By Mike Klein
Brittany Jean and Crystal Williams sat in a State Capitol hearing room last week listening to a discussion about whether Georgia should expand the role of foster care private providers. Then they had their chance to talk about what it’s really like growing up as foster care teenagers.
“What I care about is making sure that this bill encompasses things that really help us because at the end of the day the youth don’t care about who’s doing it, how they’re doing it (or) what the funding is,” Brittany Jean told a Senate subcommittee. “They care about their success.”
Jean credited her success to church involvement as one of her foster parents was a minister. “The church did not leave me. The church was a network for me, a family system for me,” she said. “When I went to college they raised money to help me. I can’t speak for every youth but I do think community involvement is the way to go.”
This was the first hearing for SB 350 that would reorganize Georgia’s approach to foster care. The Division of Family and Children Services would focus on investigations but would no longer care for about half of 7,000 youth in foster care. Those youth would transition to private care providers. The change would begin in July, 2015 with implementation over two years.
Williams is an Emory University graduate who credited a strong foster care family experience with getting her through a difficult period in her early life. “What I believe young people in foster care need, especially those young people who are aging out who apparently we can’t track, what they need more than a safety net is a safety trampoline,” Williams told senators.
“In order for us to build that we have to connect to the community long-term so that even after the oversight of DFCS has ended that young person has a permanent connection to the community that will continue to follow them.”
The legislation is scheduled for a full Senate committee hearing at 3:00 pm today, Monday, February 10, in room 450 at the State Capitol. Several speakers at Thursday’s subcommittee hearing asked that the state move cautiously into foster care reform.
Tom Rawlings has been the Georgia State Child Advocate and also a Juvenile Court Judge. Rawlings said that as more and more child services are privatized it will become essential “that we are building into the system some way that we don’t have to go up and down a long chain of bureaucratic hierarchy to get things done.”
Melissa Carter, director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center an Emory University Law School, said, “Children who come into our system move around too much. That’s disruptive to them, further traumatizes them and interferes with their ability to be healed and returned to a unified home. That’s something that we can look at.”
The final word is from former foster youth Brittany Jean: “Even if this bill doesn’t pass I like the conversation and I want the conversation to continue. That’s my take on it. Thank you.”
Learn more in these resources provided by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation:
Click here for videos on the Public Policy Foundation YouTube channel. This folder includes all testimony from Lt. Governor Cagle’s Senate working group that met prior to the 2014 General Assembly. Speakers include proponents who support a transition of the child welfare system, public sector stakeholders from state agencies and community advocates. Recommended: videos with proponent Rick Jackson who is a former foster child and Tarren Bragdon, CEO at the Foundation for Government Accountability; Bragdon discusses similar Florida reforms.
Foundation Forum Articles:
Fostering Better Care of Georgia’s Children by Tarren Bragdon and Benita Dodd
Never A Better Time to Transform Georgia Child Welfare by Rick Jackson
Foster Care Children Should be Everyone’s Priority by Tarren Bragdon
Successful Foster Care Engages Children Where They Live by Bill Hancock
The Foundation should take a lot of pride in your influence on Georgia governmental policy over the past several years. If you look back on several things that you were crying in the wilderness about several years ago, you will find that Governor Miller adopted them…your influence and your pressure on that process has been a major factor in governmental policy in Georgia. You should be congratulated.