Walton County Collaborative and Legislators Discuss Community Conditions and Concerns

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The Partnership for Families, Children and Youth
Members of The Partnership for Families, Children and Youth—the Georgia Family Connection Walton County Collaborative

by Krystin Dean

The Partnership for Families, Children, and Youth in Walton County recently hosted a breakfast to inform their legislators about the top issues children and families in their neighborhoods are facing—including poverty, drug and alcohol use and abuse, and mental illness—as well as what needs to be done to improve those conditions.

“We have a close working relationship with our legislators,” said Dena Huff, executive director of The Partnership. “We keep them informed on the local changes that occur so they will know how to help when it’s needed. We are usually the first to hear of issues, and if we feel it’s something they want to know about, we make sure they’re involved.”

One in five children in Walton County live in poverty, so the Partnership works closely with a local ministry that offers services to families in need, and serves on several committees that provide much-needed resources.

The Partnership also provides family counseling and parenting classes, and focuses on mental health and substance abuse by partnering with Advantage Behavioral Health Systems. Beyond that, the Georgia Family Connection Collaborative helped bring a behavioral health hospital to Walton County that will open soon and serve surrounding counties, and offers sex education programs to decrease the teen pregnancy rate.

“Our strategy to reduce the risky behaviors of teens is by providing the necessary education, outreach, and services,” said Huff.

The strides The Partnership is making can be attributed to close collaboration with partners and legislators. “If there’s a resource that a family or student needs, then we bring everyone to the table and ask, ‘How can we do this?’ It may not need to come from us, but it can come from somewhere else,” said Huff. “There’s always a way.”

Collaborative members build relationships with partners and legislators by keeping in constant contact. Seemingly small gestures like sending a “thank-you” note or a Christmas card can go a long way, in addition to being mindful of demanding schedules by planning ahead and keeping the lines of communication open.

“Partners and legislators are always so busy. If they know ahead of time about something that involves helping the community where they live and give back, they’re going to make sure they’re part of it,” said Huff. “If we ever need anything from our legislators, all we have to do is send an email or make a phone call. And it’s not like they just send a support letter; they show up. They’re present.”

When Huff heard that Walton County’s Department of Labor was scheduled to close a few years ago, she emailed Rep. Bruce Williamson. A group formed to ensure that a satellite office would remain in the county, and Williamson attended every meeting until they achieved their goal.

One of the unique ways The Partnership communicates with legislators and partners is through the Youth Advocacy Board, comprised of 40 students who represent every high school in Walton County.

Walton County YAB and their local legislators
Walton County Youth Advocacy Board with their local legislators

“We want the kids to represent Walton County on the issues that affect them,” said Huff. “When youth talk about the mental health of teenagers and how they lack the services to receive appropriate care—the legislators listen.”

Keeping local legislators updated about what’s going on with children and families in Walton County is how the Collaborative helps inform decisions made at the State Capitol to ensure that the most critical needs of the region’s citizens are being met.

“It always goes back to the kind of working relationship you have,” said Huff. “If our legislators know what is needed, they can help us—and they are always willing.”

Read about how the Youth Advocacy Board is tacking teen-related issues in Walton County.

Check out Connected to Public Policy, Georgia Family Connection Partnership’s weekly news bulletin during the legislative session. It provides Georgia General Assembly highlights and activities, and information on relevant issues with the state budget appropriations and its impact on children, families, and communities.


Bill Valladares
GaFCP Communications Director

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