A legislative committee created to study the issues heard from a handful of facilities executives and the former head of the state’s welfare agency who now runs a trade association for the facilities.
“I do not come to you today in an adversarial manner, but more of a collegial manner,” said Ron Scroggy, former director of the Department of Family And Children Services and current executive director of the Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children.
He and the other witnesses stressed that they aren’t seeking to avoid oversight, just to get the state to be better at it.
The shampoo and soap rules are considered safety violations that facilities like WinShape Centre and Eagle Ranch have received formal citations over even though both are generally considered by experts as among the best run. Yet, the appeals procedures are so long and costly that neither bothered.
They urged the lawmakers to streamline the regulations and get cooperation between the various agencies that inspect their facilities, including those with oversight of mental health, education, juvenile justice, foster care and contract compliance. Each inspection can take all day to all week, and occasionally two inspectors will show up unannounced on the same day.
The facilities executives also complained that a Web site run by the state that lists inspection reports and citations casts them in a bad light and isn’t updated enough to show current correction plans.
“I don’t know why there ever came into being this Web site,” said Eddie Staub, executive director of Eagle Ranch, home to about 60 teens outside Gainesville. He added that it can confuse members of the public and was responsible for one major donor to stop giving to a well-respected facility after reading of a technical citation. “I think it’s very counterproductive.”
On the other hand, an advocate for children told the committee the Web site is helpful. Melissa Carter, director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University, said lawyers often refer to it when discussing where judges should place a child removed from parental care.
“I do think there are challenges in keeping it current, but that is a critical piece of information,” she said.
The bipartisan committee meets again in two weeks to hear from the oversight agencies. In the meantime, Chairman Andy Welch, R-McDonough, instructed the facilities executives to find examples in other states of regulations or law changes they would rather have. He supports shifting the regulatory approach from one that focuses on catching problems and punishing service providers to an approach that is focused on offering advice and assistance toward optimum operations.
“What I’d like to set as a goal is we’re looking exactly at what regulations we are either going to modify, strip from the books, reassign duties of agencies or what other models we mind find that will help me,” he said.