July 2020 Connects E-News

Malaika Mentor Celebrates Program on its Anniversary

Shauntiel Qualls (Right) and Her Mentee JailynnThe Malaika mentoring program is celebrating 25 years of creating bonds between African-American women in the community and girls of color under the care of Franklin County Children Services. Malaika mentor Shauntiel Qualls answered the call to mentor and strives to be a beacon of hope in the life of her mentee. Qualls was eager to become part of the program that creates one-on-one relationships for girls in need. “I loved the fact that I would be supporting the black community and helping instill great values into our community to help support young black girls,” Qualls said.

For the past 2 ½ years, Qualls has been experiencing new adventures with her mentee, Jailynn and meeting challenges that arise. During the COVID-19 pandemic, her biggest challenge has been keeping the lines of communication open. While she maintains social distancing, Qualls still makes herself available to Jailynn and her family. “Although my main focus is on my mentee herself, I know that once you create a bond with a child's family, it strengthens the relationship you have with the mentee as well,” she said. Before quarantine, Qualls typically spent time with Jailynn sharing a meal or just hanging out. A teacher, Qualls has also made a priority of talking about academics with her mentee.

Malaika has changed the lives of many young women. According to Qualls, “Malaika has been a saving grace to me and so many sweet girls who have been and are currently involved in the program. I would like to thank everyone involved with the program. Thank you for going above and beyond for the girls and families in the program. Thank you for helping them see themselves in a new light, build confidence within themselves, and spread their black girl magic. Happy 25 years Malaika!”

Learn about FCCS's Volunteer and Mentoring Programs

Becoming a Foster Parent

TaKeysha Sheppard (right) talks with Robyn Haines about becoming a foster parent on Daytime Columbus. FCCS is always seeking adults to foster or adopt children who, through no fault of their own, may have dealt directly with a difficult childhood or trauma. The process is available locally for anyone 21 and over with a stable source of income and the willingness to foster a child. Many choose to adopt and make this a permanent loving relationship. You just have to be willing!

Local marketing professional TaKeysha Sheppard said she felt ready. As a single woman with a career, she wanted to look into starting a family and looked at Franklin County Children Services as a resource. “It’s taken me a little more than a year to get done, but I’m excited to get started on the next phase,” said Sheppard, who works as the chief development officer for a local law firm. She started taking classes at night and on weekends and then made a move to a new home.

“I realize there are a lot of ways to become a parent, but I began this process to adopt. There may be special needs to consider and I really appreciate the agency I’m working with that are taking their time to make this a good match,” she said. “When you’re ready, you realize your life may not be focused on you any longer. You have to have the right heart and mindset.”

Sheppard is now on the path to meet her potential new child. Sometimes a foster family starts with siblings. Interested adults can be single, married, same-sex couples or they can have existing children. The matching process will include your wants and needs.

Hundreds of youth are waiting. Those interested can call our hotline at (614) 275-2711 or go to fostercare.fccs.us. After that, those interested can reach out to one of 19 local agencies who provide the training FREE OF CHARGE. The process takes about six months and then you are licensed by the state of Ohio to foster or adopt after a criminal background check and safety inspection of the home.

Watch TaKeysha Sheppard talk with Robyn Haines about becoming a foster parent on Daytime Columbus.

Caseworker Always Goes Above and Beyond

Antoinette BensonAn off-shift screening caseworker at FCCS’s intake, assessment and investigations office, Antoinette Benson knows her job is an important one. “Every day when I go into work, I know I’m dealing with someone’s life,” she says. When a call comes into the agency’s 24-hour hotline, Benson’s charge is to immediately investigate possible reports of abuse, neglect or dependency, ensuring the safety of children and the well-being of families. At the front lines of child welfare, Benson compares her job to working in the emergency room where they assess and stabilize patients before they are either admitted for further care or eventually released. “We try to resolve the problem the best we can,” she says.

When you work at FCCS’s intake office, there is no such thing as a routine shift. “I learn something new every day,” Benson says. “There’s never a dull moment.” Common scenarios she has dealt with include unattended toddlers who have wandered off from home, runaway teenagers, parents in need facing a lack of food or imminent homelessness, and messy houses where the level of disarray has escalated to a safety concern.

Empathetic and patient, Benson excels at helping families in crisis, taking time to understand what the underlying trauma or barriers are and figuring out how these can best be overcome. “I want to know how the problem started,” she says. After almost a decade in the social work field, Benson knows for certain that most challenges families struggle with are rarely simple or easily resolved. Benson recently helped a mother whose children came to the attention of FCCS after she overdosed. This parent, a recovering addict who had relapsed, had witnessed the murder of a beloved family member and was using drugs as a coping mechanism.

When Benson first meets with parents, who are often nervous or afraid to talk to an FCCS caseworker, she references the agency’s mission statement. “We protect children by strengthening families,” she says she tells her clients. “Let me know how we can strengthen yours.”

Learn about FCCS's Intake, Assessment and Investigations Department

FCCS Insider: Drive-Thru Grad Party

FCCS Director of Family Services Dr. Kimberly Toler congratulates 2020 UNCF Alvin Hadley Scholarship Winner Ingrid Mestizo-Alvarado While the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the agency from holding its annual graduation party, FCCS couldn’t pass up the chance to honor youth involved with the agency who recently graduated. A drive-thru graduation celebration was held on June 24 in the parking lot at 855 W. Mound Street. Staff were on hand to welcome the graduates and their families when they stopped by to have photos taken and receive gifts. Thanks to CME Federal Credit Union and others, the grads received gift bags containing gift cards and more.

FCCS staff felt it was important to let these youth know how special they are and the importance of their achievements. “This group of graduates have lost the last three months of their senior year which would have included spring sports, prom and graduation,” said Youth Transition Services Assistant Director Cassie Snyder. “These youth have likely experienced abuse, neglect or dependency, and have overcome a great deal of adversity in their short lifetimes. The planning group felt an overwhelming desire to ensure these youth had an opportunity to feel supported and celebrated,” she said.

Upcoming Events

August - National Back to School Month

Take time to help children prepare to go back to school. Help them to adjust to new school settings and schedules. Contact teachers and administrators to learn what the new year holds for your child.

August 8 - African-American Male Wellness Walk

7:00 a.m. Health Screenings, 9:30 a.m. Run/Walk
Livingston Park
760 E. Livingston

FCCS is one of the co-sponsors of the 16th annual walk/run, which will also include free health screenings for the entire family. For more information visit aawalk.org, email aamwwalk@gmail.com or call (614) 754-7511.

September – Kinship Month

National Kinship Month is a time to recognize the family members and friends who take on the care of children who need to be placed away from home due to abuse, neglect or other difficult circumstances. Learn how FCCS supports kinship families.