Deal Announces Child Welfare Reform Council

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal Thursday announced the creation of a new council that will look at ways to improve the state’s child welfare system.As heard on the radio.

The move comes as the state House and Senate are at a standstill in the waning days of this year’s legislative session over differing plans to privatize most child welfare services.

In a statement, Deal said the new Child Welfare Reform Council will review the Division of Family and Children Services and advise the governor on possible reforms and legislative fixes to the agency. It will be modeled after the Criminal Justice Reform Council.

“After meeting with numerous stakeholders, including former foster youth, juvenile court judges, providers and child advocates, it was clear there was a need for a more deliberate reform process of the child welfare system,” Deal said.

Melissa Carter, who heads Emory’s Barton Child Law and Policy Center, said agencies involved with the child welfare system have been requesting something like this for months.

“The announcement of the council, which is the first formal announcement, really was in response to those suggestions and that request,” Carter said.

Stephanie Blank, who serves on the governor’s State Advisory Council on Early Childhood Education and a handful of other committees, will chair the council. Deal said the rest of the council will be announced in the coming weeks.

The governor’s office declined further comment on the new council until the rest of the members are named.

Deal’s announcement comes as the Georgia House and Senate are divided on legislative efforts to bid out services like foster care, adoption and case management to private organizations.

Separate House and Senate versions are still alive, but it’s unclear what the governor’s new council means for plans to privatize.

Senate bill sponsor Renee Unterman (R-Buford), who’s been spearheading the privatization effort, was mum on how the governor’s council could affect her bill.

“We have two more days of the session, and I look forward to working with the House,” Unterman said in response to the governor’s announcement.

Earlier this week a House committee passed a watered down-version of Unterman’s bill.

The House version proposes a pilot program on privatizing the state’s child welfare services, with DFCS in charge of overseeing the scaled-down rollout.

The Senate version, which easily passed the chamber last month, would begin a system-wide rollout as early as next year, with completion slated for mid-2017.

Unterman’s version hit another snag Thursday morning when she tried to tack her original bill onto the Medicaid expansion bill that had already passed the House. She was eventually denied by Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer.

Unterman criticized stakeholders in the child welfare system for holding up privatization efforts.

“Most of the stakeholders obviously have contracts with the state, and they’re protecting their own private interest. They’re protecting their turf, and they want to do business as usual,” Unterman said.

Prior to the governor’s announcement, Unterman said she was looking for other bills to which she could attach her original bill.