Kristy Garner, a long-time middle school teacher, is a foster parent and a member of the Georgia Parent Advisory Council. The Council is a group of birth parents, kin caregivers, foster parents and adoptive parents who work with the Prevention and Community Support Section within the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services to help expand meaningful partnerships between parents and staff.
Council members advise the Division on changes to child welfare services and systems, particularly prevention programming, and serve as a voice for parents in shaping programs, services and strategies.
In this Q&A, Kristy explains how she got involved with the Council and how other parents — of all kinds — can make a difference.
What is some of the work of the Parent Advisory Council that you're proudest of?
Kristy: I feel that everything I do in relation to the Parent Advisory Council is rewarding. I feel so blessed to be a part of such an amazing Council with a wonderful group of people. In the beginning of the Council we were tasked with writing our vision/mission and goals. I was very excited during this process because it was hands-on involvement in the creation of something great. Also, as an English teacher, I really enjoyed the writing process. Over the course of the past couple of years, I personally have been involved with editing surveys, scoring grant proposals, attending APSR meetings, and speaking at conferences/training on topics pertaining to building relationships between foster and birth parents.
I am proudest of the time that I spoke on a panel about how our foster and birth parents work together. Not long after the conclusion of the meeting I was contacted and asked to be a part of a separate virtual conference because a couple of people watching the training had further questions and wanted more detail on how I include the birth parents in the foster child’s life.
What's your advice for parents who want to get more involved in influencing child welfare policy?
Kristy: To become more involved in the decision making process within the child welfare system I would suggest parents attend their meetings/hearings and make their voices heard. The family/team meetings at DFCS are the initial place to ask questions, make suggestions, and begin developing the positive relationship with stakeholders. The social worker would be a great point of contact to become more involved and I’m sure it would be openly welcome if it relieves some of their pressure. Each county is different, but being involved in a local Parent Cafe, Parent University, Birth Parent National Network (BPNN) or other similar groups are all opportunities to become more vocal.
How have your own experiences with DFCS shaped your outlook on the child welfare system and your decision to join the Council?
Kristy: My own experiences with DFCS have shaped my outlook on the child welfare system and my decision to join the Council.
As a teacher for over 20 years, I experienced the frustrations of seeing a child that needed help and the feeling of helplessness when I thought DFCS was not doing their job. I was only seeing one side of the equation.
After becoming a foster parent and seeing what the foster children have endured which warranted them coming into care, I have a much broader understanding of what the social workers face and the tough decisions which must be made.
I also have a deeper respect for the welfare system in that their goal is for the children to remain with their family which I agree should be protected if at all possible. I have seen how hard our social workers tirelessly work with birth parents to preserve their family and ensure a safe and loving environment for their children.
When I received an email about the Council, I immediately began to feel God’s calling to this purpose… His purpose. As president of the Effingham chapter of the Adoptive and Foster Parent Association of Georgia (AFPAG), I had become privy to several scenarios where I was able to show compassion for all parties involved. These situations opened my eyes to the incredible need for foster parents and birth parents to meet more eye-to-eye and work together for the common good of the children. The Council provides the perfect medium by which I am able to share my experiences with the foster care system and how my husband and I garner positive working relationships with all stakeholders in a child’s life.
About Kristy Garner
Kristy Garner has been married to her wonderful husband, Jamey, for almost 15 years. They have four amazing children: Travis (12), Lucas (11), Hadleigh (6) and Fen (2) who have been adopted from foster care. She has been a middle school teacher for 21 years and she and Jamey have been foster parents for 11 years. Their children are involved in the Effingham County 4-H archery, football, wrestling, cheerleading and church activities. In their spare time they enjoy hunting, fishing and taking family trips. The kids really enjoy seeing new places and, of course, staying in a hotel!