Senate panel weighs child welfare improvements

Senate study committee made several recommendations after examining issues plaguing Georgia’s child welfare system
State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-Marietta, during the state's Legislative session earlier this year. (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-Marietta, during the state's Legislative session earlier this year. (Arvin Temkar /

A state Senate panel made several recommendations on Monday to improve Georgia’s child welfare system, including boosting pay for caseworkers, the creation of a special court to improve safety for at-risk infants and toddlers, and measures to bring more transparency to the foster care system.

“The work on behalf of our foster kids will never be finished,” said Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, a Republican who chairs the Senate Study Committee on Foster Care and Adoption. “This committee’s work is just a strong start.”

The senator’s remarks came during the fourth meeting of the Senate study committee that’s examined issues plaguing Georgia’s child welfare system. More than half a dozen recommendations were made, some of which will be introduced as bills in the upcoming state legislative session that begins in January.

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.