Caring Communities are the Cornerstone for Student Success in Fulton County

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By Diana St. Lifer

Atlanta Fulton Family Connection Coordinator Janet Adams said one word best describes what it takes to strengthen families and communities: support. Meeting basic needs provides the foundation necessary to help families become stable and self-sufficient; ensure that children are nurtured at home, prepared for school, and succeed when they get there; and foster responsible and collaborative communities.

“It’s what Georgia Family Connection stands for,” said Adams, whose Collaborative is in the state’s most populous county with more than 1 million residents. “We bring partners together who can effectively impact the lives of families and children by helping them meet their needs—whether that be nutritious food, adequate housing, or a nurturing environment.”

Atlanta Fulton Family Connection is part of three Georgia Family Connection cohorts that address all those needs: Early Childhood Health and Education (EC-HEd) since 2014, WIC Matters since 2016, and Kin Caregiver Support since 2021. This work intersects to provide support and resources for families so that children can thrive at home and in school.

“What helps to raise a good student is a caring and compassionate family—and also a caring and compassionate community,” said Adams. “That’s what we breed in the work we’re doing.”

Involvement in multiple cohorts allows the Collaborative to see the big picture of the issues families face and ensure that resources get where they’re needed and aren’t duplicated. It also allows Adams to see how work on one indicator of child and family well-being can positively impact another.

For example, much of the work in the Kin Caregiver Support Cohort is making sure kin guardians are aware of and have the same access to resources and supports as other families.

Joyce and Jason Dobb of Atlanta have been caring for their two grandchildren, ages 6 and 2, since they were born, and appreciate any help they receive—whether it’s financial assistance for bills or clothing and school supplies for the kids. Raising two young children is difficult for the couple, who are in their early 50s and have health issues that prevent them from working.

“It’s tough on us,” Joyce said. “We want to do it on our own, but sometimes we fall short. It’s a lot, and it’s hard to ask for help. But it’s beautiful the support we have here.”

The couple participates in Family Connection’s Grandparents Raising Grandkids program, working closely with case worker Brenda Adams, who helps families identify services and resources. The biggest challenge the Dobbs face is finding safe and affordable housing.

“The neighborhood is bad. Our apartment has mold and a broken stove, and it’s infested with roaches,” said Joyce. The Dobbs are working with the apartment complex’s management to rectify issues and do their best to maintain a healthy environment for their grandchildren.

“Whether it’s a grandmother, aunt, or other relative, they have the same basic needs as other families,” Adams said. This is why connecting all families with programs and outreach offered through the various Family Connection cohorts, such as WIC Matters, is essential.

The number of children in Fulton County from birth through age 4 enrolled in the WIC program reached 9,516 in 2021—the highest number since the Collaborative joined the cohort.

“We connect kinship families to the people and services they need, especially in helping to prepare the children in their care for school,” said Adams. “School preparedness is a common thread of all three cohorts, particularly EC-HEd.”

The Collaborative continues to focus on improving third-grade reading proficiency and encouraging healthy behaviors in targeted communities. The number of third graders in Fulton County achieving Proficient Learner or above on the Georgia Milestones English Language Arts assessment has increased from 43.6% in 2018 to 53.1% in 2020, according to Georgia KIDS COUNT data.

“So many things impact how prepared children are for school, and how well they do when they get there,” Adams said. “It takes all of us to prepare our children to succeed—not just the parents and the schools. The community plays a big role.”

Strong partnerships in education, health, business, and the faith-based community provide the knowledge and resources to help the Collaborative offer initiatives like cooking classes that provide nutrition education, tutoring to improve literacy, and caregiver support and counseling.

A new community partner, the Chicago-based Laundry Cares Foundation, recently launched Read, Play, and Learn spaces in laundromats in Atlanta, Acworth, and Decatur. Held in conjunction with Too Small to Fail, the early learning initiative of the Clinton Foundation, our local partners held a Free Laundry and Literacy Day at each location last summer.

Parents enjoyed a free day of laundry services while children took part in early learning activities. The Fulton County Library shared information about programming and services and distributed library card applications.

“People were standing in line down the sidewalk for this event,” Adams said. “It was accessible, fun, and something in which the entire family could be involved.”

Drastic transformations are also on the horizon for Fulton County. A 440-unit affordable housing community, slated for completion in early 2025 in Atlanta’s Greenbriar neighborhood, will feature an Early Learning Center designed using the Get Georgia Reading Campaign for Grade-Level Reading’s framework, incorporating the four-pillar approach to early childhood learning and reading proficiency. Similar developments already exist in Houston County, and others are planned in Ringgold, Catoosa, and Clayton counties.

Robert Fink, Zimmerman Properties’ vice president of development for the Southeast region, said the developments are in communities where families are rent overburdened, meaning they are paying more than 30% of the housing income. “Affordable housing coupled with an educational component is a robust approach to helping families and a deep investment into the community,” said Fink.

That’s music to Adams’s ears as Atlanta Fulton Family Connection continues its own work to decrease homelessness, particularly in south Fulton. “We have families living in extended stay hotels or cars,” she said. “There’s a great need for these types of developments.”

It all comes back to supporting one another. “We need individuals to help mobilize families,” said Adams. “If we want to have effective and prepared children, we all must work together. Collaboration is the key to making an impact.”

Krystin Dean
GaFCP Communications Specialist

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