Many of the specifics have yet to be hashed out, but Kirkpatrick said that the energy for reform is ripe in Georgia. Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, key Georgia lawmakers, and the state’s commissioner for the Department of Human Services are all on board to reform the system, she said.
“We’ve got a window of opportunity right now,” said Kirkpatrick. “The ducks are lining up in a row to where we really can make some progress.”
Among the recommendations from the state Senate study committee:
- The committee wants more transparency and information on the timelines for transitioning foster kids into a permanent home, and recommends legislation to create a uniform reporting system.
- Children in the state’s care face troubles obtaining state photo identification, which can pose problems for driving and employment. The study committee recommended legislation to provide free and easily obtainable state photo ID cards.
- The state’s child welfare agency has seen high turnover among case managers. Possible solutions include increased salaries, more training, and more resources to connect to non-governmental groups that provide services to at-risk families and children.
- Georgia has piloted “Infant-Toddler” courts, due to the model’s success in other states. These courts focus on at-risk families with infants and toddlers, and the Senate study committee recommended the expansion of this model in Georgia could prevent many children from entering the foster care system.
Kylie Winton, a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Human Services, said the department is grateful that the committee developed the recommendations to improve foster care and adoption in the state.
“We cannot do this work alone, and we look forward to supporting and effectuating these recommendations as we continue to serve children and families across the state,” Winton said in a statement.
Georgia’s foster care system is also in the spotlight at the federal level. Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff launched an inquiry into alleged abuse and neglect in the state’s foster care system, prompted by reporting from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. So far, that subcommittee has held several hearings, both in Georgia and in Washington D.C.