(Excerpt from Tarren Bragdon’s testimony before the Georgia Senate Foster Care Initiative Working Group. Watch on YouTube.)
By TARREN BRAGDON
If you and I went downtown and somebody started hurting my daughter we would both immediately respond and stop him and do whatever it would take to help her because after all, my daughter Waverly is only six and she doesn’t deserve to be treated like that. If we walked a little bit further and we saw somebody else hurting a little boy we would rush that abuser and immediately help that little boy.
But somehow if that abuse happens in a zip code or a family that is far removed from our own world too many people view that as government’s problem alone, and that’s a sad situation but they feel almost powerless to help. Each of you clearly understands the plight of kids who are abused and neglected, and that’s why we are all here today. It’s not a faceless problem. It’s a personal priority.
At our own think tank we read regularly of the tragedies of the foster care system and various reform ideas to improve the system on behalf of kids and families. One of the things we realized was that there was no formal ranking of state child welfare systems.
As a former legislator I understand that context is important so we developed the Right for Kids ranking of all state child welfare foster care systems based on 44 different outcomes in 11 key outcome areas, based on data that states directly report to the federal government.
Our 2012 ranking showed that Georgia scores 12th best in the country based on 2010 data which is the most recent available for all states. Even more encouraging when using 2006 data, we calculated that Georgia back in 2006 ranked 30th in the country, indicating that you are moving in the right direction. When you drill down into those 11 key outcome areas Georgia scores strong in most except for three:
- One was reducing abuse in foster care. Georgia was a state that did not report (data).
- Secondly, reducing the amount of time kids spend in foster care before moving to adoption. Georgia ranks 38th in the country for that.
- And then stable placements for kids in foster care. That kind of disruption and multiple placements dramatically affects learning and education.
The number one ranked state was Idaho, and Florida ranked fourth best in the country. There are some common characteristics among those two even though you would think of them as vastly different. Idaho is a completely state-run foster care system but it has very strong local control or management that is very transparent with reporting of key outcomes for kids.
Florida was seen as a national embarrassment. Kids were lost in the foster care system for years, lots of tragedies. Florida expanded with a public – private partnership that was expanded statewide, building on this concept of community-based or private local care. Florida going from national embarrassment to what folks in media recognize as transformed system happened as they went to this private local care. A drop of almost 40 percent in the number of kids in foster care, a doubling of the adoption rate, kids spending on average 20 percent few months languishing in the foster care system.
Lots of kids start out with tragedy but with private local care and a public – private partnership that rewards children and families for doing what’s right, we can take tragedy and turn it into the kind of success that we are talking about today. It’s a real honor to begin this conversation with you.
(Tarren Bragdon is a former Maine state legislator and current President at the Foundation for Government Accountability. Tarren moderated the 2013 Georgia Legislative Policy Forum Medicaid panel. Watch on YouTube. Tarren and his wife Anna adopted four children.)