ATLANTA — Georgia’s child-welfare agency is undergoing an overhaul that involves replacing the current director and having the new leader report directly to the governor, Gov. Nathan Deal announced Thursday.
The move is part of a broader effort to improve delivery and oversight of child and family services after the high-profile deaths of children whose families had some involvement with Georgia child-welfare agencies.
Bobby Cagle, who currently leads the Department of Early Care and Learning, will become the interim director of the Division of Family and Children Services, Deal said in a statement. He replaces Sharon Hill, who will be moving over to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget.
Amy Jacobs, currently a senior policy adviser at that office, will replace Cagle as interim commissioner of the Department of Early Care and Learning.
Although Cagle’s experience makes him a logical choice for the post, child- welfare advocates are concerned the leadership change could be disruptive to agency employees, said Melissa Carter, executive director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University.
“The workforce is really tired and they are distrustful and there’s really low morale,” Carter said. “This is gonna be hard for them to take.”
Despite that, Carter said she’s optimistic that Cagle and the agency can make positive changes in clients’ lives if they’re given the necessary resources.
Cagle said he knows how jarring a leadership transition could be for agency workers, but added that working for DFCS for five years before working in the Department of Early Care and Learning gives him the experience and relationships to move the agency in the right direction.
“I think the relationship that I’ve had with the governor and his top staff over the last three and a half years really kind of sets the stage for the kind of work that I have to do going forward,” Cagle said.
Improving the child safety component of the agency’s work should be the top priority in the early days of the transition, both Cagle and Carter said.
“It is clear there is a need for a more deliberate reform process of the child welfare system, and we are taking action on several fronts. We must work to ensure that our children are safe and that they get their best shot at a good life,” Deal said in a statement.
Democratic State Sen. Jason Carter, who is campaigning against Deal in the race for governor, used Deal’s announcement Thursday as an opportunity to call attention to shortcomings in the state’s child-welfare system that have happened during Deal’s term as governor.
“It bothers me that it took Gov. Deal this long to act after so many kids and families have already fallen through the cracks,” Carter said in a statement. “It remains to be seen whether this administrative reshuffling of the deck will get us any closer to that goal.”
Deal in March announced the creation of the 20-member Child Welfare Reform Council. The group is composed of child-welfare advocates – including Melissa Carter – health care officials, law enforcement and more. The council is tasked with reviewing the Division of Family and Children Services and advising the governor of necessary agency and legislative reforms.
The group has met twice and is expected to present more reform recommendations this fall, Deal said.
Aside from launching the reform council, the state is also testing a public-private foster care management partnership in two Division of Family and Children Services regions.