The Sun News

WR resident making difference in lives of children

Sandra Haugabrook
Sandra Haugabrook

Residence: Warner Robins

Occupation: Social services administrator, Bibb County DFCS

Q: How long have you been at the Bibb County Division of Family and Children Services?

A: Thirty-two years. The first three-and-a-half you could say I was a food stamps eligibility determination specialist then I moved to the department I’m in now dealing with foster care.

Q: Why the move?

A: As new hire in ’84, I got a tour of DFCS and when I came to the foster care section it was if the heavens opened and the angels sang. I thought it would be the perfect place for me. A few years later I was able to transition and have been in foster care or adoption ever since. I’ve been foster care administrator for 14 years. I started as a case manager then went to supervisor then social services administrator for foster care, adoptions and resource development.

Q: How long have you lived in Warner Robins?

A: Thirteen years.

Q: What drew you to social work and, personally, to foster care — aside from angels singing?

A: I felt I could be more direct help to families. I believed working in foster care would give me the opportunity to work alongside children and families and really do some good. Since I was little I always had this thing of wanting to help people.

Q: What’s your role as administrator?

A: I supervise supervisors — foster care supervisors, adoption supervisors and resource development supervisors who recruit and work with foster and adoptive parents. I work to see services and provisions are timely and that they meet federal and state laws, polices and guidelines. I consult on all our cases with case managers and I —well, we all do — troubleshooting every day.

Q: On the public side, you also speak in the community and do education, correct?

A: Yes I do. I speak on a variety of topics as do others from DFCS.

Q: Since foster care is near and dear to your heart, what’s your purpose when you talk to people about that?

A: Oh, so many things it would be hard to outline them all here. But one thing is to try to help people understand what it’s like for a child going into foster care and to give a bit about what the child’s parents and foster parents might be dealing with.

Q: OK, how do you go about that?

A: First, I guess it’s important to understand why a child might go into foster care, and it’s not always what you might think. Yes, it can be because of abuse or neglect and it is because the courts have tasked us to take responsibility for the child, but that can come about for many reasons. It’s wrong to automatically think a child is going into foster care because their parents are bad people. It’s true, they may be mistreating and not caring for their children, but on the other hand it may be because they’ve fallen into a level of crisis where intervention is needed but the circumstances are beyond their control. What if they’ve become ill and can’t care for their children and there’s no one to help? What if the child is medically fragile and the parents can’t care for them or pay for their care? What if there’s been an accident to cause a parent to lose income? There are so many possibilities that it’s not right to make a snap judgment. Of course, whenever we become involved it is a crisis point so things are difficult, but there’s a lot to consider. Any of us could have found ourselves in such a situation if our circumstances were different. And keep in mind our goal is to return the child to their family as soon as possible, if possible, when situations are resolved. And we also work to try to keep children in their homes from the start if at all possible. It’s just not always possible.

Q: Then, how do you help people understand what the child is going through?

A: One way is to help them imagine what it might be like to have someone show up at your door one day and say get your things, I’m taking you away. An adult would find that difficult but imagine a child who has a limited frame of reference and is still putting together who they are and what their self-worth is. What would you feel like for someone to come like that? Even if home was bad, at least it’s what you know and change is frightening to all of us, and were talking about a big, big change. What questions would you have? Questions there aren’t always answers for. What would you want to take with you? Would you be allowed to take it? What would the people be like where you’re going? Would they be like you? When can you come back home? See loved ones? Or friends? How would all that change the way you think about the world? About yourself? About your safety and security? About control over your life? Those are just a taste of the whole program to try to give people a little understanding of what children may go through. If your desire is truly to help children and help families, it’s much more complicated than just taking a child out a situation and driving them to a new place.

Q: In doing your job of taking children out of situations, their homes, and into state custody, foster care, you’re sometimes viewed as heroes and sometimes as villains. How do you deal with that?

A: The people who continue in this work are people who really do care and are able to deal with the difficulties and see the bigger picture that they’re doing something that’s necessary and they are doing good. Sometimes movies and things make us out to be the bad guys but we really are not that. We really do care and operate for the good of the children and families. We demand a lot from ourselves and there’s a lot of extra time and effort that goes into the job. Last week, Gov. Deal recognized one of our people in another county who had gone to pick up a baby who was having difficulties in the home and they were transporting them to a hospital 35 miles away. On the way the baby stopped breathing and our person stopped and resuscitated the child. They got to the hospital and the baby is doing well now. That’s a dramatic encounter, but I think it says something about what we do. Heroic things happen every day, just not as plainly as that. It’s all the little things we do to see the child is taken care of and gets the wide range of services they need. And hopefully, to see them returned home. There are many workers, volunteers, families and partners who help make that happen.

Q: How many children are in foster care?

A: Bibb County has about 240 kids in foster care with approximately 60 foster and adoptive families with 45 of them being straight foster care parents. The others are group homes or similar situations. Of course, we always need more, especially for sibling groups, teens and young babies. Houston County DFCS has approximately 103 children in foster care. There’s a toll-free, statewide number for information about becoming either a foster or adoptive parent for DFCS. It’s 1-877-210-KIDS. Parents are also welcome to call the local DFCS office for information. In Macon-Bibb our local recruiter is Paul Williamson who can be reached at 478-752-3238.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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