A bill to privatize most of the state’s child welfare services was introduced this week by Senator Unterman (R-Buford). The legislation, Senate Bill 350, would require the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) to develop a plan by January of 2015 by which is would contract with a limited number of regional lead agencies to provide the vast majority of child welfare services that are now, at least in part, offered by the state. The program would be phased in over the course of two years.
While lead agencies would be allowed to provide up to 35 percent of the services needed within a region, the law would require that they contract with other local agencies to provide the majority of services.
Contracts between the state and lead agencies would be for five years with DFCS having the ability to extend the contract for an additional three years. While DFCS would no longer be a direct service provider, it would remain responsibility for providing oversight of the contracted agencies.
As an incentive to agencies to find suitable permanent placements for children in their care, the law would fund agencies with per-child payments for a maximum of six months. After six months agencies would be required to pick up the tab for children that remain in their care. Likewise, agencies would not be eligible for per child payments for any child returning to the agency within 12 months of a permanent placement.
The reform is modeled after similar efforts in Florida and more than a dozen other states over the last couple of decades and has been driven by Georgia’s continued failures to adequately serve the children in its care.
While privatization is supported by many state leaders, including the Governor and Lt. Governor, opponents to the change say that it is being done too quickly and without considering ways to reform the system without privatization.
Evidence from Florida and other states shows that privatization can have beneficial effects, including improved safety for the children in care and a reduction in the number of children in state custody.
Yesterday, the legislation was favorably voted out of the Healthcare Delivery Subcommittee of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. A stakeholder meeting was expected to be held today.