The Georgia House of Representatives yesterday passed House Bill 1085 by a vote of 150 to 3.  This legislation, introduced by State Representative Katie Dempsey (R- Rome), is aimed at easing the transition for children entering and leaving foster care.  

“As an advocate for Georgia’s youth, I cannot help but be concerned for Georgia’s children in foster care,” said Representative Dempsey.  “Entering foster care can be a difficult time for children, and HB 1085 is intended to ease their transition by ensuring those children continue to have a relationship with their siblings and teachers, the individuals who often have the most positive influence on their lives.” 

First, HB 1085 requires that siblings that are taken into foster care be placed together unless such placement is contrary to their best interest.  In the event that siblings cannot be placed together, reasonable visitation between siblings must be assured. 

Second, HB1085 provides educational stability for children in foster care by requiring an attempt to keep children in the school they are currently enrolled in when placing them in a foster care.  If a child cannot remain at his or her current school then the Division of Family and Children Services must assure their immediate enrollment in a new school with all of the child’s educational records provided to the new school in a timely manner. 

Third, HB 1085 would ease the transition for older youth who are preparing to leave foster care by requiring a Department of Human Services case manager and other appropriate staff and representatives of the child to provide assistance in developing a transitional living plan.  This plan will be personalized for each child within 90 days prior to their 18th birthday or eventual exit.  This plan will provide the child with options concerning his or her housing, health insurance, education, mentors and support services. 

In order to ensure that each of these requirements are met, HB1085 requires that the Division of Family and Children Services provide proof to the juvenile court at each permanency planning hearing that reasonable efforts have been made toward satisfying each of these requirements.  The juvenile court will then make findings of fact stating each has been met.

“This is an important piece of legislation that gets to the heart of the work we do in child welfare,” said Mark Washington, Assistant Commissioner Department of Human Services.  “Not only does this bill support us in the improvement of our existing practices, but it strengthens the relationship between the Division of Family and Children Services and the court system which can only result in improved outcomes for children.

House Bill 1085 will bring Georgia up-to-date with the federal Fostering and Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008.  Noncompliance with this federal legislation could result in the loss of approximately $80 million in federal Title IV-E funding annually.