There is a better way to strengthen Georgia’s families and keep our children safe, and all roads lead to Hope.  Let me explain.

First, some background. In recent years, the state has established a 24-hour hotline for reporting allegations of child maltreatment, 1-855-GACHILD (422-4453), as part of our campaign, If You See Something, Say Something. The number of “mandated reporters” who are legally bound to report their suspicions has expanded. Both steps have increased significantly the number of cases the Division investigates and improved the likelihood that maltreatment will be identified.

However, over time, the public has come to see the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services as the first responders when issues of child safety or family crisis arise. That’s because the Division’s dedicated staff has always answered the call, quickly and professionally.

But this agency can’t do it all alone. What’s really needed is a collaborative approach with community groups working together to transform families, neighborhood by neighborhood.

The Casey Family Foundation conceived a vision for Communities of Hope where that level of collaboration would give families the support they need to thrive and avoid the conditions that contribute to family dysfunction, incomplete schooling, under employment and child abuse and neglect.

To build on that concept and develop a whole state of supportive communities, we are using this notion of collective impact through public and private partnerships that include members of the community, drawing on their varied experiences. The goal is to really partner with them to ask the question “how might you be able to transform our communities? How might we be able to improve outcomes for children and families working together?” And not just looking at the public entities to be able to do that.

So, while the Division striving to continue its internal improvement, it also is endeavoring to change the public mindset about whose job it is to support our families.

It’s an old-fashioned notion that’s become as current today as cutting-edge social theory: people helping other people.

So, to spark more community engagement, the Division has launched what we’re calling the State of Hope initiative.

The initiative seeks to ignite nonprofits, philanthropies, government, businesses, youth and other community groups to collaborate closely to build local safety nets that will prevent conditions that contribute to disparities in education, threaten a family’s self-sufficiency and lead to child abuse and neglect.

The idea is to stimulate closer collaboration between all community members and those working to prevent family dysfunction in hopes that their successes will draw residents of their communities to want to get involved.

Individuals and groups are invited to submit plans for fostering their community’s collaboration. Later this year, the Division will formally designate three to five of them from across the state as State of Hope sites and award them seed funding and technical assistance. Another round will occur this winter.

All individuals and groups applying will participate in a larger Hope Ecosystem – a network that will allow all applicants to partner, share and learn from each other, as well as access valuable resources and supports, such as training and news of grant funding opportunities.

I chose the name State of Hope because hope is vital to resilience and to the drive for betterment. As Georgia has become the No. 1 state for business, this initiative is a way to become the No. 1 state for families and children, too.

While the initial beneficiaries of this initiative will be the children and families of Georgia, those of us who’ve been involved in volunteer or philanthropic activities know that the giver gains as well as the recipient, and as that effect builds up, it will strengthen our communities and our state in countless ways, including the mental outlook of our entire population.

Let’s journey together and build a State of Hope in Georgia.

Virginia Pryor, MSW, is the outgoing director of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services and a nationally recognized expert on child welfare.

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