By Mike Klein
Georgia has published its foster care privatization pilot project request for proposals and a couple conclusions seem possible: Newcomers to child welfare service need not apply and it seems possible a long time could pass before any final decision about whether to privatize services provided to vulnerable children.
The RFP published on a state website indicates initial contracts would be for one year, renewable for another four years, and applicants are required to estimate costs through June 30, 2019.
The state will hire at least one but not more than two organizations to manage foster care in two service regions. The so-called “lead agency” will coordinate foster care service with sub-agencies and individual families who provide foster care.
The state proposal says potential service providers must have “a minimum of seven years of expertise in child welfare services in Georgia” and must provide “audited financial statements for the latest three fiscal years.”
The state document was published Monday of this week and bids close Friday, July 18. A conference to discuss the project is scheduled for 1:00 pm, Monday, June 30, at the Capitol Education Center office building directly across from the State Capitol in downtown Atlanta.
The request for proposals document is almost 150 total pages. The state foster care pilot project will take place in several north and northwest counties (Region 3) and eastern counties (Region 5) of Georgia. Some of the state’s most populous counties – Cobb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Clayton and Douglas, for example – are not included in the pilot project.
The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services would continue to operate foster care in 13 of the state’s 15 service regions, but not in the pilot project regions. The Scope of Work chapter, on page four, describes nine specific goals for the foster care pilot project:
• Build a trauma-informed network that provides for optimal, safe and stable placement services to children.
• Ensure that children’s well-being needs are met.
• Ensure that children are in the least restrictive and most appropriate placements.
• Maintain children in their school of origin.
• Ensure that siblings are placed together.
• Ensure that family and community connections are maintained.
• Reduce the use of congregate care placements. (Editor’s Note: This means group homes.)
• Ensure a quality adoption services program.
• Improve youth’s preparation for independent living.
The Scope of Work chapter states, “Under this project in the pilot regions, DFCS would no longer provide child placement services, which includes the development and supervision of foster homes … DFCS would not seek to recruit or develop any new foster homes in these two regions. DFCS will, however, continue to develop and supervise relative / kinship homes.”
The lead agency provider or providers will be required to submit an extensive array of reports and various categories will be evaluated monthly, quarterly and annually. A monthly report will be submitted to the state’s new Child Welfare Reform Council.
Foster care privatization has been under the microscope since last fall when Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle convened a legislative study committee. Hearing witnesses were passionate in support of and opposition to a proposal that would strip foster care supervision away from the state Division of Family and Children Services. A full privatization bill that passed the Senate died in the House and the two chambers could not agree on any kind of privatization pilot project.
Governor Nathan Deal intervened on several fronts this spring. He created the Child Welfare Reform Council to study all children issues. He ordered that a foster care pilot project start in two regions and then this month the Governor removed existing DFCS management, installed his own executive team and ordered that DFCS now report directly to his office.
Children are the face of foster care. Georgia had 8,299 open foster care cases at the end of March this year. About 48 percent of those children were placed with agencies or institutions, about 32 percent were with a DFCS foster home and the remainder lived with relatives.
The pilot project will test whether privatization in two economically challenged service regions can recruit, develop and maintain quality foster care homes. Region 3 in northwest Georgia and Region 5 in east Georgia consistently require more foster care than available assets can cover.
The RFP notes that the foster care lead agency must be able to provide service 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The RFP indicates a service provider decision in late September or early October this year and it says the chosen provider must be fully capable to provide all service within 120 days of an executed contract, or as soon as the state decides the vendor is ready.
Given those calendar parameters, it seems likely that the actual pilot project would not be up and running until sometime late this year or perhaps even very early next year.
The best way to make a lasting impact on public policy is to change public opinion. When you change the beliefs of the people; the politicians and political parties change with them.