Child Welfare Reform team selected

Six state lawmakers, two judges, the head of the Office of the Child Advocate, and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s CEO have been named members of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Child Welfare Reform Council.

Gov. Nathan Deal
Gov. Nathan Deal

The governor recently created the council to improve Georgia’s child welfare system. It will conduct a review of the Division of Family and Children Services and advise Deal on possible executive agency reforms and legislative fixes.

Major reform of the foster care system was a hotly debated proposal in the recently completed General Assembly, but legislation that would have privatized much of that system failed to pass. The Georgia House and Senate were split on legislative efforts to bid out services such as foster care, adoption and case management to private organizations.

Longtime children’s advocate Stephanie Blank will chair the council and will work in conjunction with the Governor’s Office and the Department of Human Services.

The 20 newly appointed members include Ashley Willcott, executive director of the Office of the Child Advocate; Juvenile Court Judges Steve Teske and Peggy Walker; Melissa Carter, director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center; Donna Hyland, CEO of CHOA; and the president of Savannah State University, Cheryl Dozier.

Also included are state Reps. Carolyn Hugley (D-Columbus), Valerie Clark (R-Lawrenceville) and Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), and state Sens. Freddie Powell Sims (D-Dawson), Burt Jones (R-Jackson) and Fran Miller (R-Atlanta).

“With this council now in place, it is our hope to uncover new approaches that will strengthen our child welfare system and ensure that Georgia’s children are given the best shot at a good life,” Deal said in a statement. “These appointees have dedicated themselves to improving the lives of children, and I feel confident that together they will produce meaningful and thoughtful reform recommendations.”

Blank serves on the Georgia State Advisory Council on Early Childhood Education and Care and is the founding chair of the governing board of GEEARS, the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students.

State Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), who supported privatization of child welfare services, praised Gov. Deal’s three state senator appointments to the council.

“Together we all share an interest in child welfare and education,” Unterman said in a statement. “With collaboration, I am positive the state will begin pilot demonstration projects improving transparency, accountability, and outcomes impacting foster care services.”