The privatization of child welfare services can be identified as an emerging trend. The primary theory is that private social service agencies will be able to provide higher quality services at lower costs and with better efficiency. The exploration of what actions will result in the best outcomes for the vulnerable children in Georgia’s child welfare system is one underlying motivation for SB 350. A second underlying motivation for SB 350 is financial. Legislation could change how the federal government devotes resources in the area of child welfare. Most notable is the impending expiration of authority, September 30, 2014, for a federal waiver (Title IV-E) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, allowing states to explore new approaches to child welfare services. Several problems have been identified regarding child welfare privatization efforts, most notably: a lack of objectivity for assessments and analysis, a lack of information of the effects of shifting from public to private service providers, and most importantly there is a lack of information and analysis on the outcomes for the children and families involved. Additionally, acceptance of the Title IV-E waiver would provide a fixed amount of funding that which could limit necessary funding for Georgia’s child welfare system.
Communication from Senator Renee Unterman’s office, of District 45, identifies the issue in terms of supporting an expanded public-private partnership for child welfare services. Senator Unterman details the problem as being the quantity of children in the state foster care system that experience repeated trauma due to being moved between multiple foster homes. Half of these children are recognized as being in the Atlanta counties of Fulton and DeKalb: 11,048 in foster care, 15,265 in adoption assistance, and 181 in the Department of Juvenile Justice. The other 26,000 children are spread over an 18 county area. Additionally, Senator Unterman recognizes the recent deaths of two children associated with Georgia’s Division of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) and used these cases to demonstrate abuse patterns and problems of case managers overlooking interventions. Unfortunately, the use of this tactic as a political maneuver is contrary to the role of state legislators as identified by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) in a 2007 document prepared for the Children’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Support for an expanded public-private partnership, according to Senator Unterman, rests on the appearance of successful reforms implemented in Florida, Louisiana, Kansas, and Texas.
The Child Welfare Information Gateway of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families compiles information provided by state and national sources. Specifically, the two data sources are listed as being Federal and State Reporting Systems and the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect. The reporting systems support data collection and analysis regarding information about children and families. One system, the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) compiles case-level information from state and tribal title IV-E agencies on a twice-yearly schedule. Among the Florida Fiscal Year 2012 Assessment Review Findings are revelations of excluded children in the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice who should have been included and wrongly included children whose only placement is a hospital or locked facility. Additionally there are references to multiple technical corrections affecting many data elements (p. 2). A second system is the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) that which compiles data reports on child abuse and neglect. The third system is the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) that which compiles information on youth in foster care. The National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect makes research data available in the effort to assist in secondary analysis. The Child Welfare Information Gateway also provides links and PDFs to assist in understanding the data.
Who is affected?
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there were 2,491,552 individuals living in Georgia who were under the age of 18 (U.S. Census, 2014). Those who would be affected by this issue would be any minor children under the age of 18 admitted into Georgia child welfare system. Adults responsible for the children in the state child welfare system would also be affected, including families of origin and foster families. In changing the distribution of child welfare departmental finances and responsibilities, the staff of the Georgia DFCS would be significantly reduced. Conversely, private community and faith-based welfare service provider organizations would grow and expand with more finances, facilities and staff.
Impact of the Issue on Georgians
As introduced, SB 350 would have had the most impact on not only the children in foster care, but more obviously, foster care families and families of origin. The possible impact of SB 350 on Georgians can best be assumed in the review of other states that have already privatized their foster care systems (Kapp, S. A., and Propp, J., 2002). However, input from families participating in child welfare services are typically not sought out and available research is limited. In one respect, SB 350 would have probably have worsened the experience of families involved with foster care services by adding more agencies per child. Families who already are overwhelmed due to a deficit of system knowledge describe feelings of confusion and helplessness. This is compounded by inconsistent, and sometimes absence, of information from service providers. Effective communication becomes much more complicated with the addition of multiple agencies. Also, though a consistent, recurring theme in public child welfare services is high rate of worker turnover and case overloads, these problems prove endemic as a whole and pervade private service providers as well. Families involved with child welfare systems most likely would not notice any difference in availability from private service providers. Another problematic factor identified is the lack of a formal, organized process to with which to express concern, report problems, and ask for assistance. The event, or threat of, a private service providers’ cessation of business is an added, and valid cause for worry for clients utilizing private service providers. The impacts of SB 350, as introduced, on Georgians with links to the child welfare system would lead to disassociation and disarray of services instead of the provision of better quality of service.
A review of six states includes Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania. Most recently the Kentucky Senate Health and Welfare Committee is reviewing their child welfare system in anticipation of legislation to be filed (Snell, L., 22 April, 2013). In 2012, Oklahoma passed five bills regarding multiple aspects of child welfare privatization and Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services introduced an Improving Outcomes for Children initiative (Snell, L., 22 April, 2013). Proponents often cite Florida’s positive results, such as reducing the overall foster care population and abuse within as well as increases in rapid response, from its privatization efforts of just over ten years (Snell, L., 22 April, 2013). Nevertheless, a study of Florida’s system, the model for Senate Bill 350, found that privatization of that state’s child welfare services led to the undesirable result of increasing the need for multiple placements for foster children (Steen, J.A. and Duran, L., 2013). Also Ms. Carter notes the difficulty in proving that privatization is the primary motivator behind the improvements. Additionally, she observes that Georgia has achieved many of these outcomes without privatization and performs better comparatively (Yu, E., 29 January, 2014). In 1996, Kansas was one of the first states to mostly privatize their child welfare system and continues the practice. Reportedly, both Kansas and Florida doubled their child welfare budgets within the first decade of privatization transitioning (Yu, E., 29 January, 2014). Nebraska began privatization efforts in 2009 and mostly ended those efforts in 2012 due in part to cost overruns of $30 million and repaying the federal government $22 million (Yu, E., 29 January, 2014). An additional problem presented in Nebraska proved to be financial instability among child welfare service provider contractors and their Department of Health and Human Services is now conducting the majority of case management (Snell, L., 22 April, 2013).