Walker County Department of Family and Children's Services Director Teresa Hughes

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Walker County DFCS can be reached at 706-866-3546. To report child abuse, call the CPS Central Intake Center at 1-855-422-4453. Walker County DFCS office hosts a Domestic Violence Support Group the third Wednesday of each month from 2-3 p.m.

For questions regarding food stamps, Medicaid, TANF or child care, contact the Georgia One Customer Contact Center at 1-877-423-4746.

Walker County Department of Family and Children's Services' role in the community is multifaceted. One of the agency's current initiatives focuses on supporting several needs specific to the Rossville area of Walker County in an effort to impact the community as a whole.

"There's a lot of need for transportation in Rossville," said Walker County DFCS Director Teresa Hughes. "It's hard for people to apply for jobs and work. All of our community partners are going to them. Members of the Rossville community met recently to try to strengthen the community."

Hughes said she would eventually like to see a community center with mental health assistance within walking distance of Rossville residents.

In the short term, she plans to go out and meet members of the community and help them apply for food stamps and Medicaid.

"Poverty and the lack of transportation — those impact all of us," said Hughes. "You get calls of neglect because parents can't get the kids to school. We want to wrap our arms around them so that's not a barrier."

One of the biggest barriers to overall well-being within the greater community, she says, is the number of available foster homes — and the number of incidents which make them necessary in the first place. Neglect is by far the biggest reason why children entered DFCS custody in 2015.

"For fiscal year 2015, we had 1,228 reports of suspected child abuse," she said. "For fiscal year 2016 we've already had 1,008 reports of suspected child abuse with four more months to go. For fiscal year 2015, about 496 were investigated and another 400 were assigned to family support services. We go out to assess what's going on with the family. We try to determine if there is maltreatment. If we go out there and there's cause for a concern, we change it to an investigation."

She attributese part of the increase to the availability of a 24/7 hotline.

"The statewide call center is always open now," Hughes said. "Another thing is awareness. The media attention that severe cases get, as difficult as it is to hear, I think it does remind people to report that a child is being abused or neglected."

With the increase in reports comes an increase in the number of children in need of foster homes.

"When I started in April of last year we had 120 children in foster care," Hughes said. "Now we have 163 in foster care. I have 14 actual foster care homes in Walker County. We have six going through the process to become foster homes now."

The next foster parent training is March 18-20 in Dalton.

"I'm very optimistic about wrapping support around the community," said Hughes, noting that Walker has the 30th-highest child abuse rate in the state. "I think the more we can get support into the home, it helps. Substance abuse, mental health and domestic violence are huge factors in child abuse. Substance abuse and domestic violence are symptoms of underlying mental health. It is important to raise awareness.

"Our real desire and goal is to keep kids safe and to strengthen homes. Kids need to be in their homes and communities. We are trying to partner with our community to help families."

With that in mind, county agencies are meeting March 10 to discuss what each agency is doing to impact the county. The meeting is being held at the Walker County DFCS office at 10056 N. Highway 27 in Rock Spring beginning at 8 a.m.

To learn more about becoming a foster parent, call 1-877-210-KIDS.