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Effingham County needs foster parents
Foster parents

Special to the Herald


SPRINGFIELD – It’s a deplorable situation that is duplicated daily many times in Georgia.

Children are taken from their homes for reasons that they may or may not understand only to suffer additional trauma when they are separated from their siblings because there is a severe shortage of foster care parents.

Currently, there are only seven foster care homes in Effingham County. Seventy children need one.

“That is just heartbreaking,” said Dedra Simich, Effingham County’s Division of Family & Children’s Services (DFCS) director. “We should be able to do better than that.”

Children are placed in foster care for various reasons, including removal from the custody of their parents due to neglect, abuse, or incarceration. Placement can also occur because a parent is ill or passed away,

Effingham County had an abundance of foster homes in the early 2000s. The total remained steady at 42 for several years, Simich said.

“Not only were we able to keep all of our children within the community, we were able to assist our sister counties and keep a good number of foster children in the region,” she added.

Simich, set to retire June 30 after a 31-year DFCS career, pointed out a few reasons for the precipitous decline in the number of local foster homes.

“I think it’s because we are really not getting the word out about what we need,” she said, “and I think another thing is that it really is a tough time for the community. There is a lot of transition and change.

“I think COVID-19 came along and hit us, and we all had to find a new world order and way to live.”

Simich, the local DFACS director since 2009, doesn’t think county residents have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to foster children.

“We live in a very generous and a very passionate community,” she said. “When they know there is a need, they do step forward. We have an awesome community that has a lot of extracurricular activities, a wonderful school system, and a plethora of good folks to nurture and help these kids.

“I think when the community will rise to the occasion when it becomes aware of the need.”

Simich said foster children aren’t the only ones who benefit when they are kept close to their family homes.

“That’s a good benefit for the taxpayers because DFACs doesn’t have to pay for travel,” she said. “They don’t have to run kids up and down the road, and that means the kids get in bed a lot quicker because it is a mandate – one of the constitutional rights of the parent – to be able to maintain a meaningful relationship with their children. When the division has to take children out of their homes, we still have to make sure that they have visitation with their birth family.

“When you have to bring kids back from Macon, Atlanta, and Augusta, and you are having to ride them up and down the road on school nights or on the weekends, and you are having to pay people to work on the weekends and things like that. It is very costly and it is a burden on the taxpayers.”

Simich, however, explained that foster children pay the highest price when they are moved hundreds of miles away.

“It takes an emotional toll,” she said. “I always try to explain it to people like this: You know when you’ve been away for a vacation? You love going, but there’s just something about seeing those certain landmarks on the way home.

“For my children, it was Walmart in Rincon. It’s the same for foster children. When they can see those landmarks, that ‘Walmart’ that signifies Effingham to them, they know they are still home even if they can’t be with their birth family. They still feel a part of their community, and they still feel some semblance that the world is still okay.”

Across the state, there are 11,000 children mired in a situation where they are unable to live with their biological families. About 300 are usually waiting for a foster home on any given day.

“We’ve got to get in there and start digging and try to make these kids’ lives better,” Simich said. “Foster care, to me, is so important because we have to give these kids a place to heal. We’ve got to work on the damage that they have already been exposed to while we are trying to work with these families to correct whatever issues they’ve got because – if we don’t – we are never going to fix this.

“For somebody who is retiring, I am still pretty passionate about it. The kids are worth our time and effort.”

To become a foster parent in Georgia, you must:

• Be at least 25 years of age

• Pass a drug screen.

• Complete a medical exam.

• Possess a valid Georgia driver's license.

• Meet home safety requirements.

• Provide employment and family references.

• Complete state and federal background check.

• Attend IMPACT foster parent training program.

The DFCS Caregiver Recruitment and Retention Unit is charged with recruiting, retaining and supporting foster, adoptive and kinship caregivers. To learn more, visit or call 1-877-423-4746 and choose option No. 2.