working to mediate the effect of neglect when it has already occurred.
For example, services that increase knowledge of and access to community resources, provide concrete supports, and build parenting skills and knowledge of child development will strengthen families and reduce potential exposure to risks. The protective factors give parents the tools they need to cope with stressful situations and build resiliency.
In your opinion, what would a full continuum of prevention services look like for Georgia?
Natalie: When Georgia achieves a full and robust continuum of prevention services, the goal of the child welfare system will be the prevention of child abuse and neglect. The Division will continue to protect children, keeping families together whenever possible. Foster care will be utilized as a last resort when all efforts to maintain children at home with their families safely have been exhausted.
This continuum will include a system of services such as:
- Primary prevention services coordinated through family resource centers responsive to the needs of their communities to support families in the neighborhoods where they live;
- Targeted secondary prevention services for families at risk of abuse and neglect, such as home visiting programs, to provide knowledge and skills to strengthen families; and
- Tertiary prevention services for families where child abuse or neglect has occurred, to support them while children remain in the home. Through initiatives such as Georgia’s State of Hope, local community-based organizations, providers and collaboratives will ensure these services are available, accessible and effective.