Never a Better Time to Transform Georgia Child Welfare

(Excerpt from Rick Jackson’s testimony before the Georgia Senate Foster Care Initiative Working Group.  Watch on YouTube.)

By Rick Jackson

RICK JACKSON President, Jackson Healthcare

President, Jackson Healthcare

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss improving foster care. Everyone in this room believes doing what’s right for abused and neglected kids in Georgia should be a priority.  This working group is a further testament to that commitment and the willingness to tackle tough but critical issues.  That is why I believe there has never been a better time to purse a bold, proven transformation of our child welfare system.  Working together we can reduce abuse, keep families safely united and provide more kids with safe, loving homes.

I know many of you on this committee but I would like to tell you just a little bit more about myself so you can understand why this is important to me personally.  When I was thirteen years old I was taken out of my biological home and placed in foster care.  Some of the things that you’ve seen in the newspaper in the last two weeks, while tragic, I saw firsthand.  I know what it feels like to be born into a family that is different than a kid hopes for.

I was part of the foster care system for six years starting at age thirteen.  I went to eight different elementary schools, five different high schools.  I had seven step-dads before the age of thirteen. The first time that I saw a family sitting together was in a foster home.  It was a Christian family.  The first time that I saw people sitting together at a table eating as a family and having a prayer changed my view forever.  That’s what I wanted when I grew up.  Through faith and family I was able to leave the foster care system a better, stronger man.  I want more kids in Georgia to have that same chance.

When our family foundation researched how we could help foster care about six years ago we looked at all kinds of different models.  I was at the Methodist Childrens’ Home from ages 14 to 16 in Avondale so I looked at that model as well as others. I wanted to see what we could do that was significant.

We basically decided to leverage return on our invested giving through a community-based solution.   I helped start the non-profit FaithBridge Foster Care because I saw the need to build a partnership between the church and the government.  I think government best serves the people when its local community organizations excel when the state falls short.  Today I want to showcase what a similar approach to child welfare would mean for Georgia and how it could help change the lives of thousands of abused and neglected kids throughout the state.

(Former Florida Governor) Jeb Bush recognized that many kids are born in zip codes or into families that may struggle to give them the educational opportunities or the nurturing they need.  Just like you, he prioritized school reform and other issues that help needy kids.  He had success because he was a focused reformer.   When it came to kids in foster care Florida was a mess but Jeb knew that private local communities were best equipped to partner with state government together to do what’s best for kids.  That’s why he led a statewide public–private partnership for foster care, the first of its kind.

Within a couple of years foster care in Florida turned around due to (a federal block grant funding waiver that gave Florida greater spending flexibility) and private local care.  The number of kids in foster care dropped almost 40 percent.  The rate of adoption from foster care almost doubled.  Georgia’s foster care system is certainly not the mess that Florida was but we know that private local care can produce much better outcomes and prevent the kinds of tragedies that Florida experienced.

I appreciate the hard work that you are beginning on behalf of these kids who don’t usually have a voice at the Capitol.  On behalf of all the foster children in Georgia, thank you for taking the time to stand up for the least of these.

Rick Jackson is Founder and CEO at Jackson Healthcare, an Alpharetta, Georgia – based provider of professional staff to the health care industry.  Jackson is also a Georgia Department of Community Health board member.