Judge Key challenges his county to believe they can help local foster children

By Samantha Sherrod, 2017 AOC Summer Intern, Emory University School of Law
 
Judge Michael KeyJudge Michael Key, juvenile court judge for Troup County, has issued a challenge to his community to address their county's foster care crisis and bring 40 children home by Christmas. Due to a shortage in available foster homes, those 40 children have been placed "out of county" in open homes throughout the state. Being placed out of county makes it more difficult for children to maintain meaningful visitation with family members, as well as important connections to school and community groups. Likewise, out of county placement increases burdens for social workers in continuing regular contact with the children assigned to them. Out of county placement is not only a Troup County problem. According to Judge Key, statewide, more than half of children in care are placed out of county.

Judge Key has not only issued a challenge to his community, he is using his connections and position to facilitate bringing the children home. Along with his participation in working groups and stakeholder meetings discussing out of county placement, Judge Key also helped host the Believe 2017 event in June. Believe 2017, while focusing on honoring state, faith-based, and private foster families, also included sessions on trauma and sought to encourage eligible families to aid in the plight of children in care and the families that support them. The event centered on the theme that while not everyone could do the same thing, referencing becoming foster parents, everyone could do something. Judge Key said this event was heavily influenced by a more traditional approach to family aid, where family, friends, and even church members step in to fill the needs of area families. Nearly 200 attendees were encouraged to consider becoming foster parents or explore one of the many ways to financially and emotionally support foster families, such as offering respite care.

When asked about his work in this area, Judge Key stated that he is heavily influenced by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. The Council advocates strongly for juvenile court judges to use their role off the bench, something which resonated with Judge Key, who feels both a life-long commitment to public service and a "draw to the underdog." Judge Key stated that for all those who play a role in the child welfare process, "the standard for those of us who involve ourselves uninvited into these families is that we should do for those we serve what we would want done for ourselves or our own families were we in this situation."
 
Day 1 of the Community Event
https://livestream.com/accounts/7043450/events/7535324
 
Day 2 of the Community Event
https://livestream.com/accounts/7043450/events/7528450
 
News coverage
http://www.lagrangenews.com/2017/06/09/believe-2017-to-help-area-children/
http://www.lagrangenews.com/2017/06/21/believe-event-aims-to-help-foster-kids/ 
http://www.troupcountynews.net/site/epopulate/2017/06/26/believe-2017-builds-bridges-of-hope/

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