Gov. Nathan Deal has proposed nearly $30 million in additional funding for foster care services in the 2019 fiscal year budget, which begins July 1.
These increases include per diem rate increases for some foster families and money to hire additional mental health care professionals, as demand for services continues to rise.
The number of children in foster care is spiking across the state, including here in Hall County.
In January, for example, there were 274 Hall County children in foster care, with just 62 foster homes available. Now, there are 315 Hall children in foster care.
About 25 percent of foster children in Hall are placed with relatives, but state officials are pushing to raise that figure to 50 percent.
Statewide, the number of children in foster care grew to 14,096 in December from 13,024 one year earlier.
State officials have said the ravishes of opioid addiction are partly to blame for this dramatic increase.
The governor’s proposed budget calls for $15 million to support general foster care services provided by the state Division of Family and Children Services; $7.5 million to raise per diem rates by $2.50 for foster children placed with relatives; $3.8 million to support the administrative costs of private child placement agencies and increases in per diem rates for foster families working with those agencies; and $2.3 million to fund 19 “care coordinator positions” to serve the mental health needs of foster children, which was recommended by the Commission on Children’s Mental Health in a report released in December.
The per diem increases for foster families working through private child placement agencies, rather than DFCS, are critical lifelines in supporting the varied needs of foster children.
“They’re extremely important,” said Katherine Collins, who was born and raised in Hall County. “Anything helps tremendously.”
Collins and her family recently relocated to the metro Atlanta area and became foster parents in October. They are now supporting a second foster child, who was placed in their home last month through the private child-placing agency FaithBridge Foster Care.
Collins said both child placements she has received required specific, costly needs that her own children did not require, from additional doctors’ appointments to play therapy and in-home resources.
She often has to miss work for court appearances, which can place another dent in the family income and budget.
“They just need so much extra care a lot of times,” Collins said. “You never know what they are coming from.”