ATLANTA — Some state child-welfare services would be privatized under a bill passed by the Georgia Senate on Tuesday that has drawn the support of top Republican lawmakers.
State senators voted 31-18 in a largely partisan vote. The bill will now head to the Georgia House for consideration.
Senate Bill 350 would allow approved faith- and community-based organizations to contract for services such as adoption, foster care and case management. The state would retain responsibility for investigating child-abuse claims.
Republicans, citing the recent deaths of two children, have argued the changes are necessary to fix a broken system. Bill sponsor Sen. Renee Unterman advocated the legislation, sharing the grim circumstances of 10-year-old Emani Moss, whose emaciated and burned body was found in a trash bin last year in Gwinnett County.
Democrats opposed the bill, arguing the reforms wouldn’t address the underlying issues in those deaths, or improve the system. Moss was not in foster care and child protective services would still be the responsibility of the state, they noted.
Democrats who sit on the Health and Human Services Committee wrote in a minority report that the bill would also cost the state more money.
The bill calls for the Division of Family and Children Services to submit a plan for privatization by Jan. 1, with the new system being phased in over two years, beginning in July 2015.
Some 7,700 children are currently in Georgia’s foster care system. Any change to privatization would be contingent on the state receiving a federal waiver.
Both Gov. Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle have signaled their support for privatization.
“Government has a responsibility to look after children who find themselves at risk,” Cagle said in a statement Tuesday. “With today’s actions, the Senate lived up to our calling to protect Georgia’s most vulnerable children, and I couldn’t be prouder of those who stood with us today to do the right thing.”
The bill requires DFCS to monitor the quality of the contracted organizations and ensure they meet state and federal laws and certain performance standards.