ATLANTA – A combination of legislation and spending increases are needed to improve Georgia’s foster care system, according to a report a legislative study committee adopted Monday.
The state Senate Study Committee on Foster Care and Adoption unanimously recommended legislation to shorten the time it takes children entering the foster care system to reach a permanent status – either reunification with parents or adoption – and to provide free photo IDs to foster kids.
Recommendations including pay raises for case managers, an increase in monthly adoption assistance rates, and making mental-health services available to foster and adoptive parents would require budget increases.
The Georgia Senate has put an emphasis on improving the state’s foster care system this year. Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who presides over the Senate, created a new Children and Families Committee in the upper chamber at the beginning of this year’s General Assembly session in January, then led the way in forming the study committee.
“I think we’re going to make a lot of progress,” Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-Marietta, who chairs both the standing and study committees, said after Monday’s vote. “There’s a window of opportunity because of support from the lieutenant governor and the commissioner (of the state Department of Human Services).”
Georgia’s foster care system was hit with a flurry of negative publicity late last month when a U.S. Senate subcommittee chaired by Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., unveiled a previously undisclosed internal audit that revealed the state Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) failed in 84% of cases brought to its attention to address risks and safety concerns.
Ossoff also held a news conference during which he reported nearly 1,800 children in state custody were reported missing between 2018 and last year.
In response, DFCS officials charged that the probe was politically motivated. Three lawyers for DFCS wrote in a letter that the subcommittee failed to request relevant information or responses from the the agency in advance of its publicized hearings and news conferences.
On Monday, the Senate study committee also recommended establishing a system of family courts in Georgia dedicated to cases involving children up to the age of three. Kirkpatrick said the state is working to launch pilot projects for the “infant-toddler” courts at three sites.