Wellroot Advocacy Update – July 2019
At Wellroot Family Services we believe attunement to and understanding of key legislative and policy decisions strategically inform our work and are critical in how we collaborate and plan for the future of the organization. Additionally, we see legislators as our partners and advocates in this work and believe it is important that they understand issues facing our children, families, communities, and the child welfare system at large. By providing this legislative update, we aim to update our constituents on important legislative matters that affect our clients and our work.
This year’s legislative session illustrated Georgia’s commitment to move forward in the implementation of the federal Family First Prevention Services Act (“FFPSA”). If you are not familiar with the Act, HERE is an explanation of FFPSA. The state director of the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), Tom Rawlings, has indicated a plan to move forward in Georgia with FFPSA implementation on September 29, 2020. During the session, budget appropriations were made to align with both the technological and operational infrastructure changes needed within DFCS in preparation of implementation. Significant legislative changes were brought forward to tee up and prepare the system for the changes including dollars allocated for assessment, readiness and planning as it relates to building the state’s capacity, establishing a project management team, and other provisions to allow DFCS to use surplus funds for agencies’ readiness to become Qualified Residential Treatment Providers.
A bill of significant relevance to child welfare was HB 472. Changes to the Juvenile Code will occur as a result of HB 472 passing, a bill that creates process for a juvenile court judge to determine if a “Temporary Alternative to Foster Care” (TAFC) could occur and authorizes judges to order a TAFC i.e. placing a child with a relative or other known caregiver or providing in-home supports, to prevent removal. This provides court oversight of a child who has come to the attention of DFCS without the removal to foster care. HB 472 is consistently aligned with FFPSA and together with additional funding from FFPSA will pave the way for a system designed for family preservation. It also further extends the existing process to explore relative caregivers when removal is necessary. HB 472 was recently signed by Governor Kemp. Related, SB 225 also passed the legislature which includes definitions and specific terminology and requirements that will bring Georgia into compliance with FFPSA. More details can be found HERE about HB 472 and DFCS Director Tom Rawlings provided information regarding how this will impact our system positively: HERE.
An additional bill very relevant to our work in foster care is SB 167. This bill reinforces DFCS’ requirement to identify and engage relatives early in foster care cases through diligent search efforts within the first 6 months of a foster care case. It also creates a presumption that, after a child has been in a stable home for more than one year, it is in the child’s best interest to remain in that home. This includes the home of the foster family. Foster families can also be considered “fictive kin” after 6 months of a case when a relative caregiver has not been identified. At the age of 11, a judge must consider the desires of the child in all cases. This bill has been signed by Governor Kemp and has received national news attention in USA Today. More details can be found HERE.
Together Georgia, an association that Wellroot Family Services is actively involved with, centers its work around advocacy for organizations such as ours and other child-serving agencies. Much of Together Georgia’s work in partnership with DFCS over the last year and moving forward is around FFPSA implementation. We remain actively involved in a partnership with DFCS at the local and state level. Working collaboratively with DFCS, other youth and family-serving organizations, advocacy groups, community-based organizations, courts, churches and legislators we can help solve many of the issues facing youth and families.
Barton Child Law and Policy Center, Child Advocacy News Center 2019
Voices for Georgia’s Children, Legislative Updates 2019
Your Child Welfare Update Office of the Child Advocate, Advocacy: April 2019
Families First Prevention Services Act Overview: Voices for Georgia’s Children, December 2018