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Patty Bentley says more rural representation needed on Child Welfare Council

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On Wednesday, April 2, State Rep. Patty James-Bentley said the newly formed Child Welfare Council needs more representation from rural Georgia.

James-Bentley represents House District 139, a mostly rural, majority-minority four county district which includes cities such as Fort Valley, Montezuma, Unadilla, Vienna , Butler and Reynolds.

I am disappointed that no one from rural Georgia was selected by the Governor to serve on the Child Welfare Reform Council.

Gov. Nathan Deal named the list of those who will serve on the Child Welfare Reform Council, which was recently created to improve our child welfare system and better protect Georgia's most vulnerable citizens.

Of the twenty selected to serve by Governor Deal, only two are from rural Georgia -- Lamar Burkett, a foster parent from Moultrie (Colquitt County) in South Georgia and State Sen. Burt Jones, a Republican from Jackson, Georgia.

During the 2014 General Assembly session, Senate Bill 350 was proposed which would require the Division of Family and Children Services to contract out primary functions such as adoption, family preservation, independent living, foster care and case management.

In essence, Georgia Republicans are pushing a plan to privatize services rendered by the Family and Children Services.

However, Senate Bill 350 did not pass on the final day of the 2014 General Assembly, but this item is likely to be a top priority in 2015.

Republicans have been pushing hard for privatization and despite the proposed law being in limbo, the Child Welfare Council is designed to find common ground to push this initiative forward.

The idea has been endorsed by Gov. Nathan Deal, House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle following revelations of widespread failings by the agency. If it passes, changes would be phased in over a two-year period beginning July 2015.

Melissa Dorris Carter and Andrew Barclay had penned a short editorial response in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about privatization and responded to SB-350:

We all share the value of improving outcomes for children and families. We feel an emotional urgency to reform the system that is responsible for those outcomes. The truth is, however, that child welfare systems are dynamic and uniquely complex. State differences matter. Applying a politically popular model from another state will not fix systemic problems in Georgia related to funding, staffing shortages, inadequate service capacity and lack of coordination across systems.

Governor Nathan Deal said the following about the new council :

"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. "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."

The council will convene throughout the remainder of this year to complete a comprehensive review of the Division of Family and Children Services and advise the governor on possible executive agency reforms and legislative fixes if necessary.

Stephanie Blank will chair the council and will work in conjunction with the Governor's Office and the Department of Human Services.

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