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Caring for the Least of These

Apr 8, 2024

Jesus expressed compassion and called for caring for the poor and marginalized in his ministry and taught his disciples to do the same. Jesus does not mention any criteria of belief or behavior for those cared for, only that his followers care for their physical and social needs.

He showed special compassion for widows and orphans. That may be because in the time Jesus was teaching, when a husband divorced his wife or the mother died, children were often left penniless and dependent upon the mercy of others.

But how do we follow Jesus’ teaching in our times? One way we might think of the widow and orphan is as any single parent struggling to make do on one income. And we see stories every day of how they are suffering.

So how should we function as followers of Jesus? What are the needs plaguing Georgia’s children?

Let’s start by looking at the story of the challenges a young girl faced growing up in Georgia. We’ll call her Mia.

Mia grew up in a small town in Georgia where her family struggled to make ends meet. Her single parent worked long hours at low-paying jobs and often had to choose between paying bills and buying groceries.

Mia’s school was underfunded and overcrowded, and she often felt like she wasn’t getting the education she deserved. Despite these challenges, Mia was determined to succeed. She spent hours studying every night and worked hard to get good grades. She also volunteered at a local food bank and helped with household chores.

Mia’s hard work paid off when she was awarded a scholarship to attend college. She went on to graduate with honors and became a successful lawyer who now fights for the rights of underprivileged children in Georgia.

It would be great if every child’s story were Mia’s story. Unfortunately, Mia’s outcome is rare for the nearly 20 percent of Georgia’s more than 2.5 million children living in poverty.

The reasons are clear when you compare Georgia’s children to those living in other states.

Georgia’s Problems

Georgia ranks among the least educated states in the nation. Georgia’s educational attainment ranks 35th and 21st for quality of education.

Georgia ranks 38th in the nation for child and family well-being.

The state ranks 49th out of the 50 states in terms of maternal mortality rates.

And there are many other problems facing children in Georgia. Some of the most common ones are:

Mental health: According to The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 10.4 percent of children ages 3 – 17 in Georgia reported anxiety or depression in 2020, up from 8.5 percent in 2016. Children of color and LGBTQ youth are especially vulnerable to mental health challenges and suicide attempts.

Recovery in Georgia, which provides information about rehabilitation centers, therapists, and support groups within the state, reports that Georgia is falling short regarding children’s mental healthcare.

Poverty: affects 19 percent of children in 2019, which means that nearly one in five children lived in households with incomes below the federal poverty level. Poverty can affect children’s health, education, and well-being in many ways. According to a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Georgia is 6th in terms of the child poverty rate.

Education: Georgia ranks low on several indicators of educational achievement, such as reading and math proficiency, high school graduation rate, and college readiness. The COVID-19 pandemic also disrupted learning for many students and educators, creating barriers to access and quality.

Many schools in Georgia face a shortage of funding, teachers, and space, leading to large class sizes that can affect student-teacher interaction and learning outcomes. Some schools have had to lift all class size limits to accommodate students with the faculty they could afford to keep.

The state is making efforts and launching initiatives to address and improve the well-being of Georgia’s children.

What Georgia Does

The state government provides support for families and children in Georgia through various programs and services, such as:

Financial assistance for food, health care, energy, and housing. Some of the programs that provide these benefits are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and Housing Choice Voucher Program.

Children’s healthcare programs such as PeachCare for Kids and Planning for Healthy Babies have improved access to health services and outcomes for children, especially those who are low-income or at risk of having low birthweight babies.

Childcare and early learning programs such as CAPS, a childcare subsidy funded by the federal Child Care and Development Fund, and Head Start have enhanced the development and education of children, especially those who are disadvantaged or have special needs.

Family support network programs seek to connect families with local organizations and resources that can help them with various needs, such as parenting, education, health, and employment.

These programs are showing some positive effects on children’s well-being in areas, such as health, education, social-emotional development, and future economic prospects.

However, there are still challenges and gaps in reaching families and children who need these programs and in ensuring their adequacy and quality.

Some challenges and gaps in these programs are:

While access to early childhood education programs is crucial for the development and well-being of children, especially those from low-income families, many ECE centers have closed or reduced their capacity. That leaves many parents with no affordable, quality childcare options.

There are limits to eligibility for Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids, which provide health insurance for low-income children and families. Georgia has not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. This has left many adults and children without health care coverage.

None of the state-administered federal benefits and services or programs, including SNAP, LIHEAP, and CAPS, meet the full needs of families and children in poverty. These programs have long waiting lists and complex application processes that deter eligible families from accessing them.

A lack of coordination among different programs and agencies can create barriers and inefficiencies for families and children who need multiple forms of assistance. Some programs also have different eligibility criteria or reporting requirements that cause confusion or disruption of benefits.

There are longstanding difficulties within the state’s Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS). For decades DFACS has suffered from high caseloads, staff turnover, inadequate funding and resources, lack of coordination and collaboration with other agencies and stakeholders, delays and errors in processing applications and benefits, and poor outcomes for children and families in the child welfare system.

Dr. Caitlin McMunn Dooley, former executive director of Voices for Georgia’s Children, said poverty is the key driver for many problems faced by Georgia’s children.

“We have a lot of problems that stem from our level of poverty across the state. One in four children is growing up in communities and impoverished families. That contributes to lack of access to things like health care, mental health care, high-quality education, housing, nutritious food, and other resources,” Dooley said during an interview with Diocesan News.

Dooly said investing in children needs to be a higher priority in Georgia.

“The investment in children and their families that I’d like to see is making sure that there’s a qualified family doctor or pediatrician or other health care provider in every county, that there’s quality maternal healthcare as well as infant care, that we don’t have food deserts in our urban and rural areas.”

What Georgia Needs To Do

Some possible solutions to challenges facing children and parents are:

Increasing funding and access for early childhood education programs, which can help early childhood education centers reopen and expand their capacity and provide more subsidies and vouchers for low-income families to afford quality childcare.

Expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which can provide health coverage for more low-income adults and children and increase the resources available for children’s healthcare programs.

“The nation is going through what’s called the public health emergency unwinding which is getting rid of the automatic enrollment into Medicaid and in Georgia we’re not doing so well with that, so we have a lot of people who are getting riddled in the paperwork process and we see a lot of people losing their health insurance. And of the Medicaid-insured people in Georgia 70 percent are children,” Dooley said.

Enhancing benefits and services for some programs, such as SNAP, LIHEAP, and CAPS, which can better meet the needs of families and children in poverty. Some possible ways to do this are increasing benefit amounts, simplifying application processes, and reducing waiting lists.

Improving coordination and integration among different programs and agencies, which can create a more seamless and efficient system of assistance for families and children. Some possible ways to do this are aligning eligibility criteria and reporting requirements, creating online portals and databases, and fostering collaborative partnerships.

Revamping DFACS to reorient from response to prevention as part of a plan to transform Georgia’s child welfare system. Officials say it will better safeguard children while giving families the resources they need to stay together. The cost to the state is being augmented by the federal Family First Prevention Services Act, which funds and gives flexibility to states switching to evidence-based approaches that reduce the number of children entering foster care. Georgia calls its plan Blueprint for Family First, which in June posted a number of Q&A articles with people who are crucial to its success.

Georgia’s Maternal Health Problem

Another result of poverty, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health, is Georgia’s current infant mortality rate. Georgia has one of the highest rates of maternal and infant mortality and morbidity in the nation. Data from the Georgia Maternal Mortality Review Committee (2012-2016) showed 26 pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births, of which 70 percent were found to be preventable. Georgia ranks 49th out of the 50 U.S. states in terms of maternal mortality rates.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, 892 infants died in 2022, 116 more infant deaths than the year before. Black babies had the highest rate of death in the U.S., 10.86 per 1,000 births.

Many factors can affect the infant mortality rate, such as maternal health, prenatal care, birth defects, prematurity, low birth weight, infections, injuries, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Some of these factors can be prevented or reduced by improving access to quality health care, education, and social services for women and children.

Atlanta’s Episcopal Bishop Rob Wright said on his weekly podcast that as long as quality healthcare is dependent upon a patient’s affluence America will never live up to its promise.

“As long as, you know, one child who looks a particular way has a better shot at success and good outcomes, and another child living miles from that child, has limits and low ceilings, and has inferior education, inferior healthcare, and has all of the negative health effects of poverty. Until we do something about that, close that gap, then our nation will never know peace.”

The Georgia Department of Public Health has a new program to screen every newborn in Georgia for 35 heritable disorders to improve infant mortality outcomes. The Infant Mortality Collaborative Improvement and Innovation Network (IM CoIIN), aims to “accelerate replicable, scalable, and measurable improvements in infant mortality.” The IM CoIIN focuses on three areas: safe sleep, perinatal regionalization, and social determinants of health. These areas are some of the major causes and contributors to infant mortality in Georgia.

Some of the ways the IM CoIIN hopes will help include:

  • Developing “Safe Sleep Display” kits to educate parents and caregivers about proper infant sleep environments and reduce the risk of sleep-related SIDS.
  • Increasing the percentage of extremely low birth weight and preterm infants who are delivered at Level III+ neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) that provide specialized care and reduce complications.
  • Statewide monitoring of inequality and disparities in birth outcomes by promoting interventions that address access to contraception with long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) and adopting the Centering Pregnancy model of prenatal care.

While these are some ways that Georgia’s infant mortality rate can be improved, more work needs to be done to ensure that every baby has a healthy start in life.

According to the data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics in 2021, Georgia had the 9th highest infant mortality rate among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

According to a report by the National Institute for Children’s Health Quality (NICHQ), some of the factors that contribute to lowering infant mortality rate are high rates of health insurance coverage and access to prenatal care, low rates of teen births and smoking during pregnancy, high rates of breastfeeding initiation and continuation, and strong partnerships and collaborations among state agencies, health care providers, community organizations, and families.

Georgia’s Education Gap

According to an article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia ranks among the least educated states in the nation. The southern state’s educational attainment rank was 35 and it ranked No. 21 for quality of education.

The Georgia Department of Education uses the Georgia Milestones Assessment System to measure student achievement in grades 3 through high school. The four achievement levels on Georgia Milestones are Beginning Learner, Developing Learner, Proficient Learner, and Distinguished Learner.

The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice says it operates one of the largest school systems in the state with 29 schools inside juvenile detention centers across Georgia. It describes its students as low-income students, students with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, English Learners, students experiencing homelessness, and children who are in and out of foster care. It does not state the number of students but reports that 55,000 juveniles are held in its custody each year.

According to an article by Voices for Georgia’s Children, the state is one of only three (along with Texas and Wisconsin) that processes all 17-year-olds charged with crimes as adults.

Voices former Executive Director Dr. Caitlin McMunn Dooley said out-of-school time programs can help children avoid being sucked into the school-to-prison pipeline.

“We should make sure that we have schools with a strong school climate and out of school time programs. We’ve seen that there are several counties that don’t even have out of school opportunities. And so, over the last few years we’ve been really trying to build up out of school opportunities so that children have a chance for enrichment. Again, this takes investment, but we must ensure that families have a place for their kids during the summer and out of school time.”

The Georgia Family Connection Partnership (GaFCP), which provides data to state agencies and policymakers at all levels to inform decisions about improving outcomes for children, ranks Georgia 38th in the nation for child and family well-being.


For some, becoming a foster parent can be a way of making a difference in the lives of children.

Georgia’s Department of Human Services reports there are currently more than 11,000 children in the Georgia foster care system that need a safe, stable, and loving foster family.

To become a foster parent in Georgia, you must meet certain qualifications. According to the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), prospective foster parents must be at least 21 years of age or married and living with their spouse. They must also pass a background check and complete a training program. If you’re interested in becoming a foster parent in Georgia, you can contact DFCS or visit their website for more information.

State social workers conduct home studies to evaluate prospective foster parent’s ability to provide a safe and nurturing environment for a child. The home study includes interviews with the prospective foster parent and other members of the household. The social worker will also conduct a home inspection to ensure that the home is safe and meets state licensing requirements. Finally, social workers will review the prospective foster parent’s background and criminal history.

The Initial Protective Care and Training (IMPACT) program is training designed to help prospective foster parents learn about the needs of children in foster care and how to meet those needs. The training consists of 24 hours of classroom instruction and 12 hours of online instruction. Topics covered in the training include child development, behavior management, and the effects of trauma on children. Foster parents must also complete CPR, First Aid, and Water Safety Training.

There are several misconceptions about foster care. One is that foster parents do it for the money. Another is that it costs a lot of money to adopt a foster child. Some people also believe that the process is too strenuous and invasive. However, foster parents have a say in who they foster.

One of the biggest challenges that foster parents face is dealing with the emotional needs of the children in their care. Foster children may have experienced trauma or abuse, and they may have difficulty trusting adults. Foster parents must also work with the child’s biological family and social workers to ensure that the child’s needs are being met. Finally, foster parents must be prepared for the possibility that the child may return to their biological family.

If being a foster parent is not for you there are many ways to support foster parents.

You can gather supplies such as diapers, clothing, toys, books, bottles, pacifiers, blankets, crib sheets, wipes, baby food, bouncy seats, booster seats, crayons, coloring books, games, sandbox toys, and water play toys.

Another way is to offer respite care. You can offer to go shopping for the child or purchase clothing for the child. In addition, you can help foster parents with day-to-day tasks like cleaning around the house, running errands, or mowing the lawn. Finally, you can communicate with foster parents and ask how they are doing and what you can do to make their lives easier.

A major concern is for foster children over the age of 18 whose guardians may not know that Georgia is one of the states that provide foster care for children up to the age of 21 under certain circumstances.

If you know a foster child who is near 18, check with their guardians to make sure they are aware of this provision as they must meet certain time-sensitive criteria to receive extended benefits.


Adoption is a permanent commitment that transfers the birth mother’s and biological father’s control and legal rights to the adoptive parents.

Adopting a child can be a rewarding and life-changing experience, but it can also be challenging and complex.

You will need to do a lot of research, preparation, and paperwork before you can welcome your child into your family. You will also need to find the right professionals and resources to support you throughout the process and beyond.

Fortunately, there are people and organizations that can help you along the way.

DFCS provides information, training, services, and support for foster care and adoption in Georgia. You can visit their website here or call them at 1-877-210-KIDS (5437).

AdoptUSKids is a national project that connects children in foster care with adoptive families across the country. You can visit their website [here] or call them at 1-888-200-4005.

The Georgia Center for Resources and Support (GACRS) is a statewide project that provides information, resources, referrals, and support for adoptive and foster families in Georgia. You can visit their website or call them at 1-866-A-PARENT (727-368).

The Georgia Council on Adoptable Children (COAC) is a nonprofit organization that advocates for the rights and interests of adoptive children and families in Georgia. You can call them at 404-622-4774.

The Georgia Association of Licensed Adoption Agencies (GALAA) is a professional association that promotes ethical and quality adoption services in Georgia. You can visit their website or call them at 770-642-9944.

Where to Start

Georgia’s children and families are faced with so many needs you may be left wondering how you can make a difference. Here are some suggestions:

  • Educate Before you get involved in any movement, make sure you understand what the cause is and what it’s trying to achieve.
  • Work on your own habits and beliefs. Before engaging others or protesting an institution, make sure you’re doing your best not to contribute to the problem at hand.
  • Volunteer your time and/or donate money to organizations that promote social justice.
  • Share your support for social justice causes on social media.
  • Join a local organization that promotes social justice.
  • Write letters to your elected officials about issues that matter to you.
  • Speak up when you see injustice happening around you.

As a person of faith:

  • Pray for God to give you a heart of compassion and justice and show you the needs and opportunities around you.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself, and treat everyone with respect and kindness, regardless of their background, status, or beliefs.

The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta has a vision of drawing the circle wide and being more inclusive through a variety of ministries and programs focused on helping children.

Here are some examples:

Appleton Episcopal Ministries operates as an after-school program for at-risk children and a mentoring program for their parents. It also provides summer camps, scholarships, and other services for children and families in need. Its summer enrichment and Freedom to Read programs guides students through 25 books, takes them on field trips, and hosts visiting experts in science, folklore and even reptiles.

Emmaus House has, since 1967, worked to improve the economic and social well-being of residents in and around Atlanta’s Peoplestown neighborhood. It provides a food pantry; SNAP benefits application and renewal; financial assistance with rent, mortgage, utilities, and property taxes, and medical co-pays; help with Social Security benefits, GA ID vouchers, mail services, and MARTA card assistance. Its summer Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® Program helps Freedom School scholars in grades K – 3 on average increase their reading skills by two grade levels.

Chattahoochee Valley Episcopal Ministries provides direct assistance, a youth leadership program, education workshops, and more for the people in the Chattahoochee Valley region. It also partners with other organizations to address issues such as homelessness, hunger, health care, and education.

Path to Shine provides after-school mentoring and tutoring for elementary school children in small group settings. It also offers enrichment activities, field trips, and summer camps for the children and their families.

Rainbow Village transforms lives for homeless families in north metro Atlanta through a community-based transitional housing program that promotes self-sufficiency. It also offers educational programs, life skills training, counseling, and childcare for families.

Starting Over a nonprofit ministry operating at  St. Julian’s Episcopal Church offers a safe space for children to have court-ordered visits with non-custodial parents. The renovated space made possible by a $50,000 grant from the Episcopal Community Foundation of Middle and North Georgia and other donations, allows for no-cost visits between parents and children.

The Ansley School is a tuition-free, private school for children of families who have experienced homelessness. It also provides students with a nurturing and faith-inspired environment, as well as collaborative family support.

The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta has more ways of helping children. If you are interested in learning more or getting involved, you can visit their website or find a local congregation. Check out their policies for the protection of children and youth from abuse.

Bishop Rob Wright is an energetic proponent for children and those living in poverty. Born in a Roman Catholic orphanage in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and adopted at the age of nine months Wright is a visible cheerleader for fostering and adoption.

Having worked his way to degrees in History and Theology on the GI Bill Wright is committed to supporting quality education programs that empower life-long learners to reach their potential and become college and career-ready.

He serves on the Supreme Court of Georgia’s Committee on Justice For Children.

Then Georgia Supreme Court Justice David Nahmias said he was impressed by Wright’s real-world experience and leadership qualities.

“Bishop Wright is a passionate and eloquent advocate for children, and for the special needs of foster children in particular,” Nahmias said. “We look forward to the experiences, ideas, and contacts as we seek to improve the justice system for Georgia’s children.”

Wright’s commitment is mirrored in the work of The Diocese of Atlanta and expands on the long-term commitment of The Episcopal Church to racial justice, healing, and reconciliation, guided by the Church’s vision of Becoming Beloved Community.

Following the Episcopal tradition of truth-telling, proclamation, formation, and justice The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta is at the center of racial healing, justice, and reconciliation as the driving force behind the establishment of The Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing.

Other Advocates

Voices for Georgia’s Children publishes a comprehensive annual guide to the needs of Georgia’s Children that highlights many ways to work on children and family issues.

The Interfaith Children’s Movement, a multi-faith grassroots advocacy coalition, offers ways you can work to create a Georgia where all children thrive.

Prison Fellowship seeks sponsors for free summer and sports camps and Christmas gifts for children of incarcerated parents.

The Children’s Advocacy Centers of Georgia provides access to local children’s advocacy centers that offer comprehensive services for child victims and their non-offending family members, such as forensic interviews, medical exams, therapy, and legal advocacy.

The Georgia Advocacy Office, a private non-profit corporation, works to protect and advance the legal rights of people with disabilities in Georgia.

You can also help family and friends who have children by providing emotional, social, and practical help when they face stress or difficulties in raising children.

Finally, know that however you decide to act know that you are not alone. There are others who are also committed to improving the lives of children and parents.

End Notes


Don Plummer is the beat reporter for The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. If you have story ideas, please reach out to Don.

“Sharing the heartbeat of the diocese.”

Phone: 770-695-6260