TIFTON — The Tift County Department of Family and Children Services hosted a special celebration in honor of National Reunification Month on June 27 at Northside Baptist Church.

The Reunification Celebration was the first such event for the area.

National Reunification Month recognizes the efforts by DFCS workers to reunify families after children have been taken into custody, honors foster parents who work to support those children, and celebrates the successes of parents who are able to get their children back.

The event focused on collaborative efforts and support systems provided to not only children, but birth parents as well to help get them on the road so they can bring their children home.

DFCS Director Tom Rawlings, who introduced the guest speaker, said that approximately 5,000 families in Georgia have been reunified.

The guest speaker for the event was Mary Perdue, wife of former Georgia governor and current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. She made foster care a focus while her husband was in the governor’s seat.

Perdue said that fostering is “a sign of the times” and cited increasing levels of drug addiction and a lack of familial support as some of the reasons families struggle.

“Sometimes we expect our government to do everything for us, and it can’t,” Perdue said. She said that the whole community needs to be involved in supporting families and that, with enough support, families can come back together.

“Tonight we celebrate the work you have done to bring your family back together,” she said.

A panel made up of DFCS workers, foster parents and birth mothers who were reunified with their children spoke about the process and what it looks like from their different perspectives.

Sara Luke, Bri Stephenson and Amanda Mansfield each spoke about the process of being reunified with their children as being life-changing for them as well as for their children.

Luke said that for her, reunification meant having someone there to tell her she could do it. She said that her road to reunification was longer than most, but that she is now in a good place and can be the mother her children deserve.

“Reunification for me is more about restoration of a broken home, a broken family, broken hearts,” she said.

Luke said that she had the preconceived notion that DFCS and foster families were only interested in taking kids away, that the system was stacked against birth mothers. She said that while it took her awhile to get past that, she found that both the case workers and the foster families were providing support and wanted to get children back with their parents.

“DFCS is not there to hurt you,” she said. “They’re there to get you back on track.”

Mansfield told her story of the addiction that caused her to lose her child and the recovery that allowed her to get her child back.

“My biggest thing was I had to change my people, places and things,” she said. “Unfortunately, that was even some of my family.”

She realized she had to put her recovery, the reunification with her son and his safety first and surround herself with a positive support system.

Stephenson said that before her child was taken into custody, she was running from DFCS because she was afraid of losing her child and the child’s father.

She said that at first she, like the other mothers, only thought about getting her child back.

“Once I got used to and accepted the fact that I needed to make a change, it became the situation I was in that became my motivation to want to be better,” she said. “It was a blessing for me and my son both. The situation we were in before, there wouldn’t have been life for either me or him. They (the foster family) are just a big blessing to me and my son. They’re the best thing that has ever happened to us.”

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