State of Social Services Shares Area Resources
Toombs County Department of Family and Children Services Director Ashley Payne and Toombs County Action Pact County Coordinator Pamela Fountain informed attendees of the available area resources and challenges which the agencies are facing at the Greater Vidalia Chamber State of Social Services on Thursday, August 10.
Payne has worked in the Toombs County Department of Family and Children Services for 16 years, as she began as an investigator. “One of the goals throughout my life was to become a director. I was given that opportunity around 7 years ago, when I was working at the state office and decided to come back. There are trying times, but I love my community and being able to serve it,” she began.
Her address was divided between the two realms of service which the Department covers: the Office of Family Independence and Child Protective Services. “DFCS covers a wide area of services,” she emphasized. “There are so many needs, so many ways to help, and so many things to discuss.”
According to Payne, the Office of Family Independence focuses on the financial aid which the agency supplies, such as Food Stamps, Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). “In Toombs County alone, we served around 6,700 people on Food Stamps, 50 families in TANF, and 8,700 with Medicaid.”
Payne emphasized, “We are processing around 700 applications per month, and that is because we have reinstated where you have to show proof of income and residency, which we were not doing during the pandemic. It has caused a little hiccup in our turnaround time because of the influx of applications.”
She continued, “A lot of people aren’t used to having to do that anymore because we haven’t done it in around 3 years, so it is something that we are going to have to adjust to. We do hope that it slows down the application process because we cannot keep up with 700 applications a month just for Toombs County.”
Payne informed attendees that the easiest way to apply for benefits is through the online forums on the DFCS website. “When you make your profile, you can go in as a client and make sure all of your information is there. You can make sure you have uploaded your paycheck, your rent, proof of residency, and things like that without having to go into the office.” Payne asked that community members with store fronts allow the pamphlets sharing this information to be displayed, informing all patrons of the resources available if they are in need.
The other realm of service that Payne discussed was Child Protective Services, which is further broken down into three sectors: Investigations, Family Preservations, and Foster Care and Adoptions. “I have 5 workers that cover Toombs County. As of last week, we had 630 intakes for our county, so for my 5 workers, that’s a lot,” she remarked.
She explained that these workers do not have to physically respond to every case, but they do have “touch” each family by communicating with them to provide services and resources.
Payne discussed how to make a report through Child Protective Services and reiterated using the online service when making complaints. “Again, you do not have to wait on the phone, and it just makes it an easier experience,” she added.
“If at any time, you feel like there are any safety concerns going on with a child that can impact that child’s day-to-day living, please report it. If it’s an emergency, please call law enforcement. If it is an emergency reportable to our agency, please call our agency,” she emphasized.
She shared the agency’s judicial code, which outlines the criteria that authorities use to identify the several categories of maltreatment, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Payne also discussed the adoption and foster care duties of the agency. “As of right now, the state of Georgia has about 14,000 children in foster care. Last year alone, [the state] spent about $44 million on housing children in hotels. That is a huge problem in our area because teenagers, sibling groups, children like that are hard to place,” she told the group. “I have 5 foster homes in Toombs County – all of them are full. If I put a kid in foster care, they have to go to another county. That harms services, that harms reunification, that takes them out of their schools – which is usually the only consistency they have. So, we are really advocating for help in foster care.”
Payne informed the audience that they may even participate in respite care for foster families, meaning they take care of the children for a short period of time to allow the foster family to vacation, heal from sickness, or anything else.
She showed websites, such as “Wednesday’s Child” and “It’s My Turn Now,” which advertise children who are free, clear, and ready to be adopted within the state. These resources, along with the Department of Family and Children Services, provide several resources for adoption. “There are still things you have to do – you have to have a home inspection and other things – but these children are open for adoption without having to go through further services,” Payne remarked.
Overall, Payne says the Department is well supported within the community by partnerships with organizations such as Toombs County Family Connection, Imago Dei Missions, and others. She told the group that car seats, pack-and-plays, and lice kits are always needed by the Department, and may be donated.
The Department is open from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, but Payne said she hopes to expand those hours in September. “We shut down a little while because of COVID, but we are working on returning to normal. As you know, we can’t serve our community without being there.” When the office is not open to the public, staff is there to receive calls – Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. There also is a drop box at the facility where those needing to apply for benefits may submit their applications.
A Board of Directors governs the Department. This Board meets once every other month and is appointed by the Toombs County Board of Commissioners. Currently, there are two positions open to be filled; those interested should contact the Toombs County Board of Commissioners or Payne herself.
Toombs County Action Pact County Coordinator Pamela Fountain also spoke at the event about the resources and challenges with which that agency deals.
“We advocate, we are a resource, and we help a lot of people in our community,” Fountain told the audience. “Everyone in this room is a voice, and everyone you see, you touch. You are a voice and you are the eyes to reach out to us.”
Fountain has worked in the agency for over 13 and a half years, but prior to her work in Action Pact, had no clue about all of the services the group provides. “It is amazing the amount of resources there are,” she emphasized.
She spoke to the audience about Action Pact’s motto, which is “Say Goodbye to Just Getting By.” Fountain added, “That doesn’t just mean financially – that means physically, medically, and more.”
Toombs County Action Pact is staffed by Fountain and 6 other staff members, and will soon be joined by an additional Senior Center staff member and two cooks.
“I really like the concept of Action Pact’s name because we do take action within the community, and we make an impact on the people we serve,” Fountain commented. “We have been involved in our communities for over 50 years – and we have been here in Toombs County for 23 [years].”
According to Fountain, the concept of Action Pact began with former President Lyndon Johnson, who began the “War on Poverty.” She also listed advocates, such as Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, Jr. as influences on the program, citing their humanitarian work in 1966.
“We call it the cap, like a baseball cap, but for us, it means Community Action Programs,” Fountain explained. “We serve 42 counties throughout the state, and here in Toombs County, we serve as a Community Action Service and a Senior Center.”
Some of the services which the organization provides include the utility assistance, financial literacy, case management, energy assistance, low-income household water assistance, and weatherization assistance programs, along with many other programs. “We are like an umbrella of services,” she stressed. “Underneath this umbrella, and on top of this umbrella, all these raindrops of services come down.”
She summarized this “umbrella” as having three divisions: services from the Department of Family and Children Services, Department of Human Services, and numerous grant programs coming from the Department of Community Affairs. “We are a nonprofit. We are state and federally funded, but we are not a state or federal agent. We just administrate our programs through a community block grant,” Fountain clarified. Fountain shared tales of success from the Case Management program, such as a young woman who recently graduated as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). “She works now for Memorial Health, and she has 4 children,” Fountain informed the audience. “There were tears, sweat, and prayers, but she made it.”
Other individuals served through Case Management are the homeless and senior citizens. Fountain said that the bond created during these case management sessions greatly impact people’s lives, as she told the audience about a recent example of this bond. “We are now working with one woman who is trying to get her GED, but is going through struggles. I will tell you – it is a partnership and a friendship. She called me last week, and said, ‘My family is sick. My mom is passing away. I told my friend that I knew who could help me – Mrs. Pam.’ That is what all of this is about,” Fountain emphasized.
One of the most active components of Action Pact within Toombs County is the “Toombs County Senior Center and Nutrition Program,” which is made possible through funding received based on census numbers. “Everyone, please get your employees, get your church, get your family to participate – because census is coming and it is important. If you do not do your census, our government funding for this gets cut,” she explained. “I have just gone over the budget for this fiscal year – I am getting cut $70,000. I sat there and thought it was a joke, but sadly, it’s not.”
The nutrition services are divided between the Congregate Nutrition Program for those over 60 years of age, and Meals on Wheels. Fountain also shared that often, Meals on Wheels drivers take extra meals with them along delivery routes and provide them to the homeless and other individuals that they see in need.
“These [nutrition] programs are not income based – this is based on need,” Fountain told the group. “You do an application, we send someone to do an assessment, and from there, you are placed on a waiting list until funding is accessible.”
Fountain said that some senior citizens pay privately for congregate meals so they may fellowship with those at the Senior Center and participate in activities there. “When they choose to do this, they pay $5 for a meal and a day of activities,” she remarked. “The meals themselves cost $13.70 per client per meal to make and serve.”
These Senior Citizens come to the Center on Monday through Friday, and arrive between 9:30 a.m. and 12 p.m. “We do activities and have trips to places throughout the area,” Fountain said. “It’s really like a social club for them.”
She thanked Georgia Power, the City of Vidalia, Action Pact, and others in the community for their contributions to the renovation of the Senior Center. Fountain explained that more renovations are coming, as the center receives a new industrial kitchen to help the staff to cook and serve meals to these individuals more effectively.
When asked how the community may help support Action Pact and the Toombs County Senior Center, Fountain said that donations of Arts and Crafts materials and BINGO prizes are always appreciated. She also encouraged those who wish to take part in the work of the organization to volunteer their time by presenting the seniors with a program, class, or activity, or by sponsoring a day trip for the group.
The State of Social Services event was one of several Greater Vidalia Chamber signature events, which strive to inform the public about resources, progress, and needs within the community. The next event within this series will be held on October 5, as the State of Industry addresses are presented.