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Legislators need to move ahead on reforms to foster care system

Posted: February 12, 2014 - 1:06am

For a child who is being abused and neglected every day, every hour, every minute counts. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and State Sen. Renee Unterman are leading the charge to improve Georgia’s child welfare system, building upon proven reforms that are right for children who enter the foster system.

As individuals touched by the system – Tarren Bragdon is an adoptive parent; Benita Dodd has foster sisters – the authors understand all too well the clarity of the goal.

Georgia’s child welfare system needs to be quick to respond to allegations of abuse, to allow families to remain together when possible through strong support services and, when necessary, to remove a child from an abusive home and find that child a loving foster family and – ultimately, if necessary – loving adoptive parents.

The goals of reform are life-saving:

Embrace a proven model of a public-private partnership that protects the child and reduces abuse.

Transform child welfare from a slow, bureaucratic-controlled system centered around government to a dynamic, rapid-responding private, local system focused on the child and the family.

Free Georgia from an inflexible federal funding model that rewards states for keeping children trapped in the foster care system.

Remove roadblocks that prevent the state from effectively determining the children and families who need services, while empowering accountable, private-sector and community-based organizations to achieve better outcomes for children and families in need.

It’s time to move forward with these important reforms.

The state of Georgia currently runs all aspects of child welfare, but government can’t do it alone.

Although the state contracts with private agencies for a limited number of services, too often local communities and private agencies are kept at arm’s distance – or shut out – exactly when children are most in need of help.

Such bureaucracy holds back help for the children. If someone finds an innovative opportunity to better serve children, funding and approval require a long journey of bureaucracy and red tape, delaying the positive impacts of a bold new idea.

Worse, an immoral and impersonal federal funding approach means that if Georgia reduces the number of children languishing in foster care and increases adoptions, the state loses funding – which is what has happened in Georgia over the past several years.

What system rewards discouraging a loving, forever family for a child? Deal and Unterman’s reform is vital. Georgia would be able to revise its funding arrangement with the federal government so the state has the freedom and flexibility to design a child welfare system that promotes better health, safety and opportunity for at-risk kids. A transformed system would tap into Georgia’s culture of strong communities with local public-private partnerships empowered to serve the children and families who need help.

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