While not very surprising, much of the information in Ms. Melissa D. Carter’s presentation on Child Welfare of April 10, 2014, is shocking to hear and to see. All of our nation’s most vulnerable populations are treated similarly. Children, military veterans, and the elderly are prescribed psychotropic medications in order to be able to exhibit socially acceptable behavior. People who work in direct care with these populations are among the poorest paid professionals. Outcomes for these populations are the least likely to be measured, studied, or proactively changed. While Ms. Carter’s presentation achieved a level of educating the audience, most surprising is the sense of failure to generate feelings of connectivity to the issue. Nobody in the audience seemed to leave with the sense that each and every one of us can do something to improve the child welfare situation in some way. Conversely, the general feeling seemed to be one of being overwhelmed once the quantity of child welfare cases that a case manager is expected to handle became known. This seems to highlight the difficulty of getting people who become educated about an issue to become active participants.
Recognition that children need services past the age of eighteen is encouraging. The existence of Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) Independent Living Program (ILP) was new information on a personal level. Very impressive is the information Ms. Carter presented that most of the young Georgian’s eligible to receive these services and support do receive them, an impressive 2385 youth of 2588.
The process of social policy creation seems to affect the outcome for vulnerable children and families. Most of the major issues Ms. Carter spoke of were involved: federal and state laws and funding, high profile cases, class action litigation, and the changing of top leadership. In the legislative session just previous, the only requirement was to pass a budget for the state. This left an extremely narrow to nonexistent window of opportunity for child welfare legislation to pass. Compounding this situation was the factor of timing. The calendar for this legislative period was short and occasionally thwarted by the weather. A change in date for the state primary election, moving up to be on May 20, 2014, is the main instigator for the calendar change. Consequently, legislators focused on two specific issues: passing required legislation and gearing up election campaigns. In these trying circumstances, it is encouraging that a bill regarding child welfare, specifically Senate Bill 350, received as much attention as it did. The status history of SB 350 reflects fourteen actions affecting the bill that included multiple readings, committee referrals resulting in two substitutes, amendments, and reconsiderations. Generally, the language in SB 350 varied greatly from Senate Hopper to final voting. The shift in focus from more fully privatizing Georgia’s child welfare system to conducting a pilot study in order to make a more informed decision is encouraging and appears reflective of a working democratic system. This is a good immediate outcome for Georgia’s vulnerable children and families.
Being informed consumers of the current child welfare systems in place is important in improving creation of child welfare social policy. The lack of empirical studies highlights a knowledge gap in need of further review before too much more action resulting in unknown consequences, is taken.