Keeping Kids Connected to Family

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Georgia kids in foster care are living in hotels because there aren’t enough foster families in the state to accommodate the number of children in the system.

Kids are more likely to thrive in nurturing, permanent families, yet a new report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation reveals that 57,000 foster kids nationwide go to sleep in non-family homes each night, and Georgia accounts for 1,300 of those children. According to the report—Every Kid Needs a Family: Giving Children in the Child Welfare System the Best Chance for Success—17 percent of the children in foster care in Georgia live in group homes or institutions, while at the national level, 14 percent of kids are living in non-family settings.

“Kids do better in families,” said Georgia Family Connection Partnership (GaFCP) Executive Director Gaye Smith. “Families—whether they’re relatives or unrelated—are critical to the healthy emotional, social, and psychological development of children in foster care. We know that kids in the child welfare system who grow up in non-family settings are more likely to enter the juvenile justice system, and are more likely to be abused in group settings. Kids placed in group settings often lose their daily routines involving school, friends, and community activities, and separation from siblings can cause further trauma.

While some children and teens do need to be placed in residential treatment centers, studies show that kids often end up there much longer than they need to be, and that 40 percent of kids placed in institutions and group homes don’t have any behavioral or medical conditions requiring them to be under institutional supervision.

This overuse of non-family homes also is a financial drain on Georgia. Non-family placements can cost up to 10 times more than the price of placing a child with a relative or foster family.

“Relying too heavily on group and institutional placements isn’t just bad for kids,” said Smith. “It’s bad for taxpayers as well.”

How We Can Place More Kids in Families—Not Institutions

Kinship families are ideal for out-of-home placements, but non-relative family foster care provides secure homes for kids within the foster system. However, research shows that 40 percent of families who leave the foster parent system do so because of inadequate resources and services.

Creating a “family-first” approach to the foster care system requires investment in state agencies and support of foster families. Georgia is making strides toward placing more kids in safe homes. During the 2014 legislative session Gov. Nathan Deal created a Child Welfare Reform Council (CWRC). In June 2014, Deal appointed Bobby Cagle director of the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), and restructured DFCS so that it now reports directly to the Governor’s Office. Cagle previously served as commissioner of Bright from the Start: Georgia Dept. of Early Care and Learning and, before that, as family services director for DFCS.

The CWRC issued a final report to the governor in January 2015, and the Georgia General Assembly acted upon several of the report recommendations during the 2015 legislative session. The newly passed child welfare reform legislation codifies the restructuring of DFCS, and creates new district- and state-level DFCS advisory boards. The law also allows for the expansion of county DFCS boards, and provides for those boards to include representatives with child welfare experience, including pediatric medical practitioners, mental health practitioners, and alumni of the child welfare system.

The governor and General Assembly provided nearly $12.5 million in state funding in the FY16 budget for new DFCS caseworkers, as well as $5.8 million for improving methods to recruit and train foster parents.

“We are funding 175 new caseworkers for next year, and providing continued support to the 103 caseworkers who were added in the amended FY15 budget,” said Deal. “This will bring our two-year total to over 450 additional employees, which will help improve services and morale by reducing case loads.”

Under the new law, DFCS is tasked with re-creating a child abuse registry in Georgia, as well as establishing new data-sharing protocol with other state agencies, such as the Dept. of Community Health and the Dept. of Early Care and Learning. The legislation also allows school officials better access to information about a student’s case, and provides foster parents with greater to access to a child’s medical and educational records.

Cagle plans to take DFCS to a new model for social work by implementing changes based on the CWRC’s recommendations and increased resources to the division. He is going to travel across the state this summer engaging as many stakeholders as possible to discuss his blueprint for change.

Read Every Kid Needs a Family: Giving Children in the Child Welfare System the Best Chance for Success.

Rebecca Rice
Georgia KIDS COUNT Coordinator

Bill Valladares
GaFCP Communications Director

Follow us on Twitter @gafcpnews.

Find your local Family Connection Collaborative.

Georgia Family Connection Partnership (GaFCP) is a public-private partnership created by the State of Georgia and funders from the private sector to assist communities in addressing the serious challenges facing children and families. GaFCP also serves as a resource to state agencies across Georgia that work to improve the conditions of children and families.

Georgia KIDS COUNT provides policymakers and citizens with current data they need to make informed decisions regarding priorities, services, and resources that affect Georgia’s children, youth, families, and communities. Georgia KIDS COUNT is funded, in part, through a grant from The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private charitable organization dedicated to helping build better futures for disadvantaged children in the United States. Find more information on children and families in Georgia, including maps, data tools, publications, and more at