Georgia's Blueprint for Family First team spoke with Lamar Smith, who at the time was the DeKalb County DFCS Director, about how the Family First Act will affect our state.
Lamar has worked in child welfare for 19 years in both Georgia and New Jersey in a variety of roles in community relations and child welfare and with the Office of Family Independence. Before moving to his current role, he served as the Division's Well-Being Services Director.
What are some of the opportunities you see as Georgia implements the Family First Act?
Lamar: For many years, our federal partners supported a child welfare system that actually incentivized foster care. We knew that families came to us in need, but due to the way the system was set up, we sometimes had kids coming into foster care when perhaps that wasn't the best intervention.
The Family First Act gives Georgia an opportunity to really focus on and serve families on the front end. Children belong with their families. The act lets us use federal funding, develop evidence-based programming and work with community partners to keep families and kids together while they get the support they need to be self-sufficient, thriving and safe.
Why does the Family First Act focus on keeping kids with their families?
Lamar: Whenever possible, we want to keep kids with their families. If that’s not appropriate for their individual situations, then we want to keep them with kin, and if not with kin, then in the communities that they are comfortable with.
When you do this, a couple of things happen: Kids continue to thrive in their educational settings, their schools. They're still connected to their pediatricians, their physicians, their coaches and their faith communities. And when you have a child that's connected to a network of supportive adults, kin and family, they thrive, communities thrive, and our state thrives.
When will we start seeing changes to Georgia’s child welfare system under the Family First Act?
Lamar: The Family First Act will be a gradual change—this won't happen overnight. And implementation will look different for different parts of the system, from families and case managers, to providers, agency staff and folks in the judicial system.
We ask for your patience, but at the same time, we're interested in hearing what you want to see in the new system. How can we better serve families on the front end? How can we better serve children? This is going to be a collective vision, but it certainly will take time as we basically redesign how we serve families in the child welfare system.