404-885-1234 Georgia Advocacy Office One West Court Square Suite 625 Decatur, GA 30030 United States

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Administration for Children and Families

The American Dream Belongs to Everyone

Commissioner’s Message

Collaboration in Georgia: Children’s Freedom Initiative

Don Faulk loves country music, fireworks, go-cart rides, and veggie tales videos. As of 2005, however, Don had been living in an institution for six years– half of his young life. Fireworks and go-carts, along with other favorite family activities, were only available on Don’s occasional visits home. Music and videos were played in his room in a nursing home where most of the other residents were senior citizens. Don loved being outside, but did not often get the opportunity to go out. He spent his days lying in bed, or occasionally sitting in a chair in the nursing home hallway.

Don’s mother wanted to bring him home. However, she couldn’t afford the services that Don would need. The State would pay for Don’s nursing home care, but not for the supports that would allow him to receive the care he needed to live his life at home with his family.

ADD and its grantees are dedicated to the principle that children like Don should never have to spend their lives confined in institutions. In Georgia, where Don lives, the three grantees joined forces to create the Children’s Freedom Initiative.

This initiative was formed to make sure that in the future no child in Georgia will have to live in an institution. The mission of the initiative is centered on the belief that children like Don belong with loving families – not in facilities. Currently, it is estimated that 140 – 150 of Georgia’s children are living in nursing homes and state hospitals. The DD Network is taking steps to change that.

As part of the Children’s Freedom Initiative, the DD Network worked cooperatively to bring together a diverse group of stakeholders at a summit to “ensure that children who live in facilities are given the chance to live with permanent, loving families” and to “imagine a future where no child will live in an institution.” In order to add value to the summit, the DD Network hired national consultants who have successfully moved children into permanent homes in other states.

The summit clarified and reinforced the following messages:

  • Children need and deserve permanent homes and communities;
  • Serving children (and other persons) with disabilities in the community is much more cost-effective than serving them in institutions; and
  • Every child can live in the community with the correct support system in place.

The purpose of this update is to provide current information about progress on the Independent Evaluation and current activities being implemented. This will be a regular feature of the ADD Update to ensure that you are knowledgeable about the Independent Evaluation processes and activities.

During the 2005 legislative session of the General Assembly, House Resolution 633 was introduced to look into this issue. This resolution resulted in the creation of an oversight committee. The non-legislative members of the committee are persons with disabilities, family members, and representatives from the DD Network.

In conjunction with this project, the P&A and the Council jointly funded “Longing For Home”, the powerful video/DVD about the initiative. In addition, UCEDD-affiliated graduate student Katie Bailey interviewed 6 families whose children were or are now institutionalized in Georgia and wrote stories for a publication called From Loving Arms.

UCEDD staff disseminated over 1000 copies of this publication. A picture of Don Faulk was featured on the cover. In August 2005, at the Children’s Freedom Initiative Summit in Atlanta, Don’s mother held a copy of From Loving Arms over her head and tearfully asked, “Why can’t I bring my son home?”

During the most recent session of the Georgia legislature, funds were approved so that all of the children in Georgia’s state administered institutions can go home. Next year, the DD Network will work with the legislature to tackle the issue of children in private facilities & nursing homes.

With the help of the Children’s Freedom Initiative and the P&A’s advocacy efforts, Don at last went home to live with his family in February 2006. He has a swing in his backyard, and is receiving good support from his school.

“He’s so happy,” says Don’s mother Laurie. “He’s always giggling and trying to talk. Six years lying in bed and now he’s just happy.”