State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) has long been an advocate for children and families.
Her legislative accomplishments include authoring and passing significant legislation for the protection of children and consumers, including sponsoring a bill expanding the definition of mandated reporters of child abuse and legal recognition of post-adoption custody agreements.
In this Q&A, she talks about her perspective on implementing the Family First Act in Georgia.
Why is it important to evolve Georgia’s child welfare system?
Rep. Oliver: We know that children do better when they grow up in families, but for many years federal funding has focused on paying for services for children removed from their families. Now, under the Family First Act, we’ll be able to provide supports that help safely keep children and youth with their parents. In situations where kids can’t stay safely with parents, the Family First Act provides more support to keep them with relatives, in their own communities. And, if that’s not possible, it helps ensure they’re placed in the least-restrictive, most family-like setting.
Those changes will bring some major shifts, particularly around funding, but they’ll help continue to move the state towards a system that truly does put families first.
How does the Family First Act address some of the root causes that can lead to children being removed from their families?
Rep. Oliver: Under the Family First Act, we’ll be able to offer proven services that help address some of those causes before reaching the point at which children need to be removed from their homes for safety. More funding will be available for services to address substance abuse and mental health concerns and parental skill building programs. And we’ll be able to provide these services not just to children and parents, but to grandparents, aunts and uncles and other kinship caregivers and to pregnant and parenting youth in foster care.
The key here is that those services must be “evidence-based.” They’ll have provided data to an independent clearinghouse that will look at the programs and their results and determined that, yes, this specific program is very likely to actually help families and children.
Who’s involved in planning for the Family First Act and putting the Act into practice?
Rep. Oliver: The federal legislation was a long-term, bipartisan effort supported by countless child welfare groups from across the nation. The federal government recently added another $500 million to help states enact the legislation. And last session, my colleagues and I passed state legislation required to put pieces of Family First in place.
The Division of Family and Children Services is taking the lead on the technical implementation of the Act, but to transform Georgia’s child welfare system, we’ll need to continue to work together. That means everyone with a role in caring for our kids—including birth and foster parents, kinship caregivers, young people, child welfare professionals, policy makers and courts—will need to come together to help realize our shared vision of truly putting families first.