Bobby Cagle, the state’s Division of Family and Children Services director, is headed for Los Angeles County, with a population of 10 million and problems in its child welfare department that mirror Georgia’s.
Cagle reflected on his time as the department’s head and its progress in his last week of the job.
“When I first came in to the agency, we were several thousand cases behind in doing the investigations that we needed to do ... and the morale of the agency was probably at the lowest I’ve ever seen it,” he said.
Cagle said he wanted to reduce a 39 percent turnover rate among caseworkers, which is down to 29 percent.
“We are not exactly where we want to be, but I think the strides that we made in the past 31/2 years have been a remarkable lift for a system as large as Georgia,” interim director Ginger Pryor said.
According to DFCS officials, there are 261 Hall County children in the agency’s custody as of Oct. 1. There are 56 total foster homes in the county, including those who work directly with DFCS and those who work with private agencies contracted by DFCS.
Cagle said the “focus now is really turning to how you engage the community in making children safer and giving families what they need to be able to support their children.”
Caseworkers and foster parents got some relief with the new state budget. DFCS foster parents began receiving a daily increase of about $10 on per diems starting July 1. Family with children younger than 5 usually received $15 per day before the change.
Another $25.9 million included in the budget was to bring caseworker salaries closer to market rates.
The Child Welfare Reform Council in years past recommended caseworkers handle only 15 cases. According to DHS data from 2016, the average caseworker in Hall County’s region had 24 cases. If all positions were filled, that load would be 16.
Pryor previously served as DFCS chief of staff and has 27 years of experience in child welfare.
“I got a call one day about a dynamic gentleman named Bobby Cagle, who was doing some work in Georgia to try to reform the system. I talked to him on the phone and I came out to meet him, and the rest is kind of history for Bobby and I,” she said.
Pryor said recruitment is an issue every child welfare system needs to focus on, adding the department will continue “strengthening our partnerships with some of our providers to wrap stronger supports around our foster parents.”
“I’ve met lots of individuals who want to foster, but then sometimes they get to the informational session and they were not prepared for everything that it takes to foster,” Pryor said.
Regarding the possibility of future public-private partnerships, Cagle said the previous pilot proposals in 2014 proved to be “cost prohibitive.”
“I wouldn’t say that it’s ever out of the realm of possibilities,” he said.