SB 350 Policy Analysis

Goal of Legislation

The goal of SB 350 as introduced, was the privatization of service providers of Georgia’s child welfare system. The provision of child welfare services, funded by the government, would be transferred from the state to community and faith-based providers. The legislation would have addressed the current public-private cooperation situation of Georgia’s child welfare system by amending current Georgia law, to more fully privatize services for the children in this system. If enacted, this legislation would have transferred from public to private, much of the daily services provided to the children in Georgia’s child welfare system. By amending Georgia Code 49-1-1, this legislation would add a new subsection to the existing law.

Description of Legislation

Senator Renee Unterman introduced Georgia Senate Bill 350 in the Georgia General Assembly from Senate District 45, on February 4, 2014 (Georgia General Assembly, 2014). As introduced, this bill directs the state Department of Human Services, specifically the Division of Child and Family Services, in the bidding out of child welfare services through contracts with community based service providers. This bill would have been an Act to amend Chapter 2 of Title 49 of the O.C.G.A. § 49-1-1. Currently, many of Georgia’s child welfare services are already privatized. SB 350 would have amended current law to allow many remaining applicable services to be contracted out (Georgia General Assembly, 2014).

Had this bill been enacted as introduced, the everyday services provided to Georgia’s children utilizing child welfare services would be expanded to being almost fully provided by community and faith-based organizations. Contracts with a few lead agencies were to be established with local community participation. DFCS was tasked to set contract bidding standards. Ultimately, the primary responsibilities for DFCS would have been in the areas of quality assurance and monitoring of the contracted services and performance reporting. The services to be transferred to private organizations include: adoption, therapeutic foster care, intensive residential treatment, foster care supervision, case management, post-placement supervision, permanent foster care, and family reunification services of children. The legislation also required DFCS to apply for a Title IV-E waiver from the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by April 1, 2014. Acquiring this waiver would allow DFCS to receive fixed funding to start the project. The privatization transition was to be contingent upon receiving the Title IV-E waiver. DFCS was to submit the plan by January 1, 2015 with a two-year phase in period to begin on July 1, 2015. This would have affected all services funded by the government. The primary exceptions are in the areas of oversight and investigations. SB 350 had five co-sponsors including four Republicans and one Democrat from across the state (Georgia General Assembly, 2014).

The most identifiable opponent of SB 350, as introduced, has appeared to be Melissa D. Carter, Director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University School of Law. Ms. Carter suggests that there are multiple motivations in the instigation for further privatization of Georgia’s child welfare system and states that the interests of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University School of Law are better outcomes for children. Ms. Carter further observes that there is no empirical support favoring a privatized child welfare system (Barclay, A. & Carter, M. D., 2014).

What would be the consequences of Senate Bill 350?

If approved by the Georgia State Legislature as introduced, this legislation would have more fully privatized the services of Georgia’s child welfare system. The consequences of SB 350 would be in the shift of the provision of daily child welfare services from state to private sector organizations.

An inability to hold the contracted service providers accountable is an example of a potential consequence from the bill. Senate Bill 350, as introduced, required the DFCS to contract with up to 15 lead agencies that could provide only a maximum of 35% of the child welfare services in their assigned region. The remaining 65% of services would have to be subcontracted out to other private agencies. This disbursement of services among many private providers could make it difficult to identify the origins of problems that may arise and implement targeted corrective actions (Flaherty, C. Collins-Camargo, C. Lee, E., 2008).