Investing in HOPE: The Blueprint for Reforming Child Welfare in Georgia

According to the latest Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT assessment, Georgia ranked 42nd among all states in child well-being, pointing to a need for greater investment in child welfare. To help address this crisis, Georgia’s child welfare system is teaming up with nonprofits, the philanthropic sector, businesses and communities to create a place where people share a vision of safety and success for every child – a State of Hope.

Last week, in collaboration with the Georgia Grantmakers Alliance, Casey Family Programs and SECF, the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services met with more than 30 local funders to share its vision for improving the lives of children and families in crisis. The meeting sought to support local philanthropic leaders who are seeking a better understanding of the state of children and families in Georgia and to cultivate opportunities for public-private partnership. This convening included a discussion with Division Director Bobby Cagle and other senior division leaders, as well as Stephanie Blank, the chair of the governor’s Child Welfare Reform Council. 

Because of the increasing challenges for families – including substance abuse, poverty and unemployment – and the demands on families, Georgia has experienced an increase in the number of children and youth who have come to the attention of the Division of Family and Children Services. Therefore, building and strengthening public-private partnerships at the state level and at the regional level is critical.

Here’s what we know:

  • Each year, more than 163,000 children come to the attention of child welfare officials in Georgia.

  • Youth in foster care are more likely to fall behind in school because of frequent school changes and the lack of stability in their home environment.

  • Foster youth without a diploma are ill-equipped for the job market when they leave the system, hurting not only them but also our state’s economy. Young people who exit out of foster care without a high school diploma typically earn $8,500 less per year in wages.

  • Particularly in Georgia, but also throughout the Southeast region, independent foundations led the way for funding in 2014. However, family, community and corporate funders also have invested millions in child welfare.

The Division is committed to the safety, self-sufficiency and well-being of Georgia’s children and families and has been working to reform the child welfare system by focusing on building and sustaining strong practices, developing a committed workforce and purposefully engaging the community. Working alongside philanthropic partners also has been key to a strategy of aligning and coordinating local investments and leveraging existing investments to innovate and lift up best practices. More specifically, the Division is currently engaged in a partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Child Welfare Strategy Group over the next three to five years to improve the quality of caregiving and achieve our goal of having 50 percent of our children in care placed with relatives.

Casey Family Programs also has been a key partner and is working with the Division to build upon the work of the Northwest Georgia System of Care Advisory Council (SOC) and the Northwest Georgia Region of Hope, to create a State of Hope. State of Hope is a collective impact model designed to bring together partners and develop communities in which all children are safe and have the support they need from the adults in their lives and families and communities.

As Georgia moves toward a State of Hope, it is clear that the public sector and the philanthropic sector have an opportunity to collectively develop solutions that work for all families – especially families in crisis. For Georgia, this work is governed by these four guiding principles:

  • The power of partnership: Public-private partnerships are essential, especially at the local level, and benefit greatly from the expertise of place-based funders like community and family foundations.

  • The opportunity to fuel innovation: Philanthropic investments are more flexible than public funds – this can be leveraged to support creative work in areas such as research, training and leadership development.

  • A strategic focus on helping those in greatest need: The creativity and flexibility of philanthropic investments would greatly benefit children already in foster care, who are often poorly positioned for success in school, work and life.

  • The opportunity to have a broad impact: Supporting those in foster care by developing a strategic focus on improving the quality of caregiving and developing a trauma-informed approach to working with families in crisis, the restoration of families can become a reality. This support has the potential to ensure that more children in care graduate from high school, setting them up for greater financial success and allowing them to contribute to our state's economic engine.

This work cannot be done alone and it will take the partnership and collaboration of every sector of this state to be successful.

The Blueprint for Change + A State of Hope = Safe Children. Strengthened Families. Stronger Georgia.

Katrina D. Mitchell is director of strategic partnerships at the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services.


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