By Marisol Zarate
A fostering agency for medically fragile children is keeping families together, empowering parents and facilitating placements with trained foster families.
Childkind, originally established as an organization supporting children with HIV, now ensures all children with medical conditions in Georgia receive the support they need. Through a comprehensive program, Childkind provides children and families with home-based, placement and nursing services. At the same time, Childkind provides parents knowledge and empowerment tools to advocate for their child in school and government settings.
The organization’s story begins in 1988. Its founder, Betty Klein, began visiting babies diagnosed with HIV in the hospital. Klein noticed that many babies were dying in their crib without any love, support or affection. Her time in the hospital would motivate her to create an agency to support HIV positive children in state custody and provide out-of-home placement for mothers undergoing treatment.
Four years after its founding, the organization increased its reach by focusing on empowering all families that have children with special needs. Since then, Klein has retired. Childkind’s services today aim to keep children out of the foster care system and prevent medical neglect in the home. Their goal is motivated by the multitude of kids with complex needs that end up in state custody because their parents could not access needed support services.
The organization relies on referrals from hospitals, medical agencies, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and Child Protective Services (CPS). Childkind recognizes the shortcomings that can occur when a family might not have the medical training necessary for their child or might not know their rights as a parent.
Karl Lehman, the current CEO and director of the organization, notes that often these healthcare and state custody systems are difficult to navigate. “Medically fragile children shouldn’t be in foster care,” he said. “Often parents want to be with their child but don’t have the adequate training to know how … medical neglect is caused by a fractured support system they try to navigate.”
By working in partnership with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Northside Hospital, Mercedes-Benz, and other community partners, Childkind tries to mediate and facilitate the barriers that might overwhelm a family. When medical agencies have a concern about a family’s ability to manage their child’s regimen of care, they can contact Childkind to design a plan for the child’s needs such as a Family Care Plan or Medical Teaching Plan.
“We have a multidisciplinary team, nurses who will educate and accompany parents, make sure that parents understand what the doctor is saying,” Lehman said.
The organization’s service programs range from least to most intensive, providing advocacy and training, family support services and supportive care coordination. These services include check-ins, system navigation advocacy, and in-home medical instruction.
In the case that a child enters foster care, Childkind will provide a placement for the child with a medically trained and skilled family. In these cases, Childkind provides individual and medical service planning, equipment and emergency support and oversight.
For Lehman, who has spent 22 years with the agency, the greatest motivation to providing these services are the outcomes and long-term goals accomplished by helping these children. “When you see what these kids can become, that’s the bottom line, you have to stay focused on those children,” he said.
An example of a family that has seen positive outcomes with the support of Childkind is the Gooding family. Rebecca Gooding, a foster mom with the agency, found Childkind through a friend. As someone who was adopted, Gooding knew she wanted to foster and eventually adopt other children and was searching for an agency that was intentional about caring for the child’s well-being.
“You have to find an agency that works well for you, that will rally when you call — that’s the kind of support you get from Childkind,” Gooding said.
Now a mother of two adopted children with gastrointestinal complications, 5-year-old Jada and 6-year-old A’merical, Gooding attests to the power and support Childkind gives. “Childkind is one of the best agencies that is out there to help … that can assist and be resourceful. The help is unbelievable. When I can lean on them it’s not too hard to help the kids. Children just want that love. It’s unbelievable what they can do for themselves,” Gooding said.
According to Gooding, Childkind calls biweekly to check on the kids and always asks if the family needs help or materials. The benefits of Childkind’s program do not stop in the home. A study on the organization’s financial outcomes with the Georgia Department of Community Health revealed that Childkind saved Medicaid approximately $1.28 million dollars over a two-year period through its work in helping children with medical complexity and developmental disabilities.
A future goal for the organization is to expand its medically based foster care to other areas of Georgia within the service footprint of the state’s pediatric hospitals. Lehman shares that the organization would consider a partnership beyond Georgia should the opportunity appear.
For now, Lehman and Gooding’s advice to parents who might not have an organization like Childkind in their state is to persist and work with the systems the child is in. “If you’re fostering, make sure you advocate for your child and develop a good working relationship with your case manager, if you’re not satisfied with the communication then push for it and work with the system you’re in,” Lehman said.
“Never take no just keep pushing until you have satisfaction.” To learn more about Childkind’s path over the years, watch Mercedes-Benz USA’s recent video featuring its founder Betty Klein.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marisol Zarate is a summer intern for Fostering Media Connections. She is a rising senior at Stanford University majoring in urban studies. After graduation, she aspires to attend law school and become a public defender.