First Lady campaigns for kids

By Michael Davis

Children in state custody are close to Mary Perdue's heart.

And Georgia's First Lady came to Henry County Friday to encourage others to put them close to theirs.

"We need more foster parents in the state of Georgia," Perdue said, adding, "I want to make sure every Georgian has run through their mind that, ?Maybe I could be a foster parent' because you could be."

Addressing a crowd of the county's business, political and social leaders at a luncheon sponsored by the Henry County Chamber of Commerce, Perdue came to encourage the business community to encourage clients and employees to help care for children in state care.

Part of her "Our Children Campaign," Perdue said that reaching out to not only the business community but to the religious community was important part of her mission as First Lady.

"I think that involvement with children in state custody is a moral obligation," she said.

Local child-welfare advocates in attendance were encouraged by the first family's support of child welfare legislation this session.

"We're extremely thankful for First Lady Perdue's emphasis on children," said Denese Rodgers, a spokeswoman for Prevent Child Abuse Henry.

"She was instrumental in getting child endangerment legislation passed this year and with the numbers of children we have in child protective custody, we really appreciate her efforts," she said.

The governor and Mary Perdue have first-hand experience with caring for children in state custody. As foster-parents themselves since 1998, they've cared for eight newborns awaiting adoption.

Through those experiences, Mary Perdue said, "My eyes were opened to the fact that we have over 14,000 children in state custody."

"These are not statistics I'm proud of," she added.

In Henry County, there are about 320 children in custody of the Department of Family and Children Services and about 44 foster families, according director Phyllis Shrader. "We're very excited about her bringing attention to these very special children in our community," she said.

"We're thrilled that she's singing the song that we've been singing for years," said Jeff Wilder, Community Resources Specialist for Henry County DFCS. "I think it's great to have her here to emphasize what we've been emphasizing for years."

To volunteer to become a foster parent in Henry County, call (770) 954-2014. In Clayton, call (770) 473-2300.

For more information on the First Lady's "Our Children Campaign," call 1-800-786-6661 or visit www.gov.state.ga.us.