The governor, facing re-election in November, backed a plan to spend $27 million over the next three years to hire more than 500 caseworkers and supervisors for the agency. He also formed a council comprised of lawmakers, health care workers and experts to study changes, including the privatization of some foster care services.
Arizona's child safety agency underwent a similar shakeup in January. Gov. Jan Brewer abolished the previous agency and created a new division whose director would report directly to the governor on all matters involving child welfare. Brewer complained that the former system, which came under fire for failing to investigate more than 6,500 cases, was plagued by a lack of transparency and flawed focus.
Douglas County Juvenile Court Judge Peggy Walker praised the Georgia plan as “a great idea.” She said it will help streamline communication between DFCS and the governor. Under the existing system, the DFCS head often communicates through the state Human Services commissioner, which can bury child safety under the needs of the umbrella agency, she said.
“This way, (the DFCS director) will have the freedom to speak about the agency’s needs. There will be no layer in between,” Walker said.
The change could also heighten attention on child welfare, which could make the General Assembly more attentive to the needs of the agency, said Pat Willis, executive director of Voices for Georgia’s Children.
But Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, a longtime advocate for children, worried that a restructuring could result in agency chaos. Before she would endorse the plan, she said she would want to know the identities of those who will lead DFCS and those responsible for oversight in the governor’s office.
“I want to know who these people are, what are their credentials and what is their expertise in child welfare,” Oliver said.
In the long run, “it’s not really the reporting mechanism that matters,” said Ron Scroggy, executive director of the Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children. “It’s what is going to be done to keep kids and families safe. It could be a good thing. It could be nothing.”
Deal plans to elaborate on the move Thursday, including the role of Hill, the current DFCS director, in the reorganization.