Gov. Nathan Deal today released the final report of recommendations from his Child Welfare Reform Council. Deal tasked the council in March 2014 with improving Georgia’s child welfare system by completing a comprehensive review of the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) and advising on possible executive agency reforms and legislative actions.
“Last year, I called to action our state’s top child welfare advocates, administrators, legislators and experts to improve a system in clear need of meaningful reform,” said Deal. “I’m proud to say that this council heeded my call, and then some. As we enter the 2015 legislative session, these recommendations will provide a framework for strengthening the system and allow us to better serve our state’s children and those who work to protect them. Every child deserves his or her best shot at a good life, and the work of this council is a step toward providing just that.”
The recommendations work to address the challenges facing the child welfare system in the categories of safety, permanency and well-being. The council recommends the establishment of vertically integrated advisory boards to streamline internal communication and improve service delivery to families across the state. To promote the safety and security of DFCS caseworkers in the field, the strengthening of relationships between law enforcement and DFCS is critical. Also to bolster security efforts, the council recommends that technological options such as ‘panic buttons’ be explored as ways to increase the safety of caseworkers in the field, and joint training sessions be conducted with local and state law enforcement officials. Another recommendation is to increase state agencies’ ability to share data and custodial records, which would allow caseworkers to have an up-to-date, accurate and complete picture of a child’s records and improve overall caseworker effectiveness.
“It’s my belief that when you invest in our caseworkers, you are investing in our children,” said Deal. “I’ve taken action to increase the number of caseworkers in the state of Georgia, action that I will continue until an appropriate ratio of staff to cases is reached. But just increasing the number of caseworkers does not mean true system reform. Included in these recommendations are measures that will create opportunities for increased compensation, training and mentorship for DFCS employees. We cannot expect outstanding results without an outstanding workforce, and I am confident that these recommendations will appropriately develop, motivate and support our child welfare professionals, the very same professionals entrusted with our state’s most vulnerable citizens.”
Once reviewed and evaluated, the Governor’s Office intends to pursue the recommendations prepared by the council through legislative, budgetary and executive action.
“The Child Welfare Reform Council, created by Governor Deal to improve the safety and well-being of our most vulnerable children, is pleased to present our recommendations which address policy, budget and legislative issues,” said Chairwoman Stephanie Blank. “We look forward to the support of our citizens and lawmakers, who are committed to bettering the lives of our children, as we work together to put these recommendations into action.”
The council, made up of stakeholders including juvenile court judges, child advocates, healthcare providers, educators, law enforcement, former foster youth, foster parents and state government officials, met six times over the past year to research and form its recommendations. In addition to meeting together as one council, three subcommittees were formed to focus on major system challenges concerning laws and regulations, personnel and policies and procedures.
"I commend the distinguished members of the Child Welfare Reform Council for their diligent work to examine the challenges faced by Georgia in fulfilling its solemn obligation to protect its youngest, most vulnerable citizens and to propose workable solutions,” said DFCS Director Bobby Cagle. “The council's report and recommendations will inform and guide me and everyone at DFCS as we strive to meet our common goal of having the best child welfare system in the world."
For more information about the Child Welfare Reform Council, including a full list of council members, meeting materials and videos, click here.