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Funding is key to child welfare reforms, advocates say
Hall stakeholders support councils plan, say money needed to make them work
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A Jan. 9 announcement by Gov. Nathan Deal’s Child Welfare Reform Council offered recommendations to improve the state’s record of caring for children.

Now some foster care and child advocates in Hall County see the need for more funding to follow through on those ideas.

The council’s recommendations centered around retaining and training Division of Family and Children Services caseworkers while trying to recruit more foster parents.

Martha Coley, a Hall foster parent, said the pay for foster parents and caseworkers needs to increase.

“As far as the county DFCS, their per diem for foster parents is not really even enough to help support the child,” she said. “I would say if they would raise the per diem for the foster parents and also maybe raise the salary of the caseworkers, those that are involved.”

To boost retention, the council’s report recommended pay raises for caseworkers and supervisors “to bring it more in line with average salaries for similar jobs.”

The average starting annual salary for a case manager associate is $28,000. In 2013, DFCS foster homes caring for a child under age 5 has a $15.04 base per diem, with additional money available for older children and children with extra needs.

In 2007, the base per diem for a home raising a child under age 5 was $14.60.

The core support for a child in foster care are the foster parents, their caseworkers and the Court-Appointed Special Advocates.

Connie Stephens, executive director of Hall-Dawson CASA, said she was most pleased with the plan to add 278 caseworkers.

“This reform is going to benefit the children and the families that CASA serves,” Stephens said.

Turnover with caseworkers is high, said public defender Nicki Vaughan, one of the co-founders of Georgia CASA.

“I hardly ever see the same caseworker again. ... It’s hard for us to try and follow up with someone,” she said.

When a child runs away, becomes disruptive or acts uncontrollably, Coley said the agency and its future caseworkers should be more accessible at any hour.

“Foster parents should be able to get in touch with the caseworker any time, day or night,” Coley said.

Holly Campolong, Hall-Dawson DFCS director, declined comment.

Deal’s proposed budgets allot $5.8 million for the increased recruitment of foster care parents and $5 million in “career ladders” and performance-based increases for DFCS caseworkers.

The main concerns for advocates in Hall is if the funding will stay in the budget.

“If it’s not funded, it’s not going to make a difference,” Vaughan said.

If implemented, Vaughan said the end result could be more and better-trained caseworkers.

Stephens said there is still a great need for more CASAs to help with children in foster care in and around Hall County.

Coley said she and Bethany Christian Services are planning an orientation for prospective foster parents for next month, with details to be determined later.

“It can be a very rewarding experience watching a child change from maybe something impossible to a very resourceful child,” Coley said.