House begins debate on privatizing foster care

ATLANTA -- Ryan and Stephanie Martin fostered two sets of children. The last found a permanent place in their home.

Fostering was always an option. But it wasn't untilthe private organization FaithBridge approached their church inAlpharetta, that they decided toget involved.

"They have people who are approved to babysit, are bringing you meals, who pray for you, will provide for clothes. So all of that comes around you as you are in foster care," said Stephanie, smiling as she flipped through a photo album of her adopted boys.

The Martin's say those are services not readily, orat least easily,available to traditional foster families. It also helped that they had a FaithBridge case worker that could interact on their behalf with DFCS.

"It's hard to get in touch with your DFCS worker a lot of times. I don't think that its that they don't want to talk with you, I think it's that they're so overwhelmed they don't have the opportunity too," said Martin.

They see the privatization bill as a way to free up DFCS workers to focus on child abuse investigations and permanency plans for children in the state's care.

But other private organizations toldreporter Rebecca Lindstrom, FaithBridge is in the minority of those who feel Senate Bill 350 is a good idea.

Doug Mead with Georgia Agapeappeared before House lawmakers Wednesday, to argue the bill as it stands now is not the answer.

"Why would we want to go and tear down our whole structure right now to go and do something that is not showing it is providing any better results for children than we have today?"Mead asked.

Mead and other opponents say the effort to mirror Georgia's foster care system after Florida's is short sighted.

"There's evidence that Georgia is doing better than Florida in many of these important outcomes," said Mead.

Kathy Colbenson with CHRIS Kids says thesupport for change stems from the tragic deaths of children like Emani Moss and Eric Forbes. But points out, they weren't in foster care.

Even if they were, she worries about liability. Right now the state can't be sued. It's unclear if private companies could.

"There needs to be a thoughtful analysis of the system," said Colbenson.

She's pushing for a study committee before passing any new policy on foster care.

"We're marching forward on a path that's paved with good intentions and everyone wants what's best for children," she told lawmakers.

Colbenson says state and federal funds don't cover actual costs. CHRIS Kids operates on a $12 million budget. At least $2 million of that has to be raised through private funds.

She worries organizations that can't raise additional money, will cut corners instead, reducing services for children and putting them at risk.

Colbenson says half of the children in foster care, are already served through some type of private organization, partnering with DFCS rather than calling the shots.


* 11Alive DFCS coverage
* Georgia ranks 6th in child abuse deaths
* DFCS already making changes to procedures after new bill
* Records show DFCS isn't always transparent


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