Ask anyone in Georgia, how is Georgia's child welfare system is doing and the feedback will be a mixed bag. The feedback lately, is coming back mostly positive. It is hard to deny numbers delivered through child welfare performance based management that have survived the scrutiny of five years. The numbers are lending a voice to "Georgia is doing pretty good." Child abuse reports are down, the number of children coming into foster care is down. Since 2008 the number of children exiting foster care has exceeded the number entering by more than a thousand. The number of children in foster care in 2005 was nearly 14,000--now that number is below 8,000. Even though the numbers of foster children nationally are down, not all states can claim reductions in the number of children in foster care.
Georgia has received some national attention for the work that they have done in this regard. A Washington Post article spotlighted Georgia as one of the States that has cut foster care populations while at the same time has kept children more safe. B.J. Walker, Commissioner of DHS, said in that article that a thorough approach at the front end and supporting high-risk families without removing children was the key to making it happen.
Everyone would agree that children should only be brought into care when it is unsafe to keep them at home. The holy grail of child welfare is to reduce the number of children in Georgia's foster care system while keeping them safe at home. Georgia seems to be doing this very well. The percent of children that experienced repeat maltreatment in 2005 was 8%. While everyone acknowledges that no child should ever experience maltreatment while under the supervision of the state, the National standard for that measure is just above 5%. Georgia's present rate is just above 2%. These are incredible accomplishments for Georgia's child welfare system in a relatively short period of time.
Family centered practices are credited with much of this improvement. Families are expected to be responsible for the care of their own children. In spite of economic strains, Georgia is providing more supports to families. When this all began, Georgia was only giving about 10,000 families support. Presently about 25,000 are receiving some type of family supports. These supports include anything from parent training to day care to crisis management to connections to food stamps. Virtually all families want to care for their children if given the supports to do so.
The pay off for the State is significant. Supporting children in the homes is always more cost effective than bringing them into care. As one child advocate said, "Good child welfare is keeping children connected to their families and supporting their families in caring for their own children." Georgia is moving to a child welfare system that will require all providers whether governmental or private, to have family centered practice philosophies in their work. This model philosophy dictates that families will be respected, supported and considered in all work done with their children.
Georgia is showing that reductions in foster care can happen and can happen in an environment that is even more safe for the child.
Read more at www.gahsc.org/
Normer Adams is Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children and a writer, speaker and consultant on family and social issues such as advocacy. lobbying, and child welfare policy.