SB 350 Stakeholders

Georgia Senator Renee Unterman of District 45, Sponsor of SB 350

District 45 Senator Renee Unterman introduced senate Bill 350. Senator Unterman is a Republican in the Georgia Senate who has been in legislative service since beginning as a Georgia House Representative in 1999. Previous to her public service, Senator Unterman was educated, trained and worked as a social worker and nurse. Senator Unterman’s district is located in Buford, Georgia (Gwinnett County) (Senators, 2014).

Senator Unterman communicated from her office during the legislative session. In addition to Senator Unterman, SB 350 had five additional co-sponsors: Senator Fran Millar of District 40; Senator Brandon Beach of District 21; Senator David Shafer of District 48; Senator Freddie Powell Sims of District 12; and House Representative Carl Rogers of District 29. Senator Unterman was the only sponsor in communication for the purposes of this paper.

Senator Unterman indicated that she introduced this legislation for the purposes of making the safety net for Georgia’s vulnerable children more effective. This bill provides for a system of care that would encourage all communities to come together in partnership with the state and other private providers. This type of cooperation would be more responsive based on the needs of the children in individual communities. Also, this legislation is about using federal dollars in a way that provides the type of care needed – not just when a child is removed from the home and placed in foster care. The ability to re-invest foster dollars has been limited. This bill, as introduced, would allow for waiver requests allowing for re-investment in programs such as prevention and family reunification. Flexible federal dollars would assist the state dollars being invested to allow for the children’s care and support.

Melissa D. Carter, Director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University School of Law

Ms. Carter is the Director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University School of Law. In part, the stated mission of the Center is the promotion and protection of children’s legal rights and interests with respect to juvenile court, child welfare and juvenile justice systems. The Center also seeks to encourage integrity among the professionals and within the institutions serving children.

Ms. Carter delivered a presentation about this issue on April 10, 2014 at Georgia State University at which she allowed a few moments for personal communication. Her overall comment regarding the privatization of child welfare is that “it’s not all good or all bad”. In her presentation, Ms. Carter discussed child welfare system considerations. Outcomes for children are measured by child safety, permanency and well-being. The motivating factors behind these outcomes are described as being federal and state laws and funding, high profile cases, class action litigation, emerging/best practices, and leadership philosophy. As 2014 is an election year for many Georgia state legislators, including Governor Nathan Deal, the change of leadership at the highest state levels becomes a major issue. Class action litigation involving state and county officials responsible for the foster care system in Atlanta is demonstrated through Kenny A. v. Deal. High profile cases in Georgia involve the child deaths of Emani Moss, Eric Forbes, Markea Berry, and Jadien Harvey. Federal funding includes the Title IV-E waivers involving the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. State legislation can be changed with the passing of such bills as SB 350. Ms. Carter identified emerging/best practices as being an important consideration that which is lacking in newer evidence-based approaches.

P. L. and C. K., Georgia Foster Parents of 32 + Children

P and C have been married for almost twenty years. From the beginning of their marriage, the idea of having children together proved to be a strong bond. C describes how their family started by explaining: “…I noticed two young boys playing nearby…I asked my friend if they were his nephews [and] he explained that he and his wife had recently become foster parents. It was a ‘light bulb moment’! I knew this is what P and I were destined to do.” Their histories play an important role in this decision. C is from a large family with many children and P grew up in an orphanage. While they both knew they wanted to have a large family together, being pregnant was considered to be high risk.

In the first eight years of their marriage, P and C fostered thirty-two children and adopted four. At one point during this time, their home became damaged and they temporarily lived in a rental house. This situation brought another “light bulb moment” as P and C realized the difficulties in being displaced and gained a new understanding of some of the experiences of foster care children. With regard to SB 350 as introduced, P and C observed that the sheer quantity of paperwork required of foster parents per child, just for DFCS alone, is staggering. They expressed concern over possible requirements for more documentation for each additional agency that might be involved in the process. However, P and C repeatedly commented that in many instances it is the assistance and support of friends and the community that come to help, not only in a crisis, but throughout life’s journeys (P.L. and C.K., personal communication, April 14, 2014).