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Need for more foster, respite homes persists in Dawson County
Fostering update stock image
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Of the 56 local children in foster care, only one could stay in Dawson County due to a lack of available foster homes and families, said Sarah Swann with the Dawson County Division of Children and Family Services. 

This story continues below.

There are currently three open homes in the whole county, 10 total beds, to cover the needs of children entering foster care in Dawson County, said DCFS Caregiver Recruitment and Retention Unit Case Manager Autumn Horsley.

Kelsey Harrison, the Director of Support Services for Dawson-based nonprofit The Way Home, called the relocation of children “a barrier to partnership parenting and, therefore, a significant impediment to reunification.”

The Way Home has joined other area nonprofit organizations in spreading awareness about local foster and respite needs through recent meetings and events. 

Homes are needed in Dawson County for teenagers, sibling groups and for emergency and respite care situations, Harrison explained in an email to DCN.

“Teenagers, sibling groups, and medically fragile children are historically ‘difficult to place,’” Harrison said. “We need foster families who will readily accept placements of this nature.”

With a similar lack of licensed respite families, foster parents who often already look after long-term placements of their own are having to provide respite care for other families. 

That “increases the potential for burnout and compassion fatigue” and relegates foster families to having to use respite care in neighboring counties. Whenever possible, the goal is to keep children with people they know in order to support feelings of connection and felt-safety, thus serving to minimize trauma, she added. 


Nonprofit background

Harrison shared that she and the organization’s founder, Julia Fleming, both fostered and adopted through foster care. 

“In many ways, through The Way Home, we are simply endeavoring to ‘fill the gaps’ in resources, relationships, and support services (like training, coaching, and counseling),” Harrison said. “That is to say, reflecting on 10-plus years of experience with children from hard places is the driving force behind what we seek to offer.”

The Way Home got plugged in with Dawson County DFCS several months ago when Rebecca Bliss with Family Connection invited them to a meeting, followed by the July “Family Fair” event at Dawsonville’s Main Street Park. 

Harrison was recently offered and accepted a position as the Family Connection board’s non-profit representative. She explained that The Way Home considers the needs of children and their foster and biological families in its approach. 

“We believe that when people are aware of the needs in our community, they will rise to the occasion of meeting those needs,” Harrison said.

In addition to recruiting and supporting foster and respite parents, The Way Home’s goals in Dawson County include promoting reunification; providing caregivers with training, counseling and creative wellness group services; and providing the support necessary for families with CPS involvement.

For the nonprofit, that also means actively working to shift the negative narrative often associated with foster care and creating ways for people to use their abilities to serve families. 

“We recognize that not everyone can take placement of foster children, but we wholeheartedly believe that, when it comes to supporting foster children and the families who love them, everyone has a part to play,” Harrison added. 


How to help

People can help local children in need individually or as part of a larger group. 

One option is to write a check designated to Dawson County Family Connection. Donation checks can be mailed to: 

Dawson County Family Connection, PO Box 82, Dawsonville, GA 30534. 

Another way is to take part in The Way Home’s annual fall fundraiser, scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 22 from 7-9 p.m. at Accent Cellars in Dahlonega. Fundraiser opportunities will include table sponsorships and donating goods and services for silent auction baskets.

Other activities will be a raffle; live music, dessert, coffee and wine; and a pop-up boutique. 

People are also welcome to attend to learn more about the nonprofit and how to get involved. 

General admission is free, and VIP tickets are available for purchase. Details can be found at or by emailing with any questions. 

All proceeds will go toward hosting free community events and providing tangible resources and support services for foster children and their foster, adoptive, and biological families.

Those interested in becoming a foster and/or respite family can contact either Autumn Horsley

at (706) 502-4682. They can also contact Kelsey Harrison at (770) 315-3383 or

Churches who want to get involved in helping can sign up with nonprofit Project686’s CarePortal, a faith-based support network for vulnerable children and families. 

For more information on that option, you can go to or contact FAM Specialist and CarePortal Regional Manager Jean Rector at (678) 984-3220 or