Q&A with State Rep. Bert Reeves on the Family First Act

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State Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta) has led Georgia on adoption law and foster care reform, as well as on efforts to strengthen state law with anti-street gang enforcement and anti-human trafficking efforts. He was the author of the 2018 overhaul of Georgia's adoption code and has been recognized by numerous child welfare groups for his contributions to the field.

In this Q&A, he talks about his perspective on implementing the Family First Act in Georgia.

  Q: What are some of the key changes the Family First Act will bring to Georgia’s families?,

Rep. Reeves: As a state, we’re already working to put families first. The Family First Act will help us extend that work and make sure more children can safely grow up in families.

Under the Act, we’ll be able to provide more support to families to help address some of the reasons kids enter foster care, like substance abuse and mental health concerns. We’ll be able to provide services not just to parents, but to kinship caregivers like grandparents too. And for children who do enter foster care, we’ll work to place them in the least restrictive, most family-like setting.

  Q: The child welfare system has seen various rounds of reforms. What's different about this set of changes?

Rep. Reeves: Previous reform efforts have focused primarily on changes to the foster care system. The Family First Act shifts the focus to preventing removal to foster care and enhancing family preservation. By helping families access resources when they need support, changes tied to Family First will, over time, create brighter futures for Georgia’s children.

The way funding is used may look different, but the focus under the Family First Act will be on family preservation and maintaining connections, even if a child enters foster care. That means working to ensure there is an appropriate continuum of placement to support childrens’ needs and that parents have access to services that will help them get to family reunification.

  Q: What role will kinship caregivers—grandparents, aunts and uncles and other relatives—play as the Family First Act is rolled out?

Rep. Reeves: The Family First Act will enhance work already being done to support kinship caregivers. Relative and kinship caregivers will have access to the same mental health, substance abuse and parenting support services as biological parents.

We know that removing kids from their families causes trauma that can be long-lasting. Helping kinship caregivers safely care for kids will mean more children can stay in their communities, with their families. That means stronger families and brighter futures for Georgia’s children and youth.

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