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Governor Deal unveils outline to aid child welfare
Panel recommends staffing, workload, communication fixes for DFCS
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For more information regarding foster care and child welfare in Hall County, read The Times’ series Broken Bonds.

ATLANTA — Retaining caseworkers, managing workloads and improving communication between agencies dominated much of the discussion in the unveiling of the Child Welfare Reform Council’s recommendations.

Gov. Nathan Deal announced the key findings of the report Friday at the Capitol, the result of multiple meetings by the panel he created in March.

“The protection of our most vulnerable children is more than a legal obligation. It is a moral and ethical obligation that our state has,” said Bobby Cagle, director of the state Division of Family and Children’s Services.

An additional 278 caseworkers started work last summer after an initiative from Deal’s office, creating a total staff of more than 2,000 caseworkers to date. Cagle said the agency is working to assess the number of additional caseworkers needed to reach more manageable caseloads.

“We believe that with these rather significant increases in funding for additional personnel over the last couple of years, we are making substantial progress for getting to that 15 cases per caseworker,” Deal said.

The report also lists under “staff retention” the need for pay increases for caseworkers and supervisors to be “more in line with average salaries for similar jobs.” Potential increases could be awarded for specific certifications for skills in topics such as substance abuse or sexual exploitation.

The council met six times between May and November, and included 21 members, including state lawmakers, health care providers, educators and child advocates.

Further privatization of the foster care system was not a large part of the report released after the request for proposals was canceled for the Region 3 and Region 5 pilot programs.

“If we move in that direction at some point in time, we need to do so in a very informed way, take the lessons that have been learned by other states in trying to do this and take very close note of the problems that have been experienced by other states trying to do it,” Cagle said.

The request was canceled, Cagle said, because of too few applicants and the pricing exceeding budgeted amounts.

The report also calls for better communication between county-level DFCS boards and district directors through district-level DFCS advisory boards.

In addition, the council is pushing to have DFCS share information with the Department of Early Care and Learning, the Department of Community Health, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Education and the Georgia Crime Information Center.

The council also proposed the idea of a child abuse registry to “maintain the names of those convicted of child abuse and neglect.”

The safety of children, the report reads, must also balance the due process rights of such individuals.

“We want to be certain that if a person is placed in that registry, it is only those people who in fact are guilty of having maltreated a child,” Cagle said.

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