Effort to bypass Georgia foster system passes Senate committee

Military service members or struggling parents trying to get their act together could bypass the state’s foster care system and place their children with families or friends under a bill gaining steam in the Georgia Senate.

Senate Bill 3 would allow that temporary arrangement for up to a year as the parent completes deployment or gets back on his or her feet. The pairing between parent and friend would not be handled by the Division of Family and Children Services, which controls Georgia's foster care system.

Instead, it would be made through faith-based groups or nonprofit organizations trained in crisis intervention. The arrangement could be cut short at the request of a participating parent.

"We're talking about a simplified system (that) preserves continuity and a way of life," said the bill's sponsor, Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Renee Unterman, R-Buford.

The same committee unanimously approved SB 3, moving it toward consideration for a floor vote as early as next week.

A lawyer who testified during the hearing, however, says the bill could jeopardize the rights of parents who have visitation rights but don’t have full custody of their children.

“The real-life consequences of this bill will devastate family law as we know it,” said Lane Fitzpatrick, whose family law practice is based in Danielsville. “This is going to be a weapon a legal custodian is going to use against a noncustodial parent.”

In response to Fitzpatrick’s concerns, committee members asked legislative counsel to prepare an amendment to the bill to be made on the Senate floor. It would require a 30-day notice of such a decision be given to parents who don’t have custody.

Unterman has called SB 3 a step toward privatization of the child welfare system — something she tried to do on a broader scale last year before the state House blocked it.